Traditions and the Body of Christ

Over the past week, we (the dining hall stewards aboard the Africa Mercy) have said our good-byes to over half of our volunteers and crew, slowly going from around 15 (between crew and day-volunteers), to the small number of 4.  Each and every one of us said our farewells in a different fashion.  Some shed tears.  Others gave hugs.  And yet others expressed their sorrows in a different manner: soaking.

There is a little tradition in the dining hall that on the last day that someone works, they get soaked in the dish room (or in whatever way seems fit).  Some go willingly, while others stand to fight.  On my team, I got the honor of soaking both Aafke and Abi, wonderful and amazing sisters and daughters of Christ. 

Throughout the many denominations of Christianity, the different churches and faces of the Body, there are a number of traditions.  Some of them come from Scripture (ex: Baptism, Communion, etc. etc.) and some come from other sources (ex: Christmas and Easter, Lent and Advent, the liturgy and specific prayers, etc. etc).  I find that when most people, both Christian and not, think of the church, they are seeing the traditions, and not Body of Christ.

I know I will take some flack for this, but it’s been something that has been heavy on my heart for a long while. 

I was born and raised in the Roman Catholic Church, a religion steeped heavily in tradition.  You can see it in the way the mass is structured.  You can hear it in the prayers that we say.  You can see it in the Eucharist.  The Catechism.  The hymns.  The construction of the Cathedrals.  I can see it in almost every church building that I have walked into, Catholic or Protestant.  I’ve seen it in every denomination of Christianity. 

In churches around the nation and globe, we have lost sight of the power and mercy of God and focused on the traditions made by human hands.  Jesus spoke out against the Pharisees and scribes for following the traditions of man and not the laws and prophets of God.  Look at Mathew 15 and Mark 7, when the Scribes and teachers of the law pointed out all the traditions that Jesus’s disciples were not following, He pointed out how they have replaced the commands of God with traditions of human hands. 

What would Jesus say to the church if he came back for a visit?  I don’t think it would be as nice as many people think.  He had harsh words against the Pharisees and scribes, but I believe he would be even harsher on those that claim to follow him.  His church.  The Body of Christ. 

I am not saying that all traditions are bad, almost all of them point to God, the father and Christ Jesus’s sacrifice on the Cross.  They are a good starting point, but we must remember to look at their meaning, to find God’s will and plan through them. 

Am I saying that many churches focus too much on tradition.  Yes.  I believe that most churches and denominations have lost sight of God because they have only focused on man-made things.  Religion. 

God isn’t calling us to be religious people, he is calling us to be faithful to him.

Side Story:  I’ll leave you with a good sailing tradition (as the Africa Mercy is now in open waters).  Rachel, one of the crew members in the  galley, did some research and found that one of the ‘privileges’ of sailing around the Cape of Good Hope (around the bottom of Africa) is that the sailor can now have the honor of eating with both feet propped up on the table.  The ‘privilege’ of sailing around the Cape Horn (around the bottom of South America) is the honor of wearing a golden hoop through the left ear and eating with one foot propped up on the table.

God Bless and PEACE



  1. mdm Said:

    Your comments on tradition are interesting. They are not unusual since we all find the limitations to the human side of the church. And you are correct that many people loose sight of our mission on earth by focusing on things that do not lead to following Christ (this is true of all denominations). It is why we often have one group of Christians criticizing another, rather than joining together to do Gods work (your work on Mercy Ships is thankfully an exception to this reality).

    But as they say “do not throw out the baby with the bath water”. Tradition is important because they reinforce our faith, and some represent a continuation of Gods revelation to mankind. And all denominations have tradition (even if they try to deny it)

    Think of it this way. The church is made up of:

    1) The Mystical Body of Christ, and
    2) The institutional structures that we, as humans, need for order.

    Can these institutional structures lead to error? Of Course.
    Do they provide us with what we need to follow Christ? Yes.

    The church and its traditions provide us with the knowledge and strength to follow Jesus and are important in our journey of faith. One of my favorite frescoes in the Sistine Chapel is of St Peter handing back the keys of the church to Christ. In the world to come, a church will not be necessary because we will all live in communion with Gods love. Until that time, God gave us the church so that we have an anchor, albeit imperfect, on which we can use to assist us in following Christ.

    I encourage you to begin a study of some traditions of the Church you grew up in. If you want, just pick one. As you peel back the layers of this onion, you will find a beauty that will surprise you and that when taken in proper context, always lead to Christ.


    U. Mark

  2. […] Almost a year ago, I criticized the Emergent Church for throwing out the traditions of the church.  Now, I clarify what I wrote earlier this morning (see previous blog).  […]

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