Reprise: Traditions Of Men

Denver Broncos Tim_Tebow_TebowingPaul said to the church in Colossae that they should see to it no one captured their thinking by philosophy and empty deception according to the traditions of men or according to the elementary principles of the world (2:8). In thinking recently about celebrity Christians, I admit to some question about how we believers are to conduct ourselves in the world.

By way of explanation, Rebeca Seitz, a PR professional who taught at the Mount Hermon Christian Writer’s Conference some years ago, anchors her work in the idea that we live in a celebrity culture—the one God placed us in—therefore, we need to learn how to be celebrity Christians, which is considerably different than regular celebrities.

In other words, as I understand it, Rebeca says we should learn to use the traditions of men. I’m reminded of God’s instructions to the Israelites the day before they left Egypt. Along with the particulars of the Passover, He told them to go to their neighbors and ask them for articles of gold and silver. Then this:

and the LORD had given the people favor in the sight of the Egyptians, so that they let them have their request. Thus they plundered the Egyptians. (Exodus 12:36)

As it turned out, the gold and silver they took from the Egyptians ended up being the gold and silver they would turn around and give for the work of the tabernacle. So God had them make use of the culture in which they’d been living for His purposes. He did that with Abraham, with Jacob when he worked for Laban, in Joseph’s day there in Egypt, and years later when Joshua led Israel into the cities once belonging to the Canaanites.

Over and over God blessed his chosen people through the generosity of others or through victory over other ethnic groups. At the same time, He promised that through Israel all the nations would be blessed. Yet they weren’t to mimic the ways of those nations. They weren’t to intermarry, weren’t to adopt their gods, weren’t to follow their traditions.

In Paul’s words, they weren’t to be taken captive by philosophy or empty deception according to the traditions of men.

The point here is that the prohibition against adopting the worldview and lifestyles of the people around them was not a prohibition against interacting with them. King David, for example, teamed up with Hiram, King of Tyre, to build his palace, then to provide some of the material Solomon would need to build the temple.

The question is, how should a Christian today react to our culture? We aren’t a separate nation like Israel was. We’re integrated as were Daniel and Nehemiah and Joseph, and for a time, Moses. Daniel and Moses, we know, received their education at the government’s expense — the pagan government. Joseph and Nehemiah worked for their respective king — their respective pagan king.

I conclude that “culture” isn’t the problem. The traditions of men aren’t poison. The key is the actual admonition in Paul’s statement — “See to it that no one takes you captive” (emphasis mine). The point he wanted to get across in this section of his letter has to do with truth versus error. Earlier he explained: “I say this so that no one will delude you with persuasive argument” (Col. 2:4).

I think it’s easy to look at the disappointing and discouraging things in our society and feel like the best part of valor would be to retreat. Paul wasn’t advocating that here. After telling the Colossian believers to set their mind on things above, he went on to give a string of commands that were very earthly: put aside anger, do not lie, forgive each other, wives submit, husbands love, children obey, do your work heartily. Then this:

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person. (4:5-6)

Am I to run from the culture—the traditions of men? I suppose if that’s the only way I can be sure someone won’t take me captive, but as a general rule, it seems to me we’re to stay where we are, surrounded by the traditions of men, but we’re to make sure we don’t get caught in their sway. We need to recognize them for what they are—empty deception—and live accordingly.

Christian Superstars

Ted DekkerSome years ago, I went to the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference when author Ted Dekker was the keynote speaker. I was impressed by his humble, heartfelt recognition that God had opened the door for him to receive his first publishing contract. And yet, in between sessions and at meals, conferees treated Mr. Dekker like a superstar.

I’ve seen the same reaction to agents and editors. But this response is not confined to the writing world. If in doubt, think Tim Tebow. Christians who openly profess their faith and who hold highly visible roles in society become Christian superstars.

This is not something new. On the apostle Paul’s first preaching and teaching mission, he and Barnabas were called by the Holy Spirit and commissioned by the Church to do the work God had for them.

Along the way, they arrived at a place called Lystra. As Paul was preaching, he saw a man in the audience who couldn’t walk. In fact, he’d never walked in his entire life. In some supernatural way, Paul recognized that this man had the faith to be healed, so he told him to stand up.

It’s hard to fathom how great a miracle this was. I imagine the man’s legs had never developed properly. Any muscle he had would have atrophied. And yet, he got to his feet. And then he started leaping and walking. It’s a phenomenal scene.

And the people who were standing around watching reacted as you might expect. They thought Paul and Barnabas couldn’t possibly be normal human beings. They concluded that two of their pantheon of gods had come down in human form to visit them. Barnabas they concluded was the chief of the gods, Zeus himself. Paul, the one who was doing most of the talking, they concluded was Hermes, the messenger.

All this discussion was taking place in a language that Paul and Barnabas didn’t speak. Certainly they knew the miracle had caused a stir, but at this point they didn’t realize the direction it was taking. Only when the priest from the temple of Zeus showed up with garlands and oxen to sacrifice to Paul and Barnabas, did they get the picture. The people of Lystra wanted to worship them.

Here’s the key part of the story. Rather than standing humbly by as the people proceeded to treat them like gods, the apostles did something that mourners did—they tore their robes. Then they rushed into the crowd to stop what was to them egregious—the crowd was crediting them with what God had done.

“Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, WHO MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM.” (Acts 14:15)

Happy ending, right? Paul and Barbabas stopped the people from treating them like gods. They did, but the ending wasn’t what you’d actually call happy. With some prompting from angry Jews who followed them to Lystra, the crowd ended up stoning Paul and left him for dead. If he did die, God raised him. At any rate, he got up, and he and Barnabas continued on.

The point is, resisting the crowd was the right thing to do, but it cost Paul.

I don’t think the treatment people today give Christian superstars is so different from what the crowd wanted to do for Paul. Sure, no one is preparing a sacrifice, but we’ve got our own rituals. We want autographs and we want our picture taken with Important Christian, as if somehow proof of us standing beside him makes us a little more important too.

I can’t help but wonder if we aren’t responding in this way because we, like the people of Lystra, are crediting the Christian author or football player or agent with what God has done. Would we rush for an autograph if we thought, Wow, God is so great to use someone just like me to write books that reach hundreds of thousands.

On the heels of that thought, I wonder how many stones of envy might come out.

In the end, it seems to me that the culture of celebrity in which we live is unavoidable, but we as believers can resist treating each other the way the world treats their own. The success of other believers should give us cause to sing God’s praises, not those of the clay pots He chooses to use.

And a few pots would benefit from tearing their robes and rushing out in the crowd to stop the wrong-headed acclaim being thrown their way. No, no. We’re just human. The power, the ability, the strength—that’s all from God. He’s the superstar. He’s the one deserving of the praise.

%d bloggers like this: