My all time favorite television show is The Andy Griffith Show. In the show, mild mannered sheriff Andy Taylor is unlike most typical law men. He is even different than his deputy. You see, while most police officers, and in particular the head sheriff would carry a gun, sheriff Taylor didn’t follow the norm. He was playfully know as the sheriff without a gun. There were episodes that Andy was chastised for his decision to not carry a firearm. It was tradition for the sheriff to have a gun. But Andy Taylor was smart enough to see that sometimes traditions can at times become more important to people than the big picture. Sheriff Taylor didn’t want people to respect him out of fear or because of the gun he carried. Rather, Andy wanted the town of Mayberry to respect him because of the message of law and order that he lived though his actions.
I can relate to sheriff Andy Taylor. Growing up, I was always dressed up on Sunday mornings with a coat and tie. I was adhering to what had always been done. But all of this changed one day when I invited a local man to come and worship with us. I met this man on the side of the road. You could tell that he wasn’t wealthy and didn’t have much. In fact, I believe he was homeless. We began talking and in the conversation I had mentioned that I was a member of the local First Baptist Church. I then invited this man to come and worship with us. With a look of shame and embarrassment, this man looked down and said, “I wouldn’t fit in at your church, because I don’t own a coat or a tie.”
This was a wake up call for me. Since when did entering the house of the Lord hinge upon what a person wore? And it dawned on me that many churches in America are so very uninviting to the unchurched world. I began to see in the scriptures that this was something the pharisees did repeatedly. They would turn their noses down at those who were not as socially elite as themselves yet pat themselves on the back as they praised their self professed righteousness. Here are some examples;
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18-10-14.
Here is another instance;
“One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.”
“A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.” And he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Luke 7:36-50.
In each account, the pharisees were judging their right standing as a moral person upon their own preferences. They had set up a system of legalistic rules that over time, began to be held in higher esteem than the word of God. And the crazy thing is, that they set up these traditions all under the guise of spirituality. Jesus came to save all races and social classes of people, not just the elite. And the sad thing is that many churches today, much like the pharisees of old, hold much tighter to tradition than the word of God.
Our tradition becomes an idol. And an idol is anything that we hold more precious and esteem more highly than God.
“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” 2 Thessalonians 2:15.
The only traditions we are to hold to are the ones outlined in scripture. Ive yet to find a dress code in scripture or many other petty things that some churches consume themselves with. There is nothing wrong with a person wearing a tie if they want to or organizing church committees. But these are not the gospel! The mission and business of Christ is not for us to be the fashion police or micro manage committees within the church to run committees. The mission of Christ and business of our Lord is the glorification of Himself through the preaching of the word through God’s people.
“So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” Matthew 15:6.
This verse pretty much says it crystal clear. We void the word of God in exchange for upholding man made traditions. It can be so easy to lose sight of the call to go and make disciples when we begin to create legalistic standards for worship. After my chance meeting with the man on the street, I stopped wearing a tie. Not that there is anything wrong with that, but being a pastor, I want to give the impression that it is ok to come as you are. The only tradition we are to hold to are those set forth in scripture. I believe many churches have lost sight of the true mission of Christ because their vision has become clouded with church politics and stuffy traditions. How can we reach a lost world if we continue to set trivial rules on those who come thirsty for living water?
Sheriff Taylor was dubbed ‘The sheriff without a gun.’ And if I had a subtitle, it might be ‘The Preacher without a tie.” Sure at times Ill catch a little flack for my lack of tradition. But sometimes forsaking tradition can be the best tool in pointing towards the gospel. When it comes to dressing up in church, there is nothing wrong with that. As long as how you dress is only your personal preference and not your tradition. It is the internal fruits that we need be concerned with, not the external threads.
“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28.