Church Co-dependency & Naming the Elephants: Tradition

In my previous post on Co-dependent Churches: A Major Barrier to Change I talked about how we have several elephants in the room. Let’s talk about them more specifically.

We have a real problem with tradition. It shouldn’t be this way because we have always been about the scriptures and criticized other groups for their view on tradition and giving authority to tradition (e.g. Catholic church) but we can be just as bad.

We said we had no creed but the Bible. We said authority for our practices must come from the Bible. Then we created other practices the Bible never talks about or gives us directive on and came up with terms never found in the Bible to justify our conclusions (e.g. expedient) in order to give them extra-biblical authority, then we bound them on people, and ultimately made these traditions salvation issues. More on how that took place at the end of this article.

There are many examples of this we could talk about but here is the big one, and honestly it makes me nervous to say it out loud but I have read the Bible over and over and I am convinced this is true – instrumental music.

It is a tradition. There is no instruction for or against instruments in the New Testament. It is a beautiful tradition. It is something I enjoy (usually 🙂 ) but it is still a tradition. It has its roots in the history of the church. We are imitating early church practice so we worship as they did, without instruments. I am in tune and in line with that reasoning. But we still aren’t left with anything to do with what God is pleased with or any overt instruction in the New Testament on what God really wants here.

Then we take it one step further. Instrumental music is the most glaring instance of taking a tradition and making it a salvation issue.

Let me put this bluntly – if God expected every single person to pick up a Bible and read Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 (assuming they even had those book of the Bible and in their language) and come away not only saying instruments are wrong but that God will send you to hell for using them, if that were really the case, then God is not only confusing but also reckless.

If God needed us to come up with a very specific way of reading the Bible (Command, Example, Necessary Inference) that wasn’t in existence for 1800 years in order for us to come to the conclusion that instrumental music is not only the way God wants us to worship but will send us to hell for getting it wrong – God is a poor communicator. If your eternity rests on having the right hermeneutic (way of interpreting the Bible), that has only existed for 200 years now, then I wouldn’t be sure if I would want much to do with a God who treats people like that.

What I do believe is that God has made heaven and hell, salvation issues, abundantly clear in the Bible and Instrumental music is not one of them.

We made it a salvation issue, not God. We were wrong to do so. A cappella is tradition.

There’s the elephant.

This is where I am supposed to say all kinds of things to make sure you know I am still on the team…to let some of the anxiety off. I am sure tempted to do that but I won’t right now because it distracts from the point. It softens the blow. Then we don’t have to deal with it and everything is back to normal again.

If you are as uncomfortable having this said that is the way co-dependency works. We are too nervous to name it and so we let things go on they way they are because it is easier to just let it go than to put it out in the open.

I am by no means the first person to say this. I do want to be clear that I believe this is a prime example of the issue I was describing in my previous post and my anxiety to say it out loud (and maybe your anxiety considering it) only affirms the co-dependent connection.

But we haven’t had the freedom to say so out loud for fear of the doctrine police who must keep everything in check. They will come after you in a moment. They will try to get you fired if you are in ministry. They will write you up…make videos about you, etc.

It gets personal. Quick.

Why?

What looks like security is actually the opposite. It is insecurity. If you cannot be questioned and your positions scrutinized you aren’t secure, you are insecure.

Elephant #1 – Tradition.

Let’s set him on the table (must be a strong table to hold this one), examine him, and have the freedom to call it for what it is.

Where did our poor relationship with tradition come from? I believe where this came from was a healthy desire to back up our practices with scripture but we got it backwards in some cases. That’s good. But you have to get it in the right order. Here is what I mean…

Instead of going to scripture to find practices and do them and then call anything we didn’t find tradition…we took the practices as they were and tried to find verses to make the Bible say something about it in order to then make it an issue of being biblical and having sound doctrine. We read our agenda into the text rather than let the text inform us of its agenda.

If we cannot look at something the Bible doesn’t teach on and call it tradition we are co-dependent.

If we are too afraid to say this because we will get attacked – we (and our attackers) are co-dependent.

If we keep from speaking truth for fear of who we might upset – we are codependent.

Let’s speak the truth and then have a real conversation without having to be anxious about the conversation or the outcome. If it requires personal attacks to get this right, I am out.

This is the second post in a series of posts. Here are the others:
Co-dependent Churches – A Major Barrier to Change
Church Co-dependency & Naming the Elephants: Tradition
Church Co-dependency & Naming the Elephants: Fellowship
Church Co-dependency Characteristics

14 Responses to Church Co-dependency & Naming the Elephants: Tradition

  1. David Taylor says:

    Along the same lines as the AC vs IM tradition is how we take Paul’s instructions to the Christians at Corinth to set aside money, likely at home, so that it can be gathered together on short notice and sent to Jerusalem (and not a command, he says in II Cor 8:8) and turn it into a command that all Christians must contribute to their local congregation every Sunday so that the money can pay the preacher, maintain the building and do all of the other things the church supports.

    • Matt Dabbs says:

      That’s right. I brought this up in a sermon recently and had people thank me afterward. People aren’t going to stop giving because we bring this up. People will be appreciative to bring up things in the text that could potentially undermine one’s own livelihood as a minister.

      We have to build trust and that won’t come from hiding things.

  2. Rudy Schellekens says:

    Matt, I’m disappointed you chose not to post my responses. Not wuite sure why, but maybe because i keep bringing up the really BIG white eleohant of our @tradition” of paid ministers.

  3. You seem like a earnest, idealistic young man with a sweet family. Has anyone ever told you you’re in the wrong church?

    • Matt Dabbs says:

      Tell me more about what you mean.

    • Matt Dabbs says:

      Ok, I’ll bite.

      Idealistic isn’t known to be a complement. So I am not sure how to take it as one. That colors the rest of what you had to say, it is hard for it not to.

      So let’s clear the air.

      So what makes me in the wrong church? Are you saying I have to think someone is going to hell to be in the CofC?

      Are you saying I have to believe in lock step with tradition to be in the CofC?

      or

      Are you saying that you agree with what I am saying and I need to move on?

      or is it something else?

      I would love more explanation because your words are ambiguous and can’t really be interpreted with any level of precision because it could go so many directions and I don’t want to misunderstand you on this.

      Blessings

  4. Mark says:

    Likely the craziest aspect of the IM issue was that of going to hell for not thinking that the user of IM would go to hell. This meant that my opinion, not any action, was enough to get me a one way ticket. I shook my head at it in disbelief.

    Another elephant is Paul at the expense of Jesus and the gospels. Paul was the cofC hero as he gave the law that helped get the church right. He was the one who answered the questions and whose answers could be parsed down to individual sentences and used against the Baptists, Roman Catholics, and even the cofC down the road.

  5. lestaylorphoto says:

    One of the challenges I see with overcoming our codependency is our marriage to the slippery slope fallacy. Although it is known as a logical fallacy, many use it as a law of logic. Because of this, it’s not just that we can’t carry out certain doctrinal views – we can’t discuss them, or even *think* them. If you think differently on the doctrine (especially if you’re in leadership), you’re a threat to the church, since that necessarily leads to waves of change. And discussing it fairly only tempts people to start thinking about it. Thus, in the rare instance that we actually discuss differing views, we strawman them in order to protect our sacred cows. As you pointed out in your last post, this has everything to do with discipleship. You can’t disciple people when they’re terrified to ask honest questions. You certainly can’t encourage anyone to step up to leadership in that environment.

    Perhaps the first step in moving forward, then, is to separate the carrying out of a doctrinal view and the honest discussion of it. Taking an example from this post, we don’t have to start using instruments just because we honestly discuss it. But we ought to be able to honestly discuss it, and that should include the leadership. I’ve seen too many young people walk away from the church because they see this tendency to intellectual dishonesty. Not only is it preventing discipleship, it’s driving the weak out of the church and driving the faithful to complacency.

    • Matt Dabbs says:

      Yes yes yes! Codependency keeps people in a system from having an open conversation. We can discuss things without pushing for change. We can call something tradition and still believe it is important. Thank you!

  6. Mark says:

    Not being allowed to change was explained to me by a hard liner in the following way. If you change any thinking and you converted someone based on that thinking, then that person might leave. What he admitted was that people weren’t converted to Jesus but to no IM, proper organization, no repetitive prayer, etc.

    If you think differently on anything, you’re a threat to the church and won’t be allowed into leadership. Hence why cofC leadership is seen as self-perpetuating and new leaders still only represent one of the many factions.

  7. Travis says:

    Loved this article. I was actually forced out of a mainstream CoC because I visited a Christian church for a few weeks. I had cleared it with the elders first (I was a deacon at the time). The local Christian church was having a series of lessons I wanted to hear, so I went to their early service (they had two). This allowed me to go there, then come back to the CoC in time for their worship service, so I never missed one of “our” services. Unfortunately, a busybody found out about it and complained to the elders. Instead of talking to me or remembering that I had told them I was going to do this, one of the elders called to tell me I was being removed from any public roles (teaching, song leading, fill-in preaching, etc.) because they didn’t know where my loyalty was, and it set a bad example for the congregation for someone in “leadership” to attend a non-CoC. Um, their actions were the lack of leadership!

    To Mark’s point above, I also attended a CoC that taught that it wasn’t enough to just stop doing an “unauthorized” act, you had to stop believing it was OK, too. This was at an “anti” CoC as we were meeting with the “liberals” (aka mainstream) to find ways to reconcile. Of course, the anti leaders idea of reconciliation was for the liberals to stop doing everything the antis opposed. The mainstream CoC preacher offered to stop having fellowship meals in their building and sending support to a widows home. That was the only real difference between the two. The anti leaders said that wasn’t enough, that they also had to condemn those practices as sinful from the pulpit and their official doctrines. The mainstream CoC declined to do this, of course, and both sides parted with the anti group having even more animosity and self righteousness. It’s sad, really.

  8. Papa Lutz says:

    Thank-you brother for your honesty and your courage to speak it.

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