Which Do We Follow: Past Traditions or Christ?

The sad reality that exists within religion now and throughout time.

Something that has been on my mind much lately is just what it means to be a true Christian. In this world, over 2 billion people call themselves Christian over any other religious group. In that enormous group, you have people that fall all across the spectrum of Christianity in terms of specific denominations, how active they are, how knowledgeable they are, and how devote they are. But what does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to follow Christ? Unfortunately, I’ve come to the understanding in the past few years that too many in this world call themselves Christians, followers of Christ, yet they have never truly tried to understand just who Christ is. Others have a basic understanding of the man and live their lives according to that simple outline. And, sadly, other’s in the world call themselves followers of Christ while in thought, practice, and understanding, go against everything Christ has ever stood for. What could be a greater offense to God and Christ than that, I wonder? To take on the name of Christ and yet, in your actions, completely twist and change just what that means?

Now, of course, none of us are perfect. We all make mistakes in our goals to follow Christ, stumbling and getting things wrong often. That is ok, God expected us to falter and struggle- that is what the Atonement was set to correct. God always looks at those dedicated saints with mercy and love, as a father does when his child falls off the bike he is trying to learn how to ride once again. That is not what I am directing my words towards here- no, instead I speak of the people who blaze forward, full of pride and even anger, who are careless towards the sanctity of the Name which they proclaim to carry- who use that title as a weapon and shield against those around them, who use the name of Christ as nothing more than a status symbol. To me, they are modern-day Pharisees and Sadducees, proclaiming to the world around them what it is a true follower of God is to do, while completely missing what truly matters. In a BYU-Idaho devotional given in February of 2019 entitled ‘Authentically Connected to Heaven’, Brother Christian Mawlam said this in regards to those historical people:

“Have you ever thought why the Savior directed such withering criticisms at the scribes and Pharisees? As influential Church members, they reduced valuable human interactions to performance-based exchanges between themselves as actors and all others as an audience. They then sought to impress and influence and control their audience with their dress, manners, virtue-signaling, and very public piety. They felt threatened and had contempt for anyone who was not like them.

Tragically, they actually could have had and maintained lasting influence over those they sought to lead, if only they had thought to do so ‘by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge, which shall greatly enlarge the soul without hypocrisy, and without guile.'”

Being a Christian is not about how we walk, talk, dress, or act, it is an inward change that can change such things, but it is the inward change that matters, not the effect that such a conversion can have. We are also not better or higher than others around us simply because we call ourselves Christians and have inscribed His name on ourselves. God does not love you more than he loves a Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Atheist. His love is unconditional and equal all across the board for every type and character of person that exists now and throughout time.

That, of course, do not mean that our actions as Christians are meaningless. God is the perfect Father to all of us, His children, and is pleased when we grow and change and become the people He knew we could be. His happiness, pride, and trust in us grows, but never does your growth mean that someone else will be degraded or made lesser in His eyes. Life is not a competition or beauty pageant where there will be declared winners or losers- yes, there are rewards in Heaven for those who follow Christ and truly become more like Him, but like the Parable of the Vineyard tells, you are not guaranteed something more just because you were one of the early ones that came to work for Him. The gospel is not ‘first come, first serve’. If someone in a thousand years steps into the vineyard to work and are desirous to grow, they will be given the same chances that you were given, no matter how long it took them to finally accept the call. In the grand scheme of things, in God’s time, the few years or centuries difference between you and another meaning nothing and are just a trifle really.

What matters is not how you compare to others, but how you compare to your past self. If all you are concerned about is how you look or how you compare to others around you as a Christian to the point of pride and derision, you have not truly written His name on the palms of your hands as you have proclaimed so many times. A truly foundational talk to my thoughts on this topic was given in July of 2018 at a BYU-Idaho Devotional by Brother Bryce Mecham titled ‘Publicans, Centurions, and Samaritans: Developing Charity for the Other’. In this beautiful and powerful talk, Brother Mecham quotes Brother Joseph B. Worthlin where he says, “‘The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.'”

Music itself is the perfect example of how we should live and act as Christians. Music is full of diversity and difference, from the moment each note sounds. It’s the differences and the variety that makes music beautiful and awe-inspiring through. It wouldn’t truly be music if we only had one note focused and played again and again; just as it wouldn’t be Christianity if we just all lived, ate, and breathed they same lifestyle, thoughts, actions, and mindsets. We are all different and it is our diversity that adds color, beauty, and purpose to the gospel.

Again and again and again in His Mortal Ministry, Christ preached love and acceptance to all those around us, regardless of what other church figures like the Pharisees and Sadducees said. The New Testament is filled with depictions of Christ reaching out to those society and religious groups deemed as lesser or worthless. The twelve disciples were all fishermen and regular people for the most part and yet Christ made them His disciples and companions. He healed the sick, the blind, the lame; offered kindness and love towards the woman caught in adultery, to the woman who had remarried many times, told His listeners to help those around them, even the Samaritans who were their enemies. All of this kindness, love, and acceptance repeated again and again and again in every story and action that Christ said and took, and yet people can still stand there calling themselves a Christian while beating down and disregarding those that are different from them? It absolutely baffles me and truly breaks my heart to see this happen over and over in the world.

Too many call themselves Christians, yet all these do is propagate hatred and pride around the world. Oh how sad this must make God and Christ, to see such injustice occurring within those who have said they would follow the path they had laid. In his talk, Brother Mecham references the Parable of the Good Samaritan and concludes that Christ, “seems to be asking us to seriously consider the possibility that despite our dearly held beliefs and our best efforts, sometimes we are not the best examples of believers. In fact, in some cases non-believers may be better examples than we are. This is a very difficult invitation to introspection and self-evaluation.” And it is- it is a hard pill to swallow, but it is something that we must accept if we are to truly grow and move forward. God’s teachings are universal and are not limited to one religious denomination or sect; truth is truth regardless of who carries it.

Brother Mecham quotes Elder Hugh B. Brown in his talk by saying, “‘We have been blessed with much knowledge by revelation from God which, in some part, the world lacks. But there is an incomprehensibly greater part of truth which we must yet discover. Our revealed truth should leave us stricken with the knowledge of how little we really know. It should never lead to an emotional arrogance based upon a false assumption that we somehow have all the answers—that we in fact have a corner on the truth, for we do not.'” This is an idea that was very much referenced when I was attaining my Bachelor’s in History; that no matter how hard we try, our knowledge will always be incomplete and that we must accept that, that we do not know everything and that others around us often will know better than use regardless of our wishes and desires.

At the risk of quoting yet another quote that he used, this time from President Gordon B Hinckley, he said, “‘There is too much intolerance in the world. There is too much of it in our own society.'” This is a truth that I feel deep down within my soul. There is too much hatred in this world and God does not want any of us Christians adding to it, even for a moment. Hatred and disdain is not the way of God, regardless of the reason for such thoughts and actions. God is a God of love and mercy, perfectly balancing that between justice and law. It is not a balancing act that we can even hope to truly follow and copy, but it is my opinion that God is much more forgiving towards those who act with love and mercy, even if it may erode justice and law, then He is towards those who push for justice and the letter of the law at the erosion of love and mercy. I truly believe that from the bottom of my heart. There should always be more love and mercy in the world than hate or disregard and that should be our goal as Christians. As Brother Mecham says towards interacting with those of other faiths,

“We can be appreciative in a very sincere way. We must not only be tolerant, but we must cultivate a spirit of affirmative gratitude for those who do not see things quite as we see them. We do not in any way have to compromise our theology, our convictions, our knowledge of eternal truth as it has been revealed by the God of Heaven. We can offer our own witness of the truth, quietly, sincerely, honestly, but never in a manner that will give offense to others.

The strength of our position as we understand it will become clearer and more precious as we allow others the same privilege of conscience that we so highly prize. We must learn to accord appreciation and respect for others who are as sincere in their beliefs and practices as are we.” This is something that I try to abide by to the best of my abilities as I seek to explore the world around me and as I try to better understand religion in its many forms throughout distance and time. Love, humility, meekness, mercy, honesty, respect, and acceptance are at the core of being a Christian, of following Christ, and it is my hope that as time goes by, more and more people will wake up to this knowledge and truly become the Christians that God knows they can be.

Talks Referenced/Quoted

‘Publicans, Centurions, and Samaritans: Developing Charity for the Other’ by Brother Bryce Mecham, BYU-Idaho Devotional July 10, 2018

‘Authentically Connected to Heaven’ by Brother Christian Mawlam, BYU-Idaho Devotional February 5, 2019