Customs and Ceremonies
As we start to cooperate with pastors and leaders from different Churches with different Christian backgrounds, some practical differences (not exactly theological ones) may become obstacles to our fellowship. Those differences have to do with external aspects of Christian behaviour or practice usually called “Customs and Ceremonies”, which relate to worship styles, dressing codes and church ceremonies. We should deal with this matter according to what is prescribed by the Word of God, the Bible, and according to what the Lord has been teaching us.
In the churches we represent there are people with different cultural backgrounds (Eastern, Western, Slavic, etc.), of different financial stock (lower or middle class families), geographical origin (a city or a town), education levels, as well as Christian backgrounds. As we well know most often our opinion about customs and ceremonies will vary in accordance with these factors which constitute our background. In other words, different backgrounds usually generate different beliefs on this subject that for most of us are associated with sanctification.
In this, we must acknowledge that the Bible teaches us to dress in a modest and decent way as well as speaks about how to behave in the Church. On the other hand there are some passages of the Scriptures on practices about which there was never a complete agreement among the different branches of the Church. Even if each one of us may not agree with the observation of some practice we must realize that other brethren are observing them because they
understand that this practice is required by the Word of God or, in some cases, has to do with practical sanctification.
Due to these different beliefs, a question arises: how to develop spiritual communion among Christian with different opinions on customs and ceremonies? How to prevent these different opinions from disturbing our communion and from producing division or mutual judgements that may cause distress or resentment among us?
First of all we should take into consideration what is told in I Corinthians chapter 8 and chapter 10, verses 23 to 33. Mainly, we should consider that “knowledge puffs up but love edifies”. Next, we should be careful so that our understanding does not “become a stumbling block” for other brethren. Also we should follow Paul’s counsel when he states that “if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat”.
Besides, we should keep in mind that the Holy Spirit is the one who transmits the commands from the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus, and the only one who convinces us of sin and of any behaviour that is not pleasing to the Lord our God (John 14:26 and 16:7-8). We must trust Him to perform His holy Work of sanctification in His way and at His time in each believer and in each congregation.
Furthermore, we understand that, at this current stage of our fellowship with one another, the Lord’s answer to this matter is also the following:
- To rely on the Holy Spirit to do His Work in our midst and to convince each one of us in God’s time about what he wants to change in our churches concerning this subject (John 16:8). At the same time we should not to try to force people do things about which the Holy Spirit did not convince them yet. It is enough for us to pray for our brothers who do not have yet the same understanding as we do, waiting for the Holy Spirit to convince them (or us) about some matter (Phil. 3:15).
- Not to judge fellow pastors from other Unions or denominations that do not believe the same way as you do and to be patient with them, waiting for the Holy Spirit to do His Work in their hearts. One should not think some congregations are less spiritual than because they do not observe the same ceremonies or they dress differently. Maybe they have less knowledge than others but, on the other hand, they may be more faithful in observing truths they have understood.
- In each local congregation, Pastors are of course free – always seeking the advice from the Lord - to counsel the believers to behave according to understanding of the Bible of the Church on that particular point, so as not to be a stumbling block to others (I Cor. 8:13). They should never forget though that sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit that starts in the heart of man and afterwards this transformation must reflect in the appearance and behaviour.
- Additionally pastors should be ready to do whatever the Lord shows them through the Bible and the illumination from the Holy Spirit. If the Lord makes it clear that we should change our ways on a certain use or custom, we will do so (I John 2:27). Meanwhile we should tolerate one another in love and patience.
- All the pastors should try to entrust the Lord with those differences, praying that He may take care of this matter, and meanwhile work together with other pastors from other association of churches and denominations, seeking more communion with one another. We believe that the Lord will judge each one of us according to the level of understanding and knowledge we have reached.
- Finally, as we start to live spiritually united, even though we do not agree with the customs and ceremonies of other brethren from another denomination or union of churches, this new fellowship among us will be helpful to all of us because, just by observing the behavior of others, we will be touched by the Holy Spirit to change some custom or use that may be not pleasing to the Lord.
This attitude is necessary so that there may be true fellowship among us. We should never forget that for God more important than trying to make our brothers believe as we do in non-essential aspects of the Christian faith it is to place Jesus as real Head of His Church, a Church which lives in unity, because there the Lord pours out His blessing and the anointing of the Holy Spirit. As a consequence of this unity He will teach us all things the He considers we should learn.