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Our Religious Customs

These customs are many. To celebrate a Thanksgiving Day is one of them. There are many others in our religious life. We have the custom of worshipping together on the Lord’s Day, the custom of praying at certain times —though we do not call prayer a custom, the custom of reading the Bible at certain set times. Our religious life as well as our whole life has customs. Such is inevitable. Therefore, the question is not: shall we have set forms of religious activity, customs? The question is: what is the value of our religious customs? Is it detrimental to religious life to break some of them?

A custom is a habitual or usual course of action. We all have customs just as we all have habits. We may distinguish habits and customs. A habit may sometimes be defined for purposes of distinction as the disposition or tendency due to repetition. A custom is defined as the fact of repetition rather than the tendency to repetition. Without a doubt human nature has the tendency and disposition to repeat its action. It is natural to have habits. We either have good habits or our habits are bad. There is not the alternative of no habits. In that same sense we have as religious people actions of worship which are repeated — some every day, some every year. These customs may change but then others take their place. If we do not have Reformed religious customs we have others which are not Reformed. If we have no religious customs we have nevertheless irreligious customs. Society is regulated by its good customs. In general, we can immediately see the value of customs for society and for our religious life. It tends to make action smooth and regulated if there are established and recognized customs.

Maybe some of us have often asked how certain of our religious customs arose; how they have become the set action for us as Christians? And is there value in them as such? Are they necessary to serve God? Or, can they be discarded at will by an individual? Ours are certainly not commanded as were the ceremonies of the Old Dispensation. It seems to me that all we can say about our religious customs, our old recognized customs, is that they have arisen from the desire and will to serve and to seek God. The New Testament doesn’t lay down any outward regulations for our Christian living. Yet we know that it was inevitable that the true people of

God repeated their actions of service of God and their earnest desires to seek the God of their salvation in His word caused them to have the custom of gathering together on the Lord’s Day. Jesus Himself had the custom to do certain things. As was His wont He went to the synagogue: His perfect love of the Father was the motive for His very repeated action to seek solitude in prayer.

Upon the word of Paul we can say that our customs as such have no spiritual value; they do not merit and give benefit in the exercise of them as such. Paul writes to the Galatians about the ceremonies, the weak and beggarly elements, which were of the Old Dispensation: 4:10,11, “Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you lest T have bestowed labor upon you in vain.” It is evident that Paul refers here only to the exercise of these customs as such and as they were considered necessary for spiritual benefits. To say that customs have no value is a wrong conclusion. We still maintain that they have value as instruments for expressing ourselves. And there is a certain natural connection between the spiritual life and the customs that are formed to give expression to that life. A river seeks its own bed and follows a natural course. Therefore when someone desires to break our customs we frown and see a definite evidence of lack of spirituality. Wien the spiritual life that seeks God is there it seeks the best ways to serve God and follow those customs to enjoy spiritual life with God. If there isn’t that spiritual life the customs become repulsive and a burden, and are thrown off at the earliest convenience. The breaking of established and recognized customs is a strong sign of loss of spiritual life. Circumstances may change our customs. Our soldiers cannot serve God in the customs as they are at home.

Is there a danger in this present life of change? There is. And we can all realize that for those who are not children of God these times afford an opportunity to cast off the old yoke. When the boys return again many will have lost the old habits and customs. It will be a different church life. That does not mean that those true to God will not naturally seek to serve God in the best and tried ways. They shall. However, then, when many do differently, the practice of customs becomes a part of our confession. As our custom of prayer at meal time becomes a confession when we are in public, so will our whole life of religious customs become a confession to the world of our inner walk and spiritual life.