Tradition: Living Faith of the Dead Vs. Traditionalism: Dead Faith of the Living

Help write my new book and provide me feedback on this article. Please comment at the end after reading this article! - Kent

Kent R. HunterMany churches experience biblical drift when it comes to traditional practices.  The result of perpetuating worn out practices makes God “old,” “out of date,” and “irrelevant,” in the eyes of those who are not yet believers.

The use of ancient architecture, word forms, dress codes, and music from another era can also make God appear as foreign to unbelievers.  It is just outside their experience and causes another barrier for them to receive the good news of Jesus Christ unhindered.

Using worn out habits that do not communicate is a “feel good” practice for lifelong Christians who would love to return to the “good ole days.”  However, it is a major contribution to the inability of many churches to effectively reach those who do not yet know Christ.

The confusion is between the style and the substance of the Christian faith.  Style can, should, and must change.  Substance must never change.  Churches that struggle to reach new people for Christ are usually out of sync in substance or style.

To continue updating style is to keep the church from being irrelevant.  To change the substance causes the church to be irreverent…and impotent for outreach.

The Pharisees tangled with Jesus—the God who came in the flesh, demonstrating that He did not want any style to get in the way of the message.  Jesus didn’t teach the message.  Jesus was, and is, the message.  You and your church don’t just share the message.  You also are the message.  The question is, “Are you a relevant, impactful message to those who don’t yet know Jesus?”

The Pharisees were really into the rules.  They would wear hoods out in public, so if they saw a pretty woman, they would put the hood over their faces.  That way they wouldn’t be tempted.  Of course, they frequently ran into walls, donkeys, and other people.  They looked like idiots!

Many churches today are covered in the hood of worn out, irrelevant, old school language and styles.  This soothes the believers at the expense of reaching those Jesus gave His life to save.

Tradition and traditionalism are confused by many well-meaning Christians.  Tradition is the faith of the dead.  For example, my dad was an enthusiastic Christian.  When a new translation of the Bible was published, he bought a shopping bag full of copies.  He distributed them at his place of work.  As a little boy, I thought that was odd.  But it stuck in my mind.  My dad was very sick, with asthma.  It was awful to see him suffer—which he did all the time.  Yet, on Sunday morning, he was up and passionate to get us all to church.  He always made sure we were seated in the front row, right under the pulpit.  He wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t doze.  My memory of my dad and his faith is vivid—it always will be.  His faith is a powerful memory, decades after his death.  That faith, to me, is a living faith of the dead.  That is tradition.

Traditionalism is a dead faith of the living.  Rather than faith in the living Jesus, some slip into a faith in the rituals—so strong it rules behavior and wrecks mission potential.  This is a major challenge to lifelong Christians and a major roadblock to effective outreach.

The Pharisees were masters at road blocking God’s new covenant in Jesus—and the mission of the early church.  In Matthew 15:1-20, the Pharisees were all over Jesus because He and His disciples ate without washing their hands.  You’d like to think they were driven by sanitary practices, but their real issue was breaking the rules—the religious habits.  Jesus responded to their challenge: “…why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Verse 3).

Jesus continues to unpack the rules they invented to circumvent God’s command with ungodly behavior.  He reminds them of the command to “honor your father and mother.”  Without nursing homes in that day, people were required to take their elderly parents into their homes and care for them.  Some of the people of God didn’t do a good job of that.  They would let their parents suffer to save money.  The Pharisees knew this was a sin against the commandment to “honor your father and mother.”  But instead of hold people accountable, the Pharisees made up another rule.  They said that if the money people saved from not caring for their parents was given to the temple as an offering (which went to the Pharisees), that made neglect of their parents excusable!

The Pharisees created a “hedge around the law.”  The technical word for this is corban.  Filled with customs, habits, styles, rules and regulations, these hedges started out to be good and helpful, until they became standards by which to judge others and sneak around real faith issues.  This is where Jesus took them to task.  Judging the faith of others or providing roadblocks to the mission of Jesus was clearly rejected by our Lord.  The wrong use of human tradition, traditionalism is clearly an approach of the Pharisees, not Jesus and the disciples.  Nevertheless, today, many Christians, interested in reaching the lost, are unknowingly ineffective because of the hood of traditionalism.  They are burying their heads in the hoods of traditionalism and running into walls when it comes to fulfilling the Great Commission.  Sadly, so many churches do so much well, and wonder why they do not reach people in large numbers and see the Kingdom grow like it did in the New Testament.  Often, it is because the hoods have covered their eyes to the approach of reaching people in a relevant and meaningful way.

Help write my new book and provide me feedback on this article. Please comment below! – Kent

Ten Ways to Reach Muslims for Christ

This is excerpted from the March/April 2015 Church Doctor Report. You may read the full report here.

  1. See the opportunity: the mission field is coming to you.
  2. Do not be afraid: most Muslims feel the same about terrorism as you do.
  3. Recognize that immigrants in a new country are eager to make friends. This makes them receptive to your Christian faith.
  4. Do not hesitate to start a conversation, to ask if they are practicing Muslims.
  5. Be sensitive to gender appropriate conversations.
  6. Learn more about how to approach Muslims. Check the resources listed in this issue.
  7. Invite a Muslim family to your home for a meal, and build a relationship that might lead to a faith conversation.
  8. Ask your new Muslim friend if he/she is practicing their faith.
  9. Seize THE GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY presented by the publicity surrounding ISIS. Most nominal Muslims are against violence.
  10. Contact POBLO to help your church reach Muslims in your community.

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“Leading From the Center of God’s Will” Workshop – April 18, 2015 – Livonia, MI

Register online today!

Invite other pastors and church leaders to attend.


Pioneering Thought: The Dead Man Who Influenced America’s Civil War Was Not an American

The LORD’S word came to me: Before I created you in the womb I knew you; before you were born I set you apart; I made you a prophet to the nations. Jeremiah 1:4,5 Common English Bible


Portrait of William Wilberforce by John Rising

Determined to seek ordination after his conversion, William Wilberforce would willingly give up his Member of Parliament status to do so.

At age 26 Wilberforce experienced what he called, a “Great Change”. His conversion through Methodism caused his mother some concern. As a young boy he was familiar with the slave ship captain turned Anglican Priest John Newton. He sought out his old pastor to discuss his mixed feelings and the old ex-sea dog did not agree with the assessment that ministry was the chosen profession, rather, he should stay where he was, in Parliament, saying, “God would use him there.”

Most others would in the pastor’s position have encouraged the born-again politician to  vocationally preach the Gospel, but not the famous author of “Amazing Grace How Sweet the Sound”. And for the sake of humanity it was good that he did not!

Remaining in the political arena for the next 48 years, until his death, William Wilberforce dedicated his life to ending slavery in the British Empire. 1807 saw the passage of the Slave Trade Act, which abolished the slave trade in the British Empire, specifically the Atlantic slave trade, but did not abolish slavery itself. 26 years later in 1833 Parliament passed the Slavery Abolition Act, one month after the death of the great abolitionist MP, ending slavery in the Empire, 30 years prior to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. On the day of his death, Wilberforce learned of the government’s concessions that guaranteed the passage of the Act.

What if England had sided with the Confederacy during the American Civil War is a question that is regularly debated yet today. Many would agree the war’s outcome may have certainly been different. With, however, the issuance of the Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863, as a war measure, Lincoln assured England’s passive action. Though the British need for southern cotton was strong propulsion, to enter the war on the side of the states struggling to become a nation whose very constitution stated its existence was to perpetuate the “inhumane institution,” would have been international political suicide. Besides, even the majority of the textile workers in England who were out of jobs due to the northern embargo of the southern shipping of cotton were in favor of abolishing slavery in the southern United States.

The assurance that a slave-free England would not aid the Confederacy against the United States, which had issued a proclamation emancipating slaves in the rebellious states, was possible because of one man who dedicated his life serving Jesus Christ in English politics. On his grave marker next to his friend, Prime Minister William Pitt the younger in Westminster Abbey are these words, “Through the merits of JESUS CHRIST, his only Redeemer and Saviour, (whom, in his life and writings he had desired to glorify,) he shall rise in the resurrection of the just.”

Prayer: Lord, you have a destiny for me and it is my special prayer I will early discover and accept that lot living the remainder of my life completing my task, providentially being used to change the world.

Pioneering Thought: Destined pioneers focus on their task with laser precision wavering not though time elapses and the struggle hard assigns enormous pressure, until their contest is ended.      -Dennis L. Kutzner

Kent Hunter Remembers Lyle Schaller

Lyle Schaller

Throughout seminary and graduate school, I read everything Lyle Schaller wrote. He was my hero, my inspiration for ministry. We had never met until he approached me, asking if I would write a book in the Creative Leadership Series, published by Abingdon. I was a fan of that series already. I was both shocked and humbled when he said he had read some of my books and wanted me to be a part of the leadership series.

I was stunned when he approached me and asked me about my consulting work with Church Doctor Ministries. When he offered to personally train me, on the job, at no expense, I was thrilled. It was a symbol of his generosity and vision for legacy. It was an experience of a lifetime to be trained in person by Lyle Schaller. We spent numerous days and evenings together as I watched the master at work. His generosity and willingness to share all of his tools for consulting represented the scale of his leadership. His kindness moved my ability to help churches forward beyond measurement. I stand among so many who are grateful to God for the gift of Lyle Schaller. What a model and mentor he has been!

Kent Hunter, founder of Church Doctor Ministries, is known as the Church Doctor. His most recent e-books are The Future Is Now and The J-Dog Journey, available at no cost. Contact him at (800) 626-8515, by emailTwitter, Facebook, or visit

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ISIS: A Golden Opportunity for Muslim Outreach

In John 5:19, Jesus tells the disciples, “I only do what I see the Father doing.” This is a central concept of Kingdom culture often overlooked among Christians, and in the operation of churches.

There are two choices to make decisions: (1) make a decision and pray that God will bless it; or, (2) watch where God is blessing and do that, see where God is moving and go there. The second approach is reflective of John 5:19. It creates a Kingdom culture of being a “God watcher.”

In the news, almost daily, we see the evil of ISIS: beheading innocent people, abducting young schoolchildren, burning people alive, acts of terrorism, crucifixions of innocent Christians. As God watchers, Kingdom Christians see this and ask, “What will God do with this?” The fundamental question is, “Can God use this awful behavior in a way that helps me reach people for Jesus Christ?” As God watchers, we should see a golden opportunity. Even out of evil, God can create good.

This is excerpted from the March/April 2015 Church Doctor Report. You may read the full report here.

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