Tradition!

Many in the church today seem to have a negative view of the word, “traditions,” and perhaps in some instances they should.

In Mark 7, Jesus told the religious leaders of his day: “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition,” or as Matthew 15:3 and 6 record, why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?… You invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.”

This statement of Jesus followed His quoting to them from Isaiah 29:13, which states: “this people draw near with their words And honor Me with their lip service, But they remove their hearts far from Me, And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote.” Jesus said they were “teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”

But are traditions all bad?

Paul told the Thessalonians, “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15) He also told the church in Corinth, “I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” (1 Corinthians 11:2)

Just a few verses later in the same chapter, when Paul was instructing the women of Corinth to cover their heads while praying, he referred to this instruction with the Greek word “sunétheia,” which indicates “a custom, habit, or practice,” something that becomes “intimate” or “customary” through repeated usage.

So how are we to judge which traditions are valuable and which should be thrown out?

Notice from the verses that we have listed that the Bible does not exalt or denounce ideas and practices based simply on whether they are “old,” or “new,” but rather on whether or not they are conducive to godliness and in line with Biblical doctrine.

  • If the keeping of a tradition requires us to set aside God’s word, it must go.
  • If observing a particular tradition causes us to break God’s commandments, it must be abandoned.
  • If the process of learning our traditions “by rote” has resulted in heartless, mechanical worship, something must change.
  • If we are teaching our traditions as though they were the very words of God, we must stop.

On the other hand, if our traditions call us to godliness, enrich our spiritual lives, and bring honor to God, all without violating His revealed will, they are to be cherished and prolonged.

But what if a particular tradition is not causing any harm, and violates none of God’s commands, but some find it pointless and wish to abandon it while others think it continues to be useful?

A similar situation occurred in Romans 14.

Old dietary and holiday traditions still existed among new converts form Judaism to Christianity. Disagreements arose about the usefulness and validity of these old traditions now that the Christ had come. But Paul did not exactly pick sides. Instead, he seamed to confirm to them that either position was potentially acceptable: “One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.”

To see more of what council the church in Rome was given, read through Romans chapter 14.

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