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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Wrong to Celebrate Easter?

Easter is a time when millions pause and think about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. For many it is also a time of fun, games, and traditions such as Easter baskets and egg hunts. But not everyone is so fond of Easter.

Some Christians claim that Easter, like many other modern “holidays,” has roots in ancient paganism. While Jesus’ resurrection itself is described in the Bible, there is no mention of “Easter” (except for an unusual and contested translation of “Passover” in the original KJV.)

On top of this, it is argued that it is wrong to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection on just one Sunday, since we should be celebrating it every day of our lives. Indeed, God deserves so much more than just one or two days a year, He deserves our all.

But is it wrong to celebrate Easter? Paul appears to answer the question in Romans 14. The chapter begins with the command: “Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.” Among the “opinions” over which we should not judge each other, two clear examples are identified:

  • “One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables 
  • One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike.”

In both of these cases, Paul says only that “each person must be fully convinced in his own mind,” and he concludes in verse 13, “let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this—not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.”

So is it wrong to regard one day above others as a time to remember divine truths? Not necessarily. Is it wrong to celebrate Easter with baskets and eggs? It appears that there is no problem unless it causes a brother to stumble.  But it is certainly a good thing for us all to be reminded that it is not a certain “day” that is holy, but Christ Himself, to whom we owe everything.

It is important for us to understand what does and does not constitute an opinion. So as a final question for personal consideration, which of these things do you think would also fall into the category of “opinions” as the word is used in Romans 14, and why?

  • Which translation of the Bible to use?
  • Choosing to be single or to marry?
  • Deciding to have a scriptural divorce or a scriptural remarriage?
  • Participating in or not participating in any particular church ministry?
  • Being present every time the church meets?
  • Choosing to drink wine or to abstain from it?
  • Wearing a bathing suit at the beach?
  • Choosing to use homeschool, private school, or public school?
  • Attending a private university, a public university, or joining the workforce?
  • Being a stay at home mom or having a professional career?
  • Choosing if and when to have children, and how many to have?
  • Driving a nice car and owning nice things?
  • Political stances on issues such as gun control, death penalty, or global warming?
  • Choosing to vote or to abstain from voting in an election?