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.

Come, See For Yourself!

In the forth chapter of John’s gospel, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. The very fact that Jesus—a Jewish male, would talk to her—a Samaritan female, gets her attention and causes her to realize that there is something special about this man.

In the course of their conversation, Jesus reveals that He knows all about her life, and about her five failed marriages and her current unholy relationship. To this, the woman replies, “Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet.”

As their conversation continues to progress, Jesus finally reveals Himself to her as the Christ, the Savior of the world. When the woman says, “I know that Messiah is coming…” He responds to her, “I who speak to you am He.”

This experience at the well with Jesus must have made a huge impact on the Samaritan woman. Surely His demeanor and countenance must have communicated to her great depths of knowledge, wisdom, spiritual insight, and godly love. She had every reason to believe that this was the Son of God.

The text tells us, “the woman left her water pot, and went into the city and said to the men, ‘Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?’ They went out of the city, and were coming to Him.”

Notice what the woman did not say: “I found a man who I know for a fact to be the Christ. If you don’t believe it, you’re going to hell.” “It is so painfully obvious that this man is the Christ, you’d have to be an idiot to miss it!” “You must not question what I am telling you, He is the Christ. End of conversation.”

Instead, the woman invited the people to come to Jesus for themselves, and have their own unique experiences in His presence just as she had. She invited them to take up and explore the question of His legitimacy for themselves.

The outcome of this woman’s evangelism was very great: “Many more believed because of His word; and they were saying to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves and know that this One is indeed the Savior of the world.’”

Will we learn from the example of this woman when we seek to bring people in our life to Jesus?

When we discourage the asking of questions, we stifle the personal experiences of discovery and genuine learning in those who are seeking for answers.

When we respond with shaming and disdain towards those who question what we should believe, we miss an excellent opportunity to say “let us reason together… turn with me to this passage, what does it seem to be saying?”

Often, when we become angry or upset because someone has challenged what we believe, we betray the reality that our own faiths are shallower than we would like to admit. We may need not only to invite our children, friends, and neighbors to come see for themselves what God is like and what His word truly says, we may need to go and see for ourselves all over again as well.

May we learn, like the Samaritan woman, to invite the people around us to evaluate the evidence for themselves and come to their own conclusions. Memorizing correct answers is not the same as true learning. True learning must take place in the individual.