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Traditions

So often these days we hear people, both inside and outside the church, slamming traditions as if there is something automatically wrong with any and all traditions.   As a child growing up in the 60’s, traditions were often maligned by many in my generation.   As it was said to “tune in, turn on and drop out”, and parents traditions were snubbed and often just jeered by many, however not by all.   In fact, I have learned over time, most did not.  

In the church, many are wanting to do away with any traditions claiming that “it is just a tradition and not scriptural”.   While we do have many traditions, the claim that they are not scriptural is usually wrong and the reasons they are wrong is the premise upon which that judgment is made, is an incorrect premise.  So how do we determine if our traditions are scriptural or not scriptural?   The answer to that and all Biblical questions lies in the teachings of the Bible.    Merely making a claim that something is not scriptural is insufficient, that claim must be backed up with scripture that shows it is not scriptural.

So let’s begin by turning to scripture to see if some of our traditions are scriptural or not.

There are two parallel passages in the Gospels, one is Matt. 15: 1-9 and the other is from Mark 7:1-13.    There are other passages in Paul’s letter and one from the Old Testament book of Isaiah, which Jesus quoted.     Since the two gospel passages are parallel accounts, I will use only Matthews here:

1 Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 "Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread." 3 And He answered and said to them, "Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?  4 "For God said, 'HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER,' and, 'HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH.'  5 "But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,"  6 he is not to honor his father or his mother.' And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.  7 "You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you:

8 'THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS,

BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME.

9 'BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME,

TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'"

Matt 15:1-9   NASU

Here the Pharisees tried to get Jesus to follow their traditions and Jesus would not do it.   The reason he gave them was from the Old Testament Commandments to Honor your Father and Mother and He who speaks evil of Father or Mother is to be put to death.   Now notice the language Jesus uses to start verse 5:   “But you say,..”.     Whenever you see a sentence start with But or However, that signals a complete change of direction and that occurs here.   The change Jesus is referring to what the Pharisees are teaching and it completely different than what God has instructed.    In other words, they changed the word of God.  Look carefully now exactly what Jesus told them about this:

5 "But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, "Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God,"  6 he is not to honor his father or his mother.' And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition.

What Jesus has called them on the carpet for is contradicting God’s commandment.    God said for the young person were to honor their Father and Mother.   What the Pharisees did was to interfere with God’s commandment to the point it changed the meaning and commandment that God gave.   Breaking down what the Pharisee’s did was this:  they told the person to say to their parents that Whatever it was that I had has been given to God, therefore you are not to honor your father or mother.  The prevented/interfered with the young person, even though they may have wanted too.   God commandment to the young people was to honor their parents and this was taken away from them by false teaching brought on by man-made traditions which contradict God’s word.

Jesus then goes on in Verse 8 and 9 to condemn the Pharisee’s actions very harshly.   He says they are paying Him token lip service and their hearts are far away from God’s original teaching on this matter.  Verse 9 comes the condemnation for their actions.    There worship is vain, meaning God will not accept it.   The reason for the condemnation from Jesus is that they laid aside the commandments of God in favor of their own perceptions of how it should be.   In other words, they substituted their judgment for God’s judgment.

Jesus condemned this tradition of the Elders because it interfered with what God had set up, therefore this interference with God’s commandment brought condemnation on the Pharisee’s.    So the lesson you can take from this is better defined by forming a question you need to ask:

Is your traditions interfering with and altering God’s commandments or does your traditions promote and advance God’s commandments to grow the church both spiritually and numerically?

I think the next thing we need to look at is the first century church and the work that was given to the Apostles who were men working under the direction operation and control of the Holy Spirit, a special dispensation of the Holy Spirit given only to them so they could properly establish the first century church.   I have underlined a portion of each passage, only to point out the use of traditions in the first century church.

Here are a few passages from Paul’s letters:

1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.  2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.     1 Corinthians 11:1-2   NASU

14 It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. 16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, 17 comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.    2 Thessalonians 2:14-17 NASU

6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 

2 Thessalonians  3: 6-7  NASU

Before we get into these passages, and they are not difficult, also remember that what the Apostle Paul wrote was actually written by the Holy Spirit and therefore approved by God, as God, Jesus  and the Holy Spirit are one and the same.    Let’s look at the first verse:

1 Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.  2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you.     1 Corinthians 11:1-2   NASU

Here we find Paul telling them to “hold firmly to the traditions” when he had delivered to them.   We do not know what the traditions are, but clearly Paul had delivered some traditions to them and commandment them to hold firm in the traditions.  

Now the second passage:

14 It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. 15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. 16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ Himself and God our Father, who has loved us and given us eternal comfort and good hope by grace, 17 comfort and strengthen your hearts in every good work and word.    2 Thessalonians 2:14-17 NASU

Again, all the previous apply as Paul wrote under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, so this is approved by God also.    Paul gives a little more information here.   He says either “by word of mouth or by letter from us”.   Again, we do not know what the traditions were, and some were never written down by Paul, they were verbal, yet God approved of them again.   

The third passage:

6 Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. 7 For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example, because we did not act in an undisciplined manner among you, 

2 Thessalonians  3: 6-7  NASU

Again, all the previous apply as Paul wrote under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit, so this is approved by God also.    In this passage, Paul is linking a member of the church who leads a life that a Christian should not be leading and not following the “traditions which you received from us”.   Again, we are not told what the traditions are, but we know that God approved of them.

Since it was Paul position as an Apostle, and we see his various and tireless journey’s in Acts setting up and working with many churches, was giving churches traditions to follow.   What this tells us is God did not have a problem with traditions, whereas Jesus had problems with the Pharisee’s traditions.   So let’s go back to our question:

Is your traditions interfering with and altering God’s commandments or does your traditions promote and advance God’s commandments to grow the church both spiritually and numerically?

Paul’s commandment to follow the traditions he gave them met with God’s approval and we know that God would not approve of anything that did not advance the cause of the church, therefore these traditions, whatever they were are fine.   What we can take from this is that traditions are fine, as long as they carry out what God what’s done and do not contradict commandments from God.   If they contradict commandments, then the same thing would apply today as it did in the first century, that your worship is on vain.

With that understanding, let’s look at some of our traditions in the church.   I know I will not cover all of them, but will look at a few of the more common or regularly used traditions.   

God’s Invitation at the end of the sermon

Nowhere in scripture does it say to offer an invitation at the end of a sermon, to put on the Lord in Baptism or for restoration or for prayer for an individual, so it would be a tradition.   Since scripture repeatedly commands baptism for salvation, tells us to restore erring Christians and to be ready to help anyone.    So does this tradition carry out the work of the church or does it contradict God’s word.  Well that is obvious, it furthers the work of the church.  If we limited these things to only this time frame, after a sermon, then our tradition would conflict with God’s teaching and that would be a sin.   We know and understand that a person can be baptized at any time or any hour, a person does not have to wait until Sunday morning to ask for strength to restart his or her Christian life and so on.   Since this invitation furthers the work of the church and does not contradict God’s work, this would be fine.

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