Hate Your Traditions Yet?
Is our religion formed by the traditions we hold? I mean, when there is a tough issue raised in the church, we may say we go by the Bible, but do we really or do we ultimately err on the side of traditions? For instance, I love a cappella worship and most would agree. But, is it wrong if we have more than 7 songs? I remember getting corrected once for leading too many song (10) and in fact, I was scolded by one. For what? For singing too many praises to God? Uh-huh. I was shocked when someone even started citing “preference” rules to me as to why I was wrong. Another even went to the point of saying that I sinned. Extreme?? Yes, just a tad. Others have been corrected for not holding to similar “traditional practices.” Obviously, people can make whatever decisions about the church they want to make and claim it is essential to salvation.
We cannot make the argument that “I just want what I grew up with…” and it not be about tradition. The appeal itself is about past practice, which is, by definition, tradition. It puzzles me how many times Christians make mountains out of molehills. And, if you listen to some of the arguments carefully, many of them boil down to an appeal to church of Christ tradition, such like: “I don’t have a problem with it, but…” or “I don’t think it’s wrong, but…” or – and this is the granddaddy of all traditional arguments – “I don’t think it’s a salvation issue, but…”This is what is often the cause of numerous, numerous divisions and splintering.
So, are there traditions that we should hold to? Yes. Paul said, “So then, brothers, 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). What traditions? The ones man makes up? Nope. For Paul also said, “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.” (Colossians 2:8). Furthermore, Jesus said,“…And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3). Paul told Timothy, “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). I know. WOW!
So again what are the traditions that Paul talks about in 2 Thessalonians 2:15? Paul is talking about the authentic teachings of the apostles that were handed down orally before the New Testament was even available. O.K. So, what were they? Well, the people were warned against the traditions of the elders, which displaced and made void the commandments of God. Jesus said, “Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men…” (Mark 7:7-8). So, the traditions that Paul speaks of are those which had been taught by inspiration because there is a night and day difference between the traditions developed by man and those which have been revealed by God. Today, those “traditions” is called the Bible: “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21).
But, what about man-made traditions, like the length of the sermon or what days (other than Sunday) we should worship God collectively? What about the order of worship? Or, are we under the impression that the Bible says, “Thou shalt not change any items in the order of worship?” What about the role of the preacher: Many church members have a clear expectation of what “their” minister should do despite the fact that the Bible already outlines what a minister is to do. Many consider the preacher as an employee or servant of the church and therefore, the church is an employer that determines the scope and duties of the work of their employee. Some make the statement: “We pay the preacher and we tell him what to do.” But, the Bible already tells a minster what to do (Romans 1, 10; 1 Timothy 4:12; 2 Timothy 2:2; Ephesians 4:11-12; 2 Timothy 3:14-17). And, if we go by the Bible, we learn that the minister is God’s minister (Romans 1:1).
Still, other traditions are things such like: Why do we have committees? Why can’t we use better curriculum if it is better? Must we make the rule only use the KJV or don’t come preaching here? Do we have business meetings just to have them so we can argue over non-important issues? There are too many others to write.
My purpose for writing this article is that we be cautious about traditions. None are set in stone. None are a test of fellowship. None are essential for salvation and it is sad to see all the heartache in the church because well meaning brethren could not distinguish between “law” and “tradition.” We need to study the Scriptures more (2 Timothy 2:15). We need to realize that even if some things were done by pioneer brethren years ago, this does not make them the authoritative guide. We must have a greater sense of tolerance for brethren whose practices, in areas of judgment, vary from ours. Sadly, man-made traditions are running people out of the church and keeping them from coming back. This should never be the case. This is why Paul states, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself” (Philippians 2:3). And, as simple as this verse is to understand, it has been quite difficult to fully believe and live out in the church. So, let us all have more Jesus and less ruthlessness in the church. “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).