What is tradition? By definition, tradition is the handing down of information, beliefs and customs by word of mouth or by example from one generation to the next. This is usually done without written instructions. Anything put is writing is usually put on paper after the tradition has been in place for some time. Hence the idea “But we've always done it this way!”
What are some traditions we see today? In all honesty, most of the forms or structures held in the church today would qualify as traditions. This would include such things as: scheduled times of worship, styles of worship, order of worship, membership, the church bulletin, whether or not to use instruments and if so which ones, specific dress codes, the invitation/altar call, frequency of communion, styles of music played and sang, committees, boards and on and on the list can go.
How are traditions formed? They generally begin with someone who is truly sincere, That person wants to serve more effectively. A method, application or interpretation is turned in to a rule. Some form of Scriptural support is found for the new rule. The Scripture is usually taken out of context in order to make it fit the new rule. This approach or method is then repeated until it becomes part of the church culture.
What good are traditions? They help us somewhat to bring order to our lives. They provide sameness, security and stability in our lives. Many people have family traditions. Some have certain holiday traditions. There's nothing wrong with that. But in the church, traditions kill. They will snuff the life out of a church body
What are the dangers of church traditions? Read Mark 7:1-23 and you will see some of the dangers of church traditions. From this Scripture we learn traditions can encourage hypocrisy. You see, traditions are usually easier to obey than truth. When we have a “we've always done it this way mentality” there are others who have grasped that same mentality. Therefore, others are holding to those same traditions as you are. It's much more comfortable that way. Tradition focuses on our action. Truth, on the other hand, focuses on attitudes that produce actions. Traditions can supplant – take the place of - Scripture (Mark 7:9-12). Traditions make obedience easier in that it need not come from the heart. Instead of obeying God from the heart we are going along with the tradition that has always been in place. Tradition tends toward conformity to make it appear that there is obedience. We often hold to tradition while ignoring Scripture. When tradition takes the place of Scripture there's a big problem! Tradition can twist Bible doctrine (Mark 7:14-16, 21-23). They can twist depravity by allowing a focus on externals rather than heart realities. Traditions lower the standard of righteousness to merely following a list. It turns the fear of God into a fear of what has become church culture. They can contribute to spiritual blindness (Matt 15:12-14)
Matt 15:12-14 Then came His disciples, and said unto Him, Knowest thou that the Pharisees were offended, after they heard this saying? But He answered and said, Every plant, which my heavenly Father hat not planted, shall be rooted up. Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch
I find it interesting that Jesus didn't seem to be concerned with offending the religious people of His day. The fact is, truth will offend at times.
People get emotional about their traditions. They get riled up when they are challenged. Trust me, I know from experience. Emotional reactions oftentimes reveal the inner working of the heart. Beware when intense emotions arise over non-biblical matters. Beware of leaders who lead by tradition or by an appeal to tradition. Without a doubt, traditions can stifle a ministry (Mark 7:17-20). Traditions can kill a move of God by hindering what He desires to do. Too often we have a “Don't upset my applecart” mentality. Perhaps we need out apple carts turned over!
If we find ourselves bound up by tradition, how should we handle it? First and foremost we must realize and acknowledge it's all about JESUS – not traditions. If we can't acknowledge and agree on that then there are even more underlying spiritual issues to deal with. We must reaffirm our commitment to the authority and sufficiency of Scripture. We must distinguish the difference between tradition and truth. We must reject those traditions (methods and ways of doing things) that contradict God's Word or have no basis in Scripture. We must allow room for others to share what God has laid on their heart. No one person has the corner on hearing from God! We need to let go of those traditions that keep people in their seats. We must refuse to be bound by traditional methods of doing things. We must refuse to bind others with the chains of tradition. We must develop a growing, discerning life of spiritual reality if we are to break free and walk and live in the freedom and liberty God has for us.
Tradition has it's place. Just not in the church. We mustn't allow the Christian community to be divided by tradition. It just isn't Scriptural, even though it is often held as if it were.
God desires His people to be free indeed.
Until next time...enjoy the journey!
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