Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Church Reform - Tradition

You know what different traditions your particular church has. You probably enjoy some of them, tolerate many of them, and despise a few of them. You may know where they came from or have no idea how they started. One thing is for sure, if you challenge some of them (like the kids' Easter Egg Hunt), the result may not be a pretty sight.

What does the bible have to say about tradition? Three N.T. passages deal with this very issue. All three employ the Greek word "paradosis," which is translated "tradition."

Matthew 15:1-6 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat." He answered them, "And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.' But you say, 'If anyone tells his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father.' So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.

Colossians 2:8 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.

II Thessalonians 3:6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.

(In the above three passages, I italicized the word tradition).

In the Matthew 15 passage, Jesus is once again dealing with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees. The Pharisees are upset because Jesus' disciples are not following "the tradition of the elders." In other words, the disciples were rejecting man-made traditions as being unnecessary. Jesus, then, turns the tables on the Pharisees by telling them that they have "broken the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition." The Pharisees had given approval when people had not supported their parents financially and had blamed this on their need to give money instead to God. So in this case, the traditions are clearly shown in a negative light.

Paul, in Colossians 2:8, warns the readers about false teachings that could take them captive "according to human tradition." Paul goes on to indicate that this human tradition is not "according to Christ." One of the primary reasons Paul wrote this specific letter was to assist the Colossian believers in fending off false teachings. Paul clearly speaks of tradition here in a negative light, as he contrasts it with the teachings of Jesus himself.

Finally, in II Thessalonians 3:6, we see Paul forcefully commanding the readers to keep away from
any brother who is "not in accord with the tradition that you received from us." So in this verse, Paul wants the Christians in Thessalonica to avoid those who are not in agreement with what Paul had taught them. Paul had taught them truths about following Christ, which were based on the O.T. In II Thessalonians 3:6, tradition is written about in a positive light.

So what is going on here? In the first two passages, tradition is seen negatively. However, in II Thessalonians it is spoken of positively. Is there a contradiction here?

There is no contradiction because scripture cannot contradict itself. If we just take a look at what is being written about, it is very clear what is happening. In both Matthew and Colossians, what is being referred to is man-made traditions. In Colossians, those traditions are even contradicting scripture. However, in II Thessalonians Paul is referring to his prior teachings, which are all in perfect harmony with the Old Testament.

What can we learn from this? First, when traditions are man-made, we should have freedom to not follow them. Second, when traditions contradict scripture, we must break them. Third, when traditions are scriptural, we should follow them.

How does this apply to the church today? As we look at the local churches where we attend and serve, we ought to analyze the traditions to see how they compare to scripture. My guess is that most church traditions are man-made, but do not violate the bible. Since this is the case, we have freedom as to whether or not to follow them. I will say, however, that we should look at our motives when we intend to break church traditions. If we are doing so just to prove a point, and what we are doing will just cause turmoil within the body, then we may be better off following the traditions anyway.

If we see a church tradition that violates scripture, we ought to break it. When this happens, we must explain to our brothers and sisters in Christ why we are doing this.

If a church tradition is scriptural, then we should continue with it. I see no problem there.


Alan Knox said...


I ran across a quote recently that you might like:

Experience supplies painful proof that traditions once called into being are first called useful, then they become necessary. At last they are too often made idols, and all must bow down to them or be punished. - J. C. Ryle

Also, there is a differences between Tradition and traditions. All of us come from some type of Tradition (catholic, reformed, baptist, lutheran, etc.), and we also have certain traditions (the individual practices that we do because we've always done them). Both Tradition and traditions affect our hermeneutics. We cannot completely suppress either, but we can allow Scripture to change both - but it will probably happen slowly.

To show how powerful Tradition is (even to us baptists who claim to follow Scripture only), do you know why we have 66 books in our Bible?


Eric said...


Thanks for the Ryle quote. He is right on the money.

I agree that Tradition and traditions affect our hermeneutics. I suppose (and hope) that admitting that is the first step toward more accurate interpretation of scripture.

As for your last question, my answer is that I believe the Holy Spirit inspired all the books of the bible. However, I also know that several of the OT books (such as Kings and Chronicles) were configured differently in the Hebrew bible than they are in our English bibles (thanks to the Septuagint). What have I left out?

Kat said...

I think it's easy to fall into following tradition because it gives us both visual and social cues to govern our actions. We don't have to think about why we do things...we just do them because it is expected of us. It is easier to swim with the tide than to re-think the direction of our journey.
About the 66 books...
I've been reading a non-traditional version of scripture called "The Books of the Bible" (Today's New International Version), and it has really opened up my "chapter and verse" box, because it doesn't have any. Without those traditional constraints, I feel as though I'm part of the story instead of just an onlooker.
btw I bought my copy in non-traditional orange insted of black :)

Eric said...


Thanks for your comment.

I agree with you that tradition tends to let us do what we do and not think too much about it. This is so dangerous because many folks probably aren't even saved but think they are because they "go to church."

Living down here in the "bible-belt," we see many people who attend church as tradition. Many do not think about it.

Alan Knox said...


There are others who would also say, "I believe the Holy Spirit inspired all the books of the bible", and yet, their Bible contains different books than our 66. Our Tradition of 66 books in the Bible is handed down to us from the Reformation. Other traditions which are much older have more books. All claim inspiration for the included books.


Eric said...


That can be a difficult issue. However, I'll side with those who say that scripture itself is the ultimate authority in the church, as opposed to those who say that scripture and tradition are equal in authority. Some may say that my view itself is based upon tradition; if that is the case, then so be it.

What do you think we should do with the books that are outside the 66, but are considered to be canonical by some?

Joe Blackmon said...


Just a thought-Do you think the problem with traditions in the church is that we don't take time to re-evaluate them every so often? I don't mean like Catholic garbage. I guess I was thinking that some traditions, even though they're not in the Bible, aren't wrong in and of themselves but rather that we have gotten to the point where we don't think about the true meaning behind our worship, etc.

Eric said...


I do think it is important to re-evaluate traditions every once in a while. When we do this, we must use scripture as our guide. Clearly, if a tradition violates scripture, then we need to get rid of it. If it follows scripture, then we should keep it. The difficulty is that many of our traditions have little to do with scripture either way. When this is the case, I think we have freedom in keeping it or not.

Rhea said...

Tradition...this is one of the hardest issues in the church today. In the past few months I told a few of my friends that I was thinking about not celebrating Christmas and Easter (b/c there are not mentioned in the Bible, and actually come from pagan traditions/holidays). I thought that two of those friends were going to KILL me over it! I didn't even say that it was bad/wrong that they celebrate it, I was just saying that for me, I wasn't sure that I wanted to celebrate those holidays.

Eric said...


Tradition is a difficult issue. Christians tend to want to live according to the bible until it gets in the way of some of their fondest traditions. That's when people must ask themselves what their supreme authority really is - the bible, tradition, their reasoning capacities, or their experiences/feelings.

If a person really lives according to scripture, he or she will face opposition from outside the church and especially from within.

Brian said...

its funny how we evangelicals knock catholics for their putting tradition on par with scripture when we are prone to do the same even though we won't always admit it.

Eric said...


You are very right about that. I suppose one of our first battles is to recognize that we are doing this, admit the problem, and then place scripture above even those traditions that we love and feel comfortable with.