Tradition and Truth

Tradition and Truth

If you have been a pastor for any length of time, you know the traditions of a church can create some tension. The key to managing these traditions is making a wise assessment—do they elevate above the commands of God? Often, they do not, but in some cases, they do. A rural church will often have traditions handed down by generations of men, and the current generation does not even know why they do it. 

Jesus asked many questions. One was asked of the Pharisees concerning their traditions: “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition” (Matthew 15:3)? Tradition can exist in churches of all sizes, whether rural, city center, or suburban. The “we’ve always done it this way” crowd generally exists in smaller churches and is often deep in family ties. Tradition is not evil in and of itself. Defined, it means “something given or handed down over an extended period of time.” According to Mounce’s Expository Dictionary, “paradosis refers to keeping the traditions of men with the ultimate effect of disobeying the commands of God” (Matt. 15:2, 3, 6; Mark 7:3, 5, 8, 9, 13).

When referring to his traditions as he was being schooled in Judaism, Paul said in Galatians 1:13,14,

And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased.

The Pharisees had a niche for adding to the law and elevating it above Scripture. Paul wrote in Colossians 2:8,

See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ.

Not all tradition is bad. 2 Thessalonians 2:15 states,

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.

Likewise, 2 Thessalonians 3:6 says

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.

It appears that whatever these traditions were, they were spiritually beneficial and did not exceed the authority of Scripture.

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