So many traditions in our culture and in our churches, and I wonder which ones are valuable, and which ones are hindering us from being what we ought to be? First we must define the word ‘tradition.’ According to an online dictionary, traditions are the passing on of customs, or beliefs from one generation to the next. It may also be a long established custom or belief. What I have discovered is that just because something is a tradition, does not make it right or biblical; keep in mind that it does not make it wrong either.
Bible on Traditions
Jesus: In the gospels, we constantly see Jesus trying to help people see the difference between what God commanded, and what the elders developed as traditions. Matthew 15 shows the priests confronting Jesus for the breaking of traditions by the disciples. Jesus’ response was “Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your traditions? (v2)” They had created so many rules/traditions that some of them had actually kept people from obeying the commandments given to them by God! In this case, they had given themselves a loophole so that they could justify not honouring their parents. The key problem is that the ‘spiritual leaders’ of Israel were honouring God with their words out of pride, but not honouring God with their hearts. Does that sound familiar? Too often people come across as super spiritual, but their many rules and traditions cover up justification of sin!
Paul: In his letter to the Corinthians, (1 Corinthians 11), Paul encourages the church to maintain the traditions he had developed with them. Here we see an example of traditions that help remind the believers to keep their focus on the glory of God, and to rely on Him for their strength and direction. In his letter to the Colossians (2:8), he warns them to be careful and discerning when it comes to human traditions. The key difference is that ‘human’ traditions are according to the “elemental spirits of the world.” What he is talking about here is the fundamental teachings of the culture (which often is different than that of God’s word). So, it sounds like a prayer for discernment is needed here!
What is key here, I believe, is a discerning spirit. Paul prays, regarding the believers in Philippi (1:9), “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.” We need to ask God to help us see His perspective and to examine our traditions for biblical merit. The merit, of course, is that it would help us grow in faith, and not hinder our faith. For example, my family had a habit of gathering in the evening for reading the Bible and praying for others. I have seen the benefit of that model and have carried that forward into my marriage. There is no instruction about family devotional time specified in the Bible or in the commandments, but there are principles that do guide us to this valuable tradition.
Another tradition that is honoured by many is to take a summer vacation and go somewhere with the family to see the sights and ‘get away from town’ and the pressures of the job. Is there anything inherently wrong with that? Absolutely not! What we have to do, though, is examine how it affects our faith. Most people would say, ‘It doesn’t affect my faith because I need a break.’ Questions we will need to ask are: Why am I going on this trip? Am I still prioritizing time with God on the trip? Does this trip take me away from responsibilities in my church? Am I taking the time to fellowship with believers at a local church where I am vacationing? Is this a wise use of my finances? A vacation is neither good nor bad on its own, but we must remember that God has called us to be good stewards of our time and our finances.
A third example of tradition is the style of music used in a church service. The Bible talks about all sorts of styles, not recommending any one for the use of worship. Some churches have a tradition of hymns only; other churches have a tradition of only new songs; a third group like to have a combination of ‘hymns’ and ‘choruses.’ Who is right? Everybody … and nobody. The discernment needed here is regarding the lyrics, message and the way it is presented. Lyrics must present a message that is in line with the scriptures. The message presented must be presented in such a way that the music matches the mood of the lyrics, and direct the person towards God. Another consideration is who the song focusses on: yourself, or God.
Conclusion of the Matter
So, what a I getting at with all of this? Traditions of themselves are neither good nor bad, however, we need discernment on whether or not they are valuable in advancing our faith in God. Paul told the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 10:23-24) “"All things are lawful," but not all things are helpful. "All things are lawful," but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” Let us have good traditions of meeting together as believers (Hebrews 10:24-25), of spending personal and family time with God, and of sharing the gospel. Let us also examine all our cultural and church traditions to see what they accomplish in building up the Kingdom of God.