Fortunately for us, the Word of God speaks to the issue of traditions frequently. And even more importantly, our Lord Jesus Christ helps clearly define what they will look like. What a gracious act of mercy!
Overall, a tradition is a custom or belief that is translated into action from generation to generation, and/or group to group, and/or person to person. In the same way that the Bible emphatically proclaims that all actions are either good or evil, it also states all religious traditions are either from God (good) or man (evil). There is no middle ground.
Christ Flames Out Evil Traditions of Man
Here are the direct mentions of tradition(s) in the New Testament record. The main Greek word used is paradosis, which is a “a handing down or over.” Notice that we have added the word “man” to “elders” to further clarify the polar opposite.
Matthew 15:1-9 Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders (man)? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition (of the elders-man)? For God said, ‘HONOR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER,’ and, ‘HE WHO SPEAKS EVIL OF FATHER OR MOTHER IS TO BE PUT TO DEATH.’
“But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever I have that would help you has been given to God, he is not to honor his father or his mother.’ And by this you invalidated the word (tradition) of God for the sake of your tradition (of the elders-man).
“You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.'”
In this story in Mark we see a few additional interesting tidbits.
Mark 7:8-9 “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men (elders).” He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition (of men).
We see here the juxtaposition between neglecting the commandment of God (evil) by setting it aside vs. the worship of God by teaching and living His doctrines (good). Again, there no middle ground.
Now then, one of the most perplexing things about the false religious leaders of the ancient day was that they combined their rank heresy teaching with occasions of truth. Much like modern times, this completely misleads the flock who put their stock in these teachers.
We see Christ graciously admonishing the crowds and disciples about the hypocritical message being sent.
Matthew 23:1-3 Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you (that is true truth from God’s traditions), do and observe (guard), but do not do according to their (evil) deeds; for they say things and do not do them.
Of course, there were saved Pharisees like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. The Word alludes to the fact that as least some were frightened to make a public stand.
John 19:38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body.
Paul Speaks Plainly to God’s Traditions & Man’s Traditions
The apostle Paul speaks resolutely to the traditions of God he handed down to the new church plants, and the saints. It is quite clear he and they knew what these were since he did not describe them in the command.
1 Corinthians 11:2 Now I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions (of God), just as I delivered them to you.
2 Thessalonians 2:15 So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.
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 (tradition of God).
2 Thessalonians 3:6 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 (of God) which you received from us.
The obvious question, then, should be what are the traditions of God and the traditions of man? And how do we discern the difference in bringing pleasure to our Father?
Traditions of God Defined
First, we need a simple definition to remember as a plumb line. We offer this: whatever the world and carnal church loves to do, or to excess, just do the opposite.
We must remember that all of our behavior, including motive, needs to be holy, i.e. set apart from the pedestrian day by day activities of the lost and dying world. If we cannot with our heart rush to the throne and give our Father the activity that provides Him great glory, then we must refrain from it. This also includes the most simple action like even carefully brushing our teeth!
1 Peter 1:14-16 As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, “YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY.”
Biblical Traditions Examples
Some examples of Biblical traditions are in order.
1) Assembly (church) meetings…
a) we are to assemble as we are able (Heb. 10.25), and many meet on the first day of the week (1 Cor. 16.2); therefore, meeting once a year under ordinary circumstances is not acceptable when at least weekly, whenever possible, is the tradition Paul handed down.
b) we are not to demand assembling a specific day (Col. 2.16), like those who have told me to my face I’m going to hell if I fail to meet on Saturday, mainly Seventh Day Adventist denomination folk.
c) we are not to allow a head buffalo “pastor” to be in charge like the Roman Catholic priest-pope, but have a plurality of leaders-elders, with each having a voice (Heb. 13.17).
2) Meeting in homes like the early assemblies so each believer can enjoy the open forum led by the Holy Spirit, obey the ‘one anothers,’ and use their gifting (1 Cor. 14.26).
3) Carefully listening and discussing crucial issues to preserve the unity of the Spirit and avoiding church splits: Acts 15, Eph. 4
4) Agreeing on everything, and letting the irreconcilable factions leave: 1 Cor. 1.10, 1 Cor. 11.19, 2 Tim. 3
5) Public reading of the Scripture: 1 Tim. 4.13
6) Open rebuke of leaders who continue in sin in front of all: Titus 3.10
7) Except the Father, everyone has a “head” – Christ has the Father, Man has Christ, Woman has Man: 1 Cor. 11.3
When you begin to see this revelation about the traditions of God, many areas of our spiritual life include long standing traditions from the Word of God. They are the norm. We should be comfortable with them, and should obey them.
Some examples of demonic traditions of man are in order…
1) Like the false Pharisees, any forced and demanded allegiance without obeying the obvious heart of God: Matt. 23.4
2) Adding laws for initial salvation: Eph. 2.8-10
3) Demanding assembly on a certain day, or a specific OT celebration: Col. 2.16
4) Requiring a person to attend a church with a “pastor” who actually lords authority over the flock and protects unbelievers: Matt. 20.25, 2 Cor. 6.14-17
5) Taking up arms to kill enemies when God places leaders in authority to control His world: Romans 12.14-13.7
6) Storing up greedy treasures on earth as taught by almost all Christian financial planners and church leaders: Matt. 6.19-34, Luke 16.14-15
Living God’s Traditions Will Bring Persecution & Please God
Traditions of God are commanded, not suggested. They are good for the saints and not legalism. Grace is available to obey God, not to cover up willful and consistent sin.
Hebrews 12:14 Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification (holiness) without which no one will see the Lord.
The evil traditions of the world, the devil, are ordinarily foisted upon the populace by religious leaders who often think they are doing God a favor. Well, not so. Jesus warned us of such people, especially in end times.
John 16:2 “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue (assemblies), but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God…”
So, therefore, the burning question is what traditions are you, dear one, practicing on week by week basis? Do they all bring pleasure to God? Or are you mostly tickling your own fancy?
Colossians 1:10 …so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God…
If you ever encounter a practice that appears uncertain to you, just remember anything that the world loves to do, or to excess, is a tradition of man.
Just do the opposite. The Holy Spirit will lead you into all truth and confirm the real path of God!
See brother Beresford Job teach this excellent Video and Podcast series on the history of the traditions here.
See our Post on Good or Evil here.
Your friend and brother in fighting the good fight,
Saints, we’re one day closer to Home, and Him! Love Him wholeheartedly!
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You may view our Archives here: RIGHTLY DIVIDING THE WORD – ARCHIVES; Complete Archives. May our Father richly bless you with His grace, through Jesus Christ our Lord, in order to walk worthy of His name.
Marc White, Director, Walk Worthy Ministries, www.WalkWorthy.org