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Traditions – Are They Beneficial Or Harmful?

Tradition is a major component of most religious group’s beliefs and practices. Church services are conducted along specific guidelines and rituals. Some sing specific songs at a particular time. One group will allow Deacons or elders to run the church while others insist that is the Pastor’s sole prerogative and others use a democratic system. What is taught is based on tradition in many churches. Such traditions are to be found in every church, and are often held to make worship more satisfying. For those of another tradition, they are sometimes unsettling.

These traditions can become a source of conflict between groups. As an example, I think of two Baptist groups who were in serious conflict over how missionaries should be supported. One group pooled their mission money, and divided it up evenly among missionaries. The other group supported their missionaries individually, as individual churches.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both positions. The pooling system should prevent some missionaries from getting excessive support while others are barely getting by. The individual support system is believed to enable churches to be more sure how their support is used and what those missionaries are doing on the field. Both systems can, and have been abused from time to time. In this case, scripture gives no clear instruction, leaving the exact method to the church’s discretion.

Another conflict has been between Catholics and Protestants over calling priests “Father”. Matthew 23:9 is usually cited as the cause of the conflict, saying “And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.” Many Protestants say that the scripture is too specific to ignore.

Those same groups often call their pastors “Pastor” or “Doctor” ignoring the preceding and following verses, which forbid the use of titles which belong to God or Christ. The passage then advises that self promotion will result abasement before God.

Clearly, both traditions are contrary to scripture. Jesus told the Scribes and Pharisees “Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition”(Mark 7:9). In Matthew 15:3, he asked them, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?.”

While some traditions are beneficial, others are contrary to God’s word and need to be avoided, leading to the situation Jesus describes in Matthew 15:8-9, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.”

We need to examine our traditions in the light of scripture to see if they are causing us to worship God to no purpose or not. Paul warns the Colossians to “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8).

Our traditional views of salvation, baptism, marriage, communion, worship, spirituality, and Christian living all need to be reviewed to be sure that they are in fact valid. Gay marriage is contrary to the tradition of most churches. Newsweek published an article December 15th, which challenged whether that tradition was in fact what the scripture said. I have no doubt that Gay marriage is contrary to the scripture, but if our position is not aligned with the scripture, we are also in the wrong, and such challenges are valid.

II Timothy 2:15 instructs us, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Careful study can identify traditions that are contrary to the Bible and prevent a proper relationship with God.

by Donald Fishgrab

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