What’s Wrong With Tradition?

By Rufus R. Clifford III

The story is told of young lady who married and in her zeal to please her new husband wanted to prepare a wonderful feast for him to eat. While preparing the ham her husband noticed she cut off the end and threw it in the garbage can. Disturbed by his new wife’s apparent wastefulness he insisted on knowing why she had done such a thing. His wife didn’t know, so she called her mother who in turn called her mother, who then gave the answer. It turns out the great, great grandmother of this girl had a pan that was too short, so every time she prepared a ham she had to cut off the end! This tradition had prevailed for many years. We all can see the foolishness of this.

Today it is not uncommon to hear brethren, who have been Christians for many years, make the claim in business meetings and in classes “Oh, it’s just our tradition”! This bothers me and it ought to bother you as well. Why does it bother me?

1. It Bothers Me Because: When this statement is made it is implying that the only reason we do the things we do in our worship to Almighty God is because our parents and their parents before them did these things. What message are we sending out to those who hear us make this cry? Someone visiting our service that day (a non-Christian) might hear that statement and think “Well my parents are just as smart as these folks’ parents.” So what if we worship differently than them? After all, “It’s only tradition”!

2. It Bothers Me Because: When that statement is made it is implying that the way we are doing things now needs to change! You see if we are just following our parents and their parents’ example in our worship to God then there would be no harm in changing things to better suit the times we are living in! Let’s add some things next Sunday to our worship service say like a band and liven up things a little! After all, “It’s only tradition”!

3. It Bothers Me Because: When that statement is made it is implying that the Lord’s church is no longer sufficient to accomplish the work for which God gave the church to do! If this be the case then there would be nothing wrong with the social gospel! There would be nothing wrong with other organizations receiving money from churches to do their work! After all, “It’s only tradition”! I ask the question now “What’s wrong with tradition”? The answer lies in understanding the word itself.

Tradition: (paradosis) Thayer & Smith: “a giving over which is done by word of mouth or in writing, i.e. tradition by instruction, narrative, precept, etc. . . . a. objectively, that which is delivered, the substance of a teaching.  b. of the body of precepts, esp. ritual, which in the opinion of the later Jews were orally delivered by Moses and orally transmitted in unbroken succession to subsequent generations . . . which precepts, both illustrating and expanding the written law, as they did were to be obeyed with equal reverence.” 

Tradition, we see, is simply the passing down or handing down of a teaching from someone to someone else. The truth of the matter is tradition can be good and tradition can be bad! “Can one be handed down a wrong tradition”? Yes, the ham example is living proof of that as well as the countless denominations scattered throughout the country. Many people are what they are religiously simply because their parents were and their parents before them were! So we see that tradition can be good and bad! Just listen to what the Scriptures declare: The word “tradition” is used eleven times in the King James version.

Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread (Matt. 15:2).

But He answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? (Matt 15:3).

And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition (Matt. 15:6).

For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders (Mark 7:3).

Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? (Mark 7:5).

For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups; and many other such like things ye do (Mark 7:8).

And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition (Mark 7:9).

Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition which ye have delivered; and many such things do ye (Mark 7:13).

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 (Col. 2:8).

Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us (2 Thess. 3:6).

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers (1 Pet. 1:18).

The word tradition is used twice in the plural:

And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers (Gal. 1:14).

Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle (2 Thess. 2:15).

The apostle Paul answers our question for us in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 when he told the brethren to stand fast and hold the traditions that they had been taught! Traditions are good when they come from sound doctrine. Sound doctrine is Christ’s doctrine! Christ is the source of all authority. He is God’s spokesman today (Heb. 1:1). He has all authority (Matt. 28:18) and his message is from God (John 17:7-8). We are under law to Christ today, not Moses or the prophets (1Cor. 9:21). Christ gave authority to the Apostles who were guided by the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; Gal. 1:12; 2 Pet.1:20-21) when they gave the world the Bible! We have therefore today the inspired will of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17)! In 2 John 9 we are told through the Holy Spirit through John that if we want to have both the Father and the Son we must “abide” (continue) in the doctrine of Christ!

This means if you are following a tradition (paradosis) “a giving over which is done by word of mouth or in writing, i.e., tradition by instruction, narrative, precept, etc.      . . . which is not the doctrine of Christ, in other words that which has been handed down to you is not the pure doctrine, truth, or gospel of Jesus Christ, then your worship and practice to Almighty God is going to be in vain. Jesus stated this fact very clearly in Matthew 15:9: “But in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” The apostle Paul in his letter to the churches of Galatia told them: “I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ” (Gal. 1:6-7). 

I ask the question: What’s wrong with tradition? 

Nothing if that tradition handed down to you is indeed the doctrine of Jesus Christ! One doesn’t need a college degree or any special ability to learn this because the Bible was written so all could understand it (Eph. 3:4). If therefore, you have a hunger and thirst for righteousness and a sincere love for God’s word and a burning desire to study and mediate and grow in the grace of God and to speak only the oracles of God, then simply follow Paul’s advice in 2 Timothy 2:15 and “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth”! When you have done this and you find no fault in the traditions that have been handed down to you by faithful parents and grandparents and brethren who have long since departed to be with Jesus, then count your blessings and “stand fast, and hold the traditions, which ye have been taught whether by word, or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15).

107 CR 458, Killen, Alabama 35645, Carey4102@aol.com

Truth Magazine Vol. XLV: 2  p18  January 18, 2001