As you continue to think through and apply the Sunday sermon, you may have noticed that many of the convictions we have on Christian liberty issues today—convictions over which we are tempted to judge others—come from one source: tradition, that is, from customs passed down to us from our familial, religious, or cultural heritage.
To be clear, tradition is not evil in and of itself. Some traditions are actually divinely authorized. Consider that the teaching of the apostles is sometimes referred to as “the traditions” (1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thes 2:15; 3:6); those are traditions that must be kept! Other traditions, while not divine in origin, can nevertheless be useful in certain contexts. Many Christians today pray a prayer of thanks and blessing before eating a meal. Many Jews and early Christians did the same (e.g. Mt 14:19; Acts 27:35), though no word in the Bible specifically commands this practice. Christians are simply told that all food is made clean by “gratitude” (1 Tim 4:4). The tradition of “saying grace,” then, is just one good and possible application of what Scripture says.
Still other less obviously beneficial traditions are permissible for Christians. For example, it was traditional for Jewish families in NT times to arrange marriages in a five step betrothal process that culminated in a week-long wedding feast. God did not require this particular arrangement, and one could argue that there are better ways to pursue and celebrate marriage. But one does no wrong before God in getting married in this way. Some traditions, however, are evil and must be repudiated. Jesus often called out the religious leaders of his day for not only exalting man-made tradition to divine status but also for overturning God’s word for the sake of human tradition (Mt 15:3-6; Col 2:8). In church history and still today, many spiritually harmful doctrines and practices are advanced in the name of “tradition.”
As Christians, then, we want to be sober in how we think about and practice tradition.
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 (NASB), But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; abstain from every form of evil.
Questions to consider:
1. For the traditions you follow in your life, do they come from God or men?
2. For the man-made traditions you follow, are those traditions still spiritually beneficial today?
3. How can you still accommodate and respect those who don’t follow the same man-made traditions or who apply divine traditions in a different way?