2 Thessalonians 2:15 “Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.”
Tradition can be very important to many people. We intentionally create and continue traditions because they provide a sense of belonging and meaning to our lives. Family rituals nurture connection and give us comfort. … Traditions also provide a constant within an ever-changing and fast-paced life.
Some traditions bring back memories of the past, other traditions are proven through generations of families that desire to instill a sense of connection and value into their dynamics.
I find it interesting that Paul mentions traditions to the Thessalonians, yet the importance of tradition cannot become the mainstay. Jesus condemned those who built their lives on tradition when the practice became the purpose.
Tradition of the Elders
Mark 7:3-4 “For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands in a special way, holding the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other things which they have received and hold, like the washing of cups, pitchers, copper vessels, and couches.”
The symbolism of hand washing was a decree given through Moses to the priests who served before the Lord. The old tradition was meant to symbolize the purity necessary for a man to stand before the Lord. Interestingly, Jesus intentionally disregarded these rituals to show the Pharisees that their hearts were not the same as their outward actions.
Mark 7:6-7 “He answered and said to them,
“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
‘This people honors Me with their lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
A tradition can be good if it serves as a reminder for what is important inwardly. The tradition becomes a practice in self-righteousness if its done to make yourself presentable before God; if done without an inward change of heart then the act is no different than the pharisees of Jesus’ day.
There are so many religious traditions that people think garners favor with God, just take a look at some of the classic observances:
- infant baptism
- the eucharist
- anointing of the sick
- holy orders
Baptism was modeled by Jesus and his disciples as a sign of salvation through an act of obedience. It comes on the heels of true belief in Christ and therefore cannot have any meaning for babies. The eucharist falsely declares the communion to be an actual partaking of Jesus’ body and blood. Confirmation is the process of instituting a person into a church through religious ceremony and declaration. If this was done for the purpose of fellowship and accountability it would be scriptural but the only true church will be confirmed personally by Jesus Christ. Reconciliation is an act of penance that involves a person receiving forgiveness for their sins, according to the current doctrine and practice of the church only those ordained as priests may grant absolution. Forgiveness of sin is given by grace through faith in Christ alone.
When the Sacrament of Anointing of the Sick is given, the hope is that it would be God’s will for the person to be physically healed of illness. If there is no physical healing, the primary effect of the Sacrament is a spiritual healing by which the sick person receives the Holy Spirit’s gift of peace and courage to deal with the difficulties that accompany serious illness or the frailty of old age. The hope for bodily healing seems to always be paramount in people when it is the healing of the soul that really should garner the greatest concern.
Even communion can be a defamation of God’s sovereign holiness when it is practiced by those who have no relationship with Christ or think the act somehow makes them right before God.
Regardless of the manner by which people practice their faith, the ceremony cannot usurp the commandment.
If people want to be set apart for God, the ceremony should only be a symbolic gesture of the change that is occurring within the heart.
1 Peter 1:15-16 “but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”
If our conduct is contrary to God’s Word, then no amount of ceremony changes the position of the destitute sinner. To the contrary, the act of ceremony becomes an indictment against the false convert who brings judgment upon themselves for performing an act that reveals their false position before a just and holy God.
1 Corinthians 11:27 “So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.”
A tradition is good when the adherents live faithfully and the practice symbolizes the necessity of that faithfulness.
1 Corinthians 11:2 “Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.”
There were traditions of public assembly, the traditions of roles of men and women within the church, the roles within marriage, observing purity and not offending one another with our actions. As it was back then, today there might be national customs that should be respected within an assembly so that it doesn’t interfere with the purpose of gathering as a body of believers.
“The Christian religion sanctions national customs wherever these are not against the great principles of truth and holiness; affected singularities receive no countenance from any thing in the Bible.”Matthew Henry
For instance, in Pakistan it’s not uncommon to seat women on one side of the church and men on the other. Dressing respectfully during church services keeps from offending a people who are used to a particular set of cultural expectations. I have attended churches in America that have maintained a very casual approach to attire, it wasn’t uncommon for men to wear shorts in church during the summer months. Wearing shorts to a church service in Pakistan could offend everyone there, the freedom expressed in one culture may not be received in another.
Paul was addressing many of these types of traditions in the early church, today if our goal is to love one another then there are times when we are required to assimilate into others traditions simply for the purpose of unity.
The traditions that cross cultural divides include:
Hebrews 13:1-3 “Let brotherly love continue. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. Remember the prisoners as if chained with them—those who are mistreated—since you yourselves are in the body also.”
Some churches have food banks for the poor, many have active jail ministries that allows for the preaching of the gospel to those who cannot partake with them. I know of a pastor in Pakistan that regularly goes to villages that have no church and preaches the Word of God to a people enslaved by hard labor.
The traditions of the church are not just for the sacred assembly of believers but the gospel is meant to be taken outside the walls of a building and carried to the world.
Whether a tradition is kept within the confines of a family or shared among the family of God, it seems prudent to carry on the traditions of those who were found faithful and disregard anything that doesn’t bear the fruit of righteousness.
When we love God we in turn must love one another. The manner in which we do so can be unique and inspiring or they can be stale and lifeless….walk in the Spirit and everything Christ leads you in will have meaning.