Colossians 2:8 (ESV) — 8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
The reading in our Friday Morning Bible Reading Fellowship today took us to Matt. 15 and Mark 7. And in those parallel passages, Jesus confronts the Pharisees over their use of tradition. Notice I said “use” of tradition, and not tradition itself. The word tradition simply means that which is passed down or transmitted from one to another. There is nothing wrong with that concept alone. In fact, the Apostle Paul uses it approvingly in 1 Corinthians 11:2 and in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 where he writes: “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.”
So what’s Jesus’problem with tradition? This: “Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matt. 15:9b). And then He expands on some dangers which accompany this practice. But the bottom line is, taking what might be good and well in and of itself, and though it may be neither forbidden in God’s Word nor commanded there – making it binding upon other’s consciences.
Most traditions usually have their origin in something good. The Pharisees didn’t just materialize their views on various washings out of thin air. They took them from some Old Testament standards about washing cooking and eating vessels and just expanded on them. But once those expansions became imperatives so that if one did not follow them, then they were considered sinning – things had gone too far. Now, they had put themselves in the place of becoming lawgivers. In the place of God Himself. And that is always dangerous. For only God has the right to declare what is sin and what is not so as to bind the consciences of all peoples everywhere under all circumstances. Only God. Not us. No matter how logical, reasonable or even extrapolated from the Scriptures our new “traditions” might be. Our traditions can never cross over to become new commandments, without our becoming usurpers of God’s place – making ourselves, gods.
This is a special danger for those in Church leadership. But it can also be a problem for we rank and file Christians. Say I have a conviction about drinking alcohol at all. Maybe that conviction is even tied to my battle with substance abuse before my conversion and the danger it still poses for me. And then I read passages that condemn drunkenness and other Scriptural warnings and I come to the conclusion that this simply should not have a place in my life. And, it would be going against my own conscience to imbibe ever again. Then all of us should stand up and say “yea and amen!” Unless, or until, I make that decision binding on others and make them out to be in sin should they not share my absolute conviction. At that point, my tradition, as good, sound and wise as it is, supersedes Scriptural boundaries, and actually makes worship vain or empty – because it is the tradition which now takes the place of God’s Word and His unique authority in other’s lives.
So should we ban traditions personally or in the Church? Not at all! Much has been passed down to us which is good, right and so in line with Scripture that there can only be a benefit in embracing them. But. BUT! We must beware that we never make our traditions – our commandments, one and the same though they are God’s. All human and even ecclesiastical authority stops where the Word of God does – at least in terms of pronouncing something sin or not. We have every right to make and practice our traditions. We have no right to bind the consciences of others by them. May we carry on and pass on all manner of good, godly and Scripture-based traditions. They help the mind to think in Biblical frameworks. But may we be exceedingly careful not to overstep God’s appointed limits of authority – so as to keep with Paul’s admonition to Timothy: “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” 1 Ti 1:5. A good conscience is one which is best informed by God’s Word above all.
We serve Christ Jesus as Lord, not our traditions – however beautiful, ancient, useful and reasonable they may be.
Now, on to my Christmas tree!