Today’s Completing The Thought (CTT) post is a bit of reflection on the traditions we hold in our local churches. Let us begin with the passage supporting Traditions in the Church followed by some discussion of traditions we see today. I think the greater context of this passage coming immediately after Paul reminds the church of Christ’s return and the man of lawlessness is important to understanding the implications of having a right understanding of keeping traditions.
2 Thessalonians 2 (ESV)
The Man of Lawlessness
2 Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come. 3 Let no one deceive you in any way. For that day will not come, unless the rebellion comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, 4 who opposes and exalts himself against every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, proclaiming himself to be God. 5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? 6 And you know what is restraining him now so that he may be revealed in his time. 7 For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work. Only he who now restrains it will do so until he is out of the way. 8 And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming. 9 The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, 10 and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. 11 Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, 12 in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.
13 But we ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. 14 To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.15 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.
16 Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, 17 comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word.
Now, we do not have the spoken word of the Apostles, what we have is the written words of the Apostles (or spoken words that have been written and preserved by God the Holy Spirit). The pastoral epistles serve as our blueprint and guidance for church leadership, for offices within the church, and the call to preach Law and Gospel. We are taught how to pray, the importance of confession and repentance, forgiving our brothers in Christ, dealing with the unbelieving world. We are clearly instructed in baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Yet in all of these things and in many more, we run into some serious differences in the traditions observed by denominations and local church bodies.
Evaluate Traditions Objectively in God’s Word
Not all traditions are good. How do we determine which traditions are good and which are not? The first step is to identify origins… and they should originate in God’s Word. There is some bad teaching out there that suggests that the Gospel can redeem pagan practices and make them fitting for Worship. God eliminated such rationale in Deuteronomy 12, which was recently the topic of a sermon by Dr. James White.
Deuteronomy 12:29-32 (ESV) | Warning Against Idolatry
29 “When the Lord your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ 31 You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods. 32 “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it.
There are also traditions that have a form of godliness, and come from a seemingly historically pious origins, but are merely the commandments of men.
Mark 7:1-13 (ESV) | Traditions and Commandments
7 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders,4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash.And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing ofcups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he 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;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” 9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
The Pharisees added to the Law their own explications, claiming it was a parallel oral Law given to Moses but meant only for the Priests to understand and to pass on, creating an elite class of enlightened God’s chosen ones. Jesus rebuked them strongly, plainly, and repeatedly for this error. But these traditions didn’t simply disappear after the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. Paul had to address such commandments of men in his letter to the Colossians.
Colossians 2:16-23 (ESV) | Let No One Disqualify You
16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. 17 These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God. 20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
Colossians 3:1-6 (ESV) | Put On the New Self
1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming.
So, you see that when the occasion arises where the traditions of men start to undermine the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have a problem. Even if these traditions come from the former things: questions of food and drink, festival, new moon, or Sabbath. Now, is observing these former statues a sin of itself? No, just like ritual washing of the hands before a meal isn’t a sin. Undermining the Gospel for the sake of these is the sin. What shall we say about traditions that are not commandments? In as much as the one observing the tradition is encouraged in the faith once delivered to the saints, as long as he/she is doing so for the Glory of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, it is an act of worship done in faith and pleasing to God.
When Our Faith-Based Traditions Don’t Blend
As long as the traditions being observed are not objectively sinful or undermining the Gospel of Jesus Christ, then we have clear instruction from the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Romans.
Romans 14 (ESV) | Do Not Pass Judgment on One Another
As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, andlet not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.
Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written,
“As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me,
and every tongue shall confess to God.”
So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.
Do Not Cause Another to Stumble
Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.
Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.
I know it’s an academic no-no to bring in a new topic in a “conclusion” paragraph, but I’d like to challenge those of you who attend non-denominational churches to reevaluate your position on traditions. You have them, too. In some cases, inventing new traditions is itself a tradition… all too often these “new” traditions simple come from whatever can be found in the end-cap of your local “Christian bookstore”. We all have traditions. The traditions taught in the New Testament are essential for the Church to stand firm in the last days and guard against the man of lawlessness and the great apostasy. But whenever and wherever the topic of Church tradition arises… it must ever and always be submitted to the teaching of God-Breathed and all-sufficient Scriptures.
Romans 15:1-7 (ESV) | The Example of Christ
1 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. 3 For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.” 4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, 6 that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.
In Christ Jesus,