T 0.1 Introduction to Tradition in the Church

If you go to a Christian church chances are it will be following one or more of many Church Traditions. Some churches advertise themselves as part of a tradition like the Wesleyan tradition, the Reformed Tradition or others.

Some traditions are easy to see. The Catholic church, of course, follows the Catholic tradition. The Baptist Church follows the Baptist tradition. The Presbyterian Church has a Presbyterian tradition, but there is more to it. Presbyterianism is really part of Reformed tradition which traces its roots back to John Calvin, one of the reformers of the Reformation.

It can get complicated. The United Church of Christ traces its start to a June 25, 1957 merger between the Evangelical Reformed Church, and the Congregational Christian Churches, two short-lived traditions of their own. On the United Church of Christ website we read, “The new church embodied the essence of both parents, a complement of freedom with order, of the English and European Reformations with the American Awakenings, of separatism with 20th-century ecumenism, of presbyterian with congregational polities, of neoorthodox with liberal theologies. Two million members joined hands.” i

The above church also traces its roots to other traditions including the German Reformed Church, and Congregationalism. ii

The above example shows that after a while it can be a mess. As a result trying to say that someone is a traditional Christian going to a traditional Christian Church really doesn’t tell you much. Are they Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Southern Baptist? Who knows? Look at this quote that relates to the subject:

“I consider a faithful Southern Baptist, a conservative Anglican, an orthodox Roman Catholic, and an Orthodox Christian all to be “traditional Christians.” Still … whose tradition? What sense does it make to say that Southern Baptists and Roman Catholics are on the same side as “traditional”? From a Catholic perspective, the Baptists are so far gone theologically from tradition that it makes no sense to think of them as “traditional Christians.” And from a Baptist point of view, the Catholics may be “traditional,” but they lost their way when they began adding man-made things to the pure Gospel like the early church had.” iii

Oxford defines tradition as “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.” It does include a definition that may help illustrate the cause of the abundance of different traditions that all call themselves Christian:

“a doctrine believed to have divine authority though not in the scriptures. “iv

A church tradition consists of more than doctrine. It includes the beliefs, but also the practices, the services, the liturgy, the songs, and church government. Everything down to the way they set up the chairs for seating can be part of the tradition. And traditions are constantly changing as the above examples illustrate.

Recapping, a tradition is a set of beliefs and customs that gets passed from one generation to another.

Is tradition biblical? The answer is yes and no. There is one place in the Bible that tells us to follow a tradition:

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. (2Th 3:6 ESV)

The above verse does give a commandment to walk in accordance with the tradition that has been received from the apostles. So, there is a place where we are supposed to follow tradition, that is, the set of beliefs and customs that were handed down from the original apostles.

We know that this is the same set of beliefs and customs that the original apostles taught because in second Thessalonians chapter 2, which is in the same context as this earlier verse, is the same charge to follow the traditions taught “by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter”.

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. (2Th 2:15 ESV)

Notice that this admonition is not to follow just any tradition, whether they are considered Christian or not. The commandment is to follow the tradition handed down from the apostles.

But the answer to whether to follow traditions is also no. The other places in scripture where tradition is talked about are not favorable. Look at these verses where one tradition is disparaged by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Mat 15:1-9 ESV)

This is quite an indictment. The Jewish community had built up quite a number of traditions by the time that Jesus arrived. But Jesus didn’t mince any words about following these traditions, and he did not teach his disciples to follow them either. In this record, the Pharisees and scribes chastised Jesus because he didn’t teach his followers to wash the way the tradition had been set up. Rather, he chastised the Pharisees and scribes because their traditions violated the law of God. He cited the example of the law of honoring your father and mother being not followed because Jewish tradition had established that the offspring of parents could say to their parents that what they would have received from their offspring is given to God and so they didn’t need to honor their parents. Jesus told them that this tradition nullified the word of God! Jesus calls them hypocrites! Then he says that they honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from God’s. He calls their worship vain because what they’re teaching as truth are really man-made doctrines.

Paul also writes in Colossians:

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. (Col 2:8 ESV)

Jesus talks about the traditions of men above. Paul talks about human tradition. They are both in the context of Judaism and Christianity, living a holy life. I mean, what could be wrong about requiring people to wash their hands before they eat? We teach our kids to do that. The answer is that it is not the word of God. I wash my hands before I eat but I don’t teach that it is a commandment of the Lord according to tradition. It may be some people’s interpretation of the Word of God, but Jesus is saying that it is not righteous to teach man-made commandments as God’s doctrine.

Now my question is how can all the competing traditions that are considered Orthodox all be the traditions of the Apostles that we are supposed to follow? The answer is that they can’t.

In original Christianity, believers were told to follow the tradition of the original apostles and disciples. That is what I want to do and why the motto of this website has been “Not traditional, Original”

Future articles under this heading will take a look at a number of traditions including the oral tradition of the Jews that Jesus was talking about in Matthew 15 above, the Catholic tradition that started right after the gospel of John was written, the Reformed tradition that started with the Reformation, and more.

iThe United Church of Christ Website, https://www.ucc.org/about-us_short-course_the-united-church-of-christ

iiThe United Church of Christ Website, https://www.ucc.org/about-us_short-course_the-german-reformed-church , https://www.ucc.org/about-us_short-course_congregationalism

iiiWhat Is ‘Traditional Christianity,’ Anyway?, https://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/what-is-traditional-christianity-anyway/

ivOxford Dictionary online

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