LineSid Womack

Traditions--Good or Bad?

Traditions can be good or bad, depending upon how the traditions are derived. Jesus criticized the Pharisees for the traditions they had developed over the years (see Mark 7: 5-13). But the first century Christians were commanded to hold fast to the traditions that had been handed down to them by Jesus and the apostles. 1Co 11:2 "Now I praise you that ye remember me in all things, and hold fast the traditions, even as I delivered them to you," said Paul, and "So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or by epistle of ours. (2 Thessalonians 2: 15). How do we reconcile these seemingly opposing views?

In some ways, traditions are the folkways of which family life is made. There are particular ways in which families meet for special events during the year, where each family member sits at the table, or how birthdays or anniversaries are marked. Traditions help to hold families together. And we are the family of God, for "ye are all sons of God, through faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3: 26). But where do we draw the line between "We've just always done it this way" and "This is a command of God; what we are talking about in this particular instance is doctrine"?

It's a familiar hermaneutic, but one that is not worn out: Direct command, divine example, necessary inference. Certainly the direct commands of Jesus and the inspired apostles are not to be dismissed as human tradition (John 12: 48; John 14: 15). Paul instructed his followers to "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ." (I Corinthians 11: 1). When Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water for baptism, it was a necessary inference that such an amount of water was needed since the practice of baptism at the time always involved immersion (Acts 8: 38). It therefore follows that the traditions that come to us from the scriptures that are of the nature of direct command, divince example, and necessary inference are traditions that are to be kept; we should not attempt to "catch up with the times" by phasing those out.

Admittedly there are other practices in the various congregations of the Church of Christ that have become habit. One is the tradition of having a closing song and a prayer before being dismissed from a worship assembly. There is little to no command, example, or inference given in the New Testament to say that services must end with either a song or a prayer or both. We are not wrong in doing it, but we wouldn't be wrong in ending the service in some other way either, as long as the way in which it was done was "decently and in order" (I Corinthians 14:40).

Jesus said that prayers should be made through His name (John 14: 14). He did not say whether his name should be mentioned at the beginning of a prayer, in the middle, or at the end. The tradition that has developed has become that of putting Jesus' name at the end of the prayer. We have become so accustomed to it being done that way that few of us would attempt to put Jesus' name at the beginning or in the middle and then simply end with "Amen" for fear of confusing the listeners to a public prayer. But would doing a prayer with Jesus' name not be right? If not, why not? Direct command, divine example, necessary inference?

For several decades the "Church of Christ order of worship service" was "two songs, a prayer, a song, the sermon, invitation song, closing song, and a prayer." We have fairly criticized ourselves for getting into such a rut. Today's worship services typically show more variation than that, particularly if viewed over a long period of time. We need to be careful of elevating traditions to the point of becoming scriptures.

Some of the traditions that our forefathers delivered to us have stood by us well. Churches of Christ have long disdained the use of instruments in the worship service, citing both the teachings of Ephesians 5: 18 and Colossians 3: 16,17 as well as the tradition of the early church in the first six hundred years in refusing to allow instruments into the Christian worship service. When man introduces foreign practices into the worship of God, catastrophe has resulted (Nadab and Abihu). Our ancestors protected us well from this evil.

Our forefathers tried to instill in us a respect for the Scriptures. Well they should have, for dire consequences are given for those who add to or take away from God's word (Revelation 22: 18, 19). They also taught us the importance of baptism, which "doth now also save you," I Peter 3: 21. Traditions that are based on God's word are good traditions.

Sid Womack, webmaster