We all have expectations of our families and friends, our society and government—and of God. We all have expectations of our church, how it should act and what it should teach and how it should govern. Some of these expectations are based upon customs and beliefs that pass down from generation to generation. These expectations are what we call “traditions.”
There is nothing good or bad about “traditions” in and of themselves. We get into trouble when we base our lives upon long-practiced and revered traditions that have questionable authority and keep people in bondage. We may give first priority to traditions, good in themselves, but of second priority to things more important to God.
Jesus had strong words for those that substituted divine revelation with human tradition. When the Pharisees challenged Jesus’ disciples for not washing their hands, he told them they had left God’s Word to favor their own way. To be fair, the Pharisees were trying to avoid breaking God’s law, but they used their own way to do it, not God’s way. Tradition is still something that divides the church in our own day.
Paul tells us we are to adhere to “apostolic traditions” (1 Corinthians 11:1,2). The apostles were men chosen by Jesus. For three years, He taught them the revelations of God.
After Paul’s conversion, he went to the desert where he was taught by Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In Galatians 1:11-24, Paul tells us that later, he went to Jerusalem to meet Peter and compare notes and found that Peter and Paul’s teachings matched perfectly though the two men had never before met until that time.
This strongly confirms that apostolic traditions do not come from men but from God, from Jesus Christ Himself. We find these traditions, these teachings, in the gospels and in the writings of the apostles in the New Testament. Throughout the gospels, Jesus frequently refers to Old Testament scriptures, giving His stamp of approval to the Old Testament as well. Both the Old Testament and New Testament make up our Bible.
We must base our own traditions and experiences upon the traditions of the apostles which come from Jesus Christ Himself. Wherever the two come into conflict, our traditions and experiences and preferences must give way to the teachings of scripture.
Our traditions and practices must enable our relationship with Christ and one another, not detract. Too often, our traditions win the day, even as it did with the Pharisees 2,000 years ago.
Many disputes in families, churches and society result from elevating human teaching and tradition above the Word of God. Too often, we treat our beloved traditions and experiences as sacred writ. When we face these disputes, will we go back to the scriptures with teachable and humble spirits, ready to change if need be?
Let us remember the words of Paul to Timothy: “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; to that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-16).
Let us remember that our faithfulness to the apostles’ teachings in scripture will give us good traditions that will enable us to free others in India and elsewhere with the same gospel that has given us freedom.