And take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17
Volume 20, Number
In this issue:
A tradition is that which has been handed down, given up or transmitted from one to another (Vine, II:639, Thayer, 481, Strong, I:54). Many traditions are harmless, time-honored activities observed by individuals, families and societies. They are taught and handed down from parent to child, teacher to student, generation after generation. Such traditions bind us together with threads of commonality and custom, shared values and practices. At the same time, it is not uncommon for most every generation to ask “why” these time-honored practices exist. And, from time to time they are adapted and rearranged.
Our concern in this article is with religious traditions. Like societal traditions, we observe that religious traditions are often questioned by each successive generation. “Why” is something taught or practiced in a certain way. And, like secular traditions, religious traditions are often rearranged, changed and discarded depending on numerous factors.
We are not opposed to teaching that some traditions are valid. We do not oppose all tradition merely because they exist. But, we must test the legitimacy of religious traditions against a reliable standard to insure the tradition’s authenticity, credibility and reliability – or to expose its weaknesses and errors.
Are there moral and religious traditions we are to follow without alteration? Are there traditions we must discard? What do the Scriptures say?
The Scriptures speak favorably of moral and religious traditions that originated in the mind of God and have been handed down to the world through the apostles of Christ. These were revealed by the Holy Spirit to the apostles and transmitted to us by inspired words, both spoken and written (Jno. 16:12-13; Acts 1:8; 1 Cor. 2:6-13; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). Paul said, “Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you” (1 Cor. 11:2). Like the Corinthians, we should imitate traditions delivered by the apostles (1 Cor. 11:1).
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thess. 2:15). Apostolic traditions are equivalent to the “apostles’ doctrine” and are respected by continuing steadfastly in them (Acts 2:42). To live contrary to apostolic tradition is sinful, disorderly conduct (2 Thess. 3:6).
The Scriptures also speak of the moral and religious traditions that originate in the minds of men and have been handed down by the spoken and written words of men. These traditions are against the will of God. A case in point was the Jewish “tradition of the elders” that conflicted with the “commandment of God” (Matt. 15:2-3, 6; Mk. 7:8-9, 13). It is sinful to put the religious doctrines and practices of men (human traditions) on an equal footing with the revealed word of God (Gal. 1:6-10). Untold numbers of human religious traditions are practiced today in the name of God. Just as in New Testament days, such traditions continue to be deceitful and spiritually worthless (Col. 2:8, 20-23). Truly, they “make void the word of God” (Matt. 15:6).
The moral and religious traditions of men are expressions of human “philosophy and empty deceit” that accord with “the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ” (Col. 2:8). The standard we must use when measuring the acceptability of moral and religious tradition is the word of Christ. Does it accord with Christ or the world? To agree with Christ it must agree with His word (Jno. 12:48). New Testament teaching is the tradition we must believe and practice. Human-originated religious tradition does not protect against sin and does not honor God (Col. 2:21-23; Matt. 15:7-9).
At times we hear people speak of “Church of Christ tradition.” This description routinely ravages what churches of Christ teach and practice as Pharisaical, outdated and harmful. It must be noted there is no monolithic “Church of Christ” that sets tradition on behalf of God. Using “Church of Christ tradition” to describe the teachings and practices of churches indicates an unscriptural, even denominational concept of the church. The church does not establish and propagate its own tradition and then rely on that very tradition to satisfy divine approval.
Christians must stand fast and hold apostolic tradition given by the apostles (2 Thess. 2:15). The things they commanded are the things we must do (2 Thess. 3:4). The binding authority of the Scriptures is the standard we must use to determine whether a moral and religious doctrine and practice is from God or from men (Colossians 3:17; 1 Jno. 4:1, 6; 2 John 9-11). Let us apply God’s standard to some of the so-called “Church of Christ traditions.”
1. Only singing in worship without instrumental music. It is true that Christians (members of churches of Christ) do not use instrumental music in worship. The reason is simple: Singing is approved by the apostles of Christ (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16; Heb. 2:12). Without exception, the music the apostles used and sanctioned in worship was vocal (Acts 16:25; Jas. 5:13). To hold fast this apostolic tradition means we do what they did and taught, and do not add to it. Instrumental music in churches was added many hundreds of years after the first century. The New Testament is silent on using instruments of music to worship God. Adding instrumental music to worship is “according to the commandments and doctrines of men.” It is not according to “the traditions which you were taught” by the apostles (Col. 2:22; 2 Thess. 2:15).
2. No fellowship halls and social events as the work of the local church. Many churches of Christ have long since joined the denominational tradition of being community centers, sponsoring all sorts of social activities. But, what is the apostolic tradition? Did New Testament churches plan, promote and provide social activities for its members? The simple answer is, “No.” Under apostolic instruction, Christians took their food from “house to house” (Acts 2:46). When social events offered by churches could have been codified by an apostle, he told them to let the home do that work, not the local church (1 Cor. 11:22, 34). Churches doing social work is not found in the New Testament. Shall we add a work to the local church that was not handed down by the apostles? If so, by what authority are you using to add it? Since the apostles’ doctrine is silent, all that is left is the tradition of men.
3. The “Church of Christ” is a particular tradition within Christianity. Such language is denominational and ecumenical to its core. There is only one “tradition” for Christians to follow: The apostolic tradition (2 Thess. 2:15). The church of Christ is not a branch on Christendom’s genealogical tree. The church was built by Jesus, purchased by His blood, His body and His kingdom (Matt. 16:18-19; Acts 20:28; Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4; 5:23; Col. 1:13-14, 18). Men developed their own “traditions” with their own creeds, confessions and the like.
Our aim and plea is to hold the traditions of the apostles, while never raising human traditions above the word of God.
Scripture Reading: Psalm 78:5-8
Set the heart: Mark out its purposes, prepare it for action; determination, will, Col. 3:2.
I. DANIEL AND FRIENDS: NOT TO DEFILE THEMSELVES, Dan. 1:8.
A. Purpose of Heart Not to be
Morally Defiled, 1 Pet. 1:15-16 (Mk. 7:23). Jas. 4:4, 8; 2 Tim. 2:19-21.
II. EZRA: SEEK THE LAW, DO IT AND TEACH IT, Ezra 7:10.
A. God Uses Teaching to Advance His Righteous Cause of Salvation, Rom. 10:13-17; Deut. 32:44-47; Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Cor. 1:21; 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Tim. 1:5-7.
III. JOASH: REPAIR THE HOUSE OF THE LORD, 2 Chron. 24:1-4 (1-14).
A. Set Your Heart to Seek the Lord by Building His House, 1 Chron. 22:17-19; Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Cor. 14:26; 12:25-26.
IV. WARNINGS AND EXHORTATIONS FROM THE PSALMS AND PROVERBS.
A. Do Not Set Your Heart on
Riches, Psa. 62:10 (8-12). 1 Tim. 6:6-10
(Current events in the light of Scripture)
Geoffrey Owens, who played “Elvin Tibideaux” on The Cosby Show in the 1980s, recently was in the news when someone took a picture of him bagging groceries at Trader Joe’s. Many were shocked that someone who had achieved fame and fortune could have fallen to such a “lowly” position. When interviewed, Mr. Owens spoke of the dignity of work, no matter what the task. Now, after receiving a $25,000 from a current celebrity, Mr. Owen has donated the entire amount to charity. So, Bill Cosby (“Heathcliff Huxtable”) has brought shame upon himself and harm upon others, and Geoffrey Owens (“Elvin”) – the somewhat dimwitted son-in-law, has demonstrated far greater integrity. There is honor in honorable work, no matter the task. We are called to serve. Are we serving one another? Are we treating one another with kindness and respect? Are we maintaining things honorable in the sight of all men?
Source: ‘Cosby’ actor Geoffrey Owens donates $25K gift from Nicki Minaj: ‘I am extremely grateful’ (Cydney Henderson, usatoday.com)
Created by Chuck Sibbing, last updated. 09/30/2018
The Spirit's Sword is a free,
weekly publication of the Mt. Baker church of Christ, Bellingham, WA