Church Traditions: Good or Bad

He replied,
“Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is
written: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from
me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ You
have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”

Does your home church have traditions that are so honored
that the purpose of your church is twisted or people are not being led in the
right direction?  Perhaps there is a
person who wants to command and “lord
over others?  Or maybe
someone, or a group, are trying to keep something alive that does not make
sense.  And maybe others are not willing
to allow positive feedback, or accept help from others, and so the process of mutual
faith and cooperation is absent.  I would
call this traditionalism and define it as, an
attitude that resists change, adaptation, or alteration.

We have all been there

But I believe some traditions can be a good thing.  They can often remind us of where we came
from or help us to focus on Jesus during our church services.  Unfortunately, they can also cause trouble and
even chaos in the church.  Churches have
split because one group won’t let go of a tradition, while the others see no
need for it.

Sometimes churches will split over traditionalism?  It happens when we hold a tradition as a
commandment from God that cannot be changed.  Jesus was responding to how the Pharisees
looked at Him as a bad person because He was breaking their traditions.  Their traditions seemed good and were meant to
honor God.  But, they judged people by
how well they kept the traditions and not how much they loved God.

As far as “sacred
go (programs that people cling to so much they are unwilling to
review or improve them), remember that we should honor the past, and yet
embrace the future!  “Sacred cows” are best “put out to pasture” by encouraging their founders and leaders to
think about how their time and energy can be better spent in a more useful
direction, one they may not have considered previously.  Allow them to brainstorm and then share the
vision; let them consider other potential projects.

As we hold on to our traditions above anything else, we
are not honoring God with our hearts. We are in reality honoring Him with just
our lips.  Are there things you are
judging others by that are not commandments of God?  It might be what people wear to church, the
version of Bible that they read from, or maybe the music a church plays.  Remember that traditions can take many
different forms in our lives and our churches.

like how Chuck Lawless describes the concepts of good tradition
versus bad
in light of the local church.

Why tradition is

1) It honors God
for what He has done.
 Tradition, by
definition, is tied to the past.  Ideally,
though, it focuses on God and what He has done, not on what we used to do in
the church.  Healthy tradition is
concerned about glorifying God only.

2) It celebrates the past while pressing toward
the future.
 There’s nothing wrong
with celebrating yesterday as long as that rejoicing encourages us to move into
the future.  I have attended small
country churches that had an annual homecoming service that retold God’s work
to encourage their people to capture God’s vision for tomorrow—and that’s a
good kind of tradition.  

3) It grounds the next
generations in the work of God.
is good when it helps next generations appreciate what God has done through His
people in the past.  For example, the
Hebrews marked places where God worked so their children and grandchildren
could know of His care and guidance. (See Joshua 4)

4) It offers
wisdom when making change.
Sometimes, the traditions of a church cause
leaders to carefully and prayerfully consider options before making a change.  That’s not a bad thing.

5) It evokes
gratitude and unity.
 Because it
celebrates God’s work in the past as a means of faith for the future.  Our response ought to be thanksgiving as the
family of God.

Why traditionalism
is not good:

1) It emphasizes what we (or others) have done
more than what God has done.
fights to save traditions, but the traditions are what we’ve done, what our
forefathers did, or what our denomination has “always” done.  It assumes that our preferences are God’s

2) It elevates the
past over the future.
is protective and reactive.  It guards
yesterday’s turf at the expense of making a difference today and tomorrow.  It fears the future more than it influences

3) It hinders
reaching the next generations.
 Traditionalism assumes that almost anything
new is a threat to the gospel, even if the gospel itself is never compromised.  It requires younger generations to become us
if they want to follow God.

4) It blocks making necessary change.  Traditionalism fights change, often without
honest consideration of the options.  It
doesn’t inform change like tradition does; it obstructs it.

5) It leads to
 Traditionalism is
elevating tradition to the level of a commandment as if it equals the gospel.  The emotion behind such a position usually
creates conflict and disunity.   

Tradition, in
my opinion, is a good thing in our churches.  Traditionalism,
though, is a problem.  What are your
thoughts?  Remember, it’s better to focus on what Jesus has called
you to do, and not what a tradition calls you to do.


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