Tradition, according to Scripture

I am excited to be starting a new series on Apologetics! I will be sharing through the summer some of the lessons I’ve learned from classes I’ve taken, books I’ve read, or passages of Scripture I’ve studied. Today we define a word, tradition.

Tradition is amoral.  It is neither inherently good or bad.  Some traditions are good traditions, and others are bad/evil.  Some traditions are neither, unless they be met with evil or earthly desires within us.  You cannot blame society at large for the use of traditions, or for giving you the distaste for traditions that “made” you walk away from the traditions you ought to cling to.  (Are there traditions you should cling to?)

I heard it from a friend, who, heard it from a friend, who…

Because of all the misunderstandings that are associated with “tradition” it has become just another word we can hate.  Another word for this generation to cancel. 

Especially since this generation has begun to hate almost anything passed on from previous generations. The entire idea that history, or ideas, or traditions, or religion could be good has become laughable at best, anathema at worst.

But, ought we to find out what the Holy Spirit means by “tradition” and then love that word?  Yes. So in this apologetic series which will last through the summer, we will start with the surprising affirmative.  

“It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.  So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.”  

2 Thessalonians 2:14-15

 If the Holy Spirit wants us to “hold to the traditions” taught by Paul and his companions (“us”), then we must admit there must be some traditions worth holding to. This word of itself is defined as a teaching handed down.

So at the most basic level, a tradition is something transmitted, or passed on or handed down.  The epistle of Jude says we ought to contend for the faith once for all handed down.  That epistle speaks of the same concept.  “Faith” in that context means the doctrines that are to be believed.  

This passage in 2 Thessalonians should open our eyes to see that God’s Word, faithfully taught, handed down orally and in written form, is the tradition we need to cling to.  This tradition is good and lovely and pure; the source of the tradition is the Spirit who inspired the Word and enlightens us to understand it and grow thereby. 

Paul not only taught tradition, he also lived it:  Imitate me as I imitate Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1; see also Titus 2:7 and 1 Timothy 4:12ff concerning how Paul raised up disciples to also be examples; and 2 Timothy 3:13-17 and 4:13 as a meditation to grow in loving God’s Word). 

When he discipled Timothy, he wanted Timothy to learn how to teach the way he taught.  Discipleship is about handing down the traditions we’ve learned, the traditions we now discern from being saturated in the Word. 

When to Walk Away

When the source of a tradition is not the Holy Spirit, it cannot be used to bind our conscience.  The Spirit will not be giving new revelation to take the place of Scripture, or to contradict the Word.  We do well to give heed to the prophetic word made more sure, not to cancel it.  We cannot choose when or whether Scripture is outdated.  Truth is unchanging.

However, there are traditions passed down that will not serve us well, that will distract us from the faith.  These traditions have the source outside of God.  When James says there are two types of wisdom–that which is from God, and that which is earthly, sensual demonic–we can see how applicable that is when discerning whether a tradition is something we should cling to or abandon.  Is it from God, or is it earthly, sensual, demonic?  

Evaluating the source of a tradition gets easier as you abide in the Word (see John 8:31ff).  You will be able to hold up everything to the Word of God to see if it ought to be obeyed or destroyed (2 Corinthians 10:5).  Ideas, however lofty or ideal they seem, must be tested by what God has revealed.  Neither our own feelings, nor the current philosophical climate of the age, is to be the determining factor.  

It is a simple question, is this a tradition of men, or of God?

Mark 7:5-8   The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?”  And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with the lips, but their heart is far away from Me.  But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’  Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.”

Teaching doctrine is good for the growth of the church (see our study of that here).   Jesus would have us discern when people are the source of the teaching.  If these are traditions of men, doctrines of men, then the ideas must not be presented as coming from God.  Nor should those types of traditions have any bearing on our conscience.  

To worship God with our heart and minds, we submit to His Word, not to the traditions of men.  When the crowd around us determines how we worship, behave toward one another, shape our words, etc then we have fallen into the same error as the hypocrites Jesus spoke to in Mark 7.  For further reflection on traditions of men, see Colossians 2 and 2 Thessalonians 3.

To worship God with our hearts and minds, let us abide in His Word, sit at His feet ready to learn, stand firm in the faith, and hold to the traditions taught by Jesus (Who showed how the entire Old Testament pointed towards Himself) and the other New Testament authors. Learn to be discerning.

“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.”  2 Thessalonians 2:14-15

Photo by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash

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