fiddler.jpgCue the Fiddler on the Roof soundtrack . . .

As Tevye discovered in the classic musical, there are traditions worth keeping and those not worth keeping.

Christian denominations have many traditions.  Which ones should be adhered to, and how much weight should be put on them?  I say, when in doubt see how they line up the Bible.

Traditions that don’t contradict scripture may be benign or even instructive.  Or they may be outdated and/or counterproductive and need to be changed or eliminated.

Traditions that contradict scripture should be eliminated.  This is an important point, because some churches use tradition as some sort of trump card or they put it on equal footing with scripture.

The early church had lots of traditions as well.  But many weren’t in line with sound doctrine, so Paul and others wrote letters to correct them.  Just because the church has done something for hundreds of years doesn’t mean it is right. 

16 thoughts on “Tradition!”

  1. A lot of my problem with Catholicism was the fact that many of their traditions are in opposition to Scripture, or at least not founded upon it. The Pope? Purgatory? Baptism as a necessary condition to salvation?

    C.S. Lewis has some great things to say about different traditions – mostly, that the goal is to be a “mere” Christian, one who loves God, follows His plan, and is indifferent to the nonsense propagated by (fallible) humans.


  2. Great points, Bridget. That is one reason that over-emphasizing traditions – especially un-Biblical ones – is such a serious problem.

    The Gospel is offensive enough by itself, what with its call for us to acknowledge our sinfulness and repent and believe. It is simply wrong to add man-made barriers to make it harder for people to accept.

    Paul whaled on the Galatians for adding Jewish customs to the real Gospel. He also said it well in Colossians 2:20-23 “Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”


  3. Niel,

    I tend to think of the following of constrictive rules and traditions as something that people do instead of spiritual growth. They use them as a “magic spell” that, if performed faithfully, will take the place of actual virtue.

    When people say they see a tradition as meaningless and that they follow it merely as a matter of “discipline” (such as avoiding pork or alcohol or fasting) I say “Doesn’t living a virtuous life in the world require enough discipline?”

    Adding more rules or even putting useful rules above the virtue they are supposed to represent is not transformative.


  4. Teresa,

    You touch on a point: many Christians seem to think that good acts will get them into Heaven, or bad acts will preclude their admittance. The entire idea behind Christianity, however, is that humans are naturally flawed creatures. Degree of flaw does not matter – any imperfections disqualify humans from heaven. Therefore, we are all in need of forgiveness.

    Sure, Christians are all supposed to act well (spread the Word, and, as I recall, “love one another, so that others may know you as my followers through your love” or something to that effect), but that is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for salvation. Once you’ve established that, it’s pretty clear that tradition is just as useless.


  5. “The devil can cite Scripture for his own purpose.” ~Shakespeare

    To be serious – thank you. I’ve spent a while debating one of my very Orthodox friends on the subject of atheism and Christianity, which is how I’ve come by my knowledge. It’s not me!


  6. Theobromophile,

    I think the confusion comes in as to what constitutes “acting well”. Judegement on that is various and sundry.

    I like the stoics definitions of virtue. Concentrate on the virtues of humanity, don’t worry about those who fail to measure up. Help them bear their burdens, but reserve your criticism for yourself (still working on that). Be patient with the failings of others, but unrelenting in the pursuit of your own perfection. Do your work without fanfare, don’t become dependant on the praise or flattery of others, keep your mind centered on doing what you know is right before God.

    The worst part about this, though, it the part about not getting distracted by frivelous talk or idle pursuits.

    (ie, the internet!) LOL at least I try to just get in quick comments in between real work!

    I really must break out the Marcus Aurelius again.


  7. I tend to think of the following of constrictive rules and traditions as something that people do instead of spiritual growth.

    I think you hit the nail right on the head there.


  8. Might I humbly suggest that some of you might enjoy Vance Esler’s blog This Wasn’t in the Plan:

    Vance is a traditional Christian oncologist living in Texas. He’s a pretty swell guy, and the current discussion is the source of evil and the role of religion in makeing someone a better person. Also, I’m afraid that my friend “Ben” (an agnostic) and I (a Deist) are rather ganging up on him. While he doesn’t seem to need any help, his time is limited and he might appreciate some more theist input.



  9. Teresa,

    Not really. According to Christianity, all humans are flawed, so we are all in need of forgiveness if we are to get into Heaven. Some many need more forgiveness than others, but no act, save belief in Christ and repentence, is either necessary or sufficient to gain admittance.

    I don’t disagree that there are a wide variety of “good acts” that can constitute living a good life. The Stoic definitions of virtue are good. 🙂 For a Christian, though, they wouldn’t be sufficient for salvation.

    You’re talking about earthly life; I’m talking about salvation. Hence the differing viewpoints.


  10. theobromophile,

    I do understand the Christian perspective. I just don’t agree with it.

    The fact remains, that Christians differ on what constitutes virtuous behavior, and judge the quality of each other’s faith/message by those standards.

    While it may not matter in the end, due to salvation, it leads to confusion here on earth.

    Lutherans preach the docrtine of “by faith alone” and emphasise faith and salvation. My (liberal)Methodist friends acknolwedge that grace is very good, but it only really matters in heaven, while works are the concern of an earthly life.

    The Babtist church I attended for a few years as a grade-schooler emphasised knowledge of the scripture, such that I memorized literally hundreds of verses (and what I should think about them)

    Whereas a very conservative Catholic I knew once threw up his hands in frustration after the dozen or so Bible verse I quoted him that contradicted his theology (which was not your usualy Catholic theology), saying “I don’t need to read the Bible to know what it says!” and I was once at a scrapbooking club meeting where Catholics outnumbered the Protestants two-to-one and they made laughing and disparaging comments about the emphasis that protestants put on the scripture.

    What they all define as virtue, based on their approaches is different. What constitutes a “good life” varies…and while they tend to not judge another’s saved status, they tend to judge anothers revelation or understanding according to what works they do, where they put their energy and what they define as “good”.

    A Baptist neighbor once described Lutherans as “Catholics who valued their privacy”. LOL! And while she thought that Lutherans and catholics were probably saved, she didn’t think it was possible for them to live like Christians should because of their flawed theology.

    Sorry all you Christians for talking about you like you’re not even here. I hate it when that happens to me. Not meaning to implicate anyone in specific either, I’m just voiceing observations from inside and outside a number of denominations. I burned through a few of them before giving it up as hopeless. 🙂


  11. The trouble is, the world is full of people who want to be Christians, but not very many who want to follow Christ.

    And even those who want to follow Christ sometimes stumble and lose their way. Then they are held up as an example of how terrble Christians are. Speaking for myself, I want to follow Christ. I am not a good person or a perfect person, I am just convicted of my tendency to bad behavior.


  12. Sunday School Teacher,

    Thing is, they ALL believe that they are following Christ, and that others are not. They all make a pretty equally convincing case, and they all have the Bible on their side…well, at least parts of it anyway.

    The differences come from which verses to emphasise, which ones to interpret as being real rules, and which were just recommendations, and which were nullified by the New Testiment, and which were mistranslated as this or that when they should have been translated as something else.

    Some people who call themselves Christian are terrible, some are just in it for the politics and power, and some believe they are rightous and the others are mislead…while those they think are mislead think the same about them.

    It pretty much looks like a merry-go-round from here.

    I am always interested when I find a new interpretation, it is fasinating. It’s nice when people use the wisdom of the ages to become better people, and discouraging when they use it to feed their own vices…but ultimatly, what matters to me isn’t “what do you believe?” but “what are the results?”

    Christ said a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. He was a pretty smart guy. He didn’t say a good tree could not bear bad fruit. However, my observation is that the good fruit is good, the bad fruit is bad, and the tree nourishes both alike.

    It’s just the bad fruit thinks its good, and the various good fruits think that the ones from different branches are the bad ones, and don’t see the bad ones in their midst till they fall off the branch.

    And yes, I DO hold an olympic Gold medal in analogy stretching. Thanks for asking. 🙂


  13. Jesus had no problem with people checking on the results (“by their fruit you shall know them).

    I have no patience for gratuitous denomination bashing. Any Christian mocking others for emphasizing scripture are clueless themselves.

    It is a mystery that God left his church in the hands of humans (even those with the Holy Spirit). We get lots of things wrong. But a biblical worldview isn’t naive about assuming there won’t be false teachers, bad interpretations, etc. It was predicted and expected, as ugly as it is.

    There are false Christians in every denomination, yet authentic ones as well. The real questions are whether the essentials are true. If Jesus really rose from the dead then He is God and is truly the only way to eternal life.


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