The Dangers of Traditionalism

I preached a sermon last night in our church and thought the main idea may be blog worthy, so here it is. I never really noticed Jesus’ view on man’s traditions until I began to look at his assessment of traditions in Matthew 15. I’ve had my own opinion of traditionalism for quite some time as I’ve personally witnessed its possibility to be destructive. Even with that, usually we think of traditions as something seemingly harmless and just a matter of taste and opinion, especially within the church. It surprised me a little, however, to see Jesus’ evaluation of it.

In the first nine verses of Matthew 15, Jesus makes an evaluation of tradition beginning with a tradition that seems, on the surface, to be somewhat harmless. I mean, who’s going to argue that washing your hands before you eat is a bad thing? But, what may surprise you, as it did me, is the affects of traditionalism especially in regard to the Word of God.

This is what Jesus says is the problem with traditionalism:

“So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God.” (Matthew 15:6, ESV)

Make void the Word?!  I don’t know about but it’s a scary thought to me that someone could spend their life memorizing the Bible, thinking they are authentic followers of God but not being able to hear and apply the Word at all.

The problem is traditions can wrongly be equated with obedience. Please know this; being obedient to a man-made tradition is not the same thing as being obedient to God and His Word.

What is the fruit of Traditionalism? The answer is pretty plain and clear in the words of Jesus:

  1. Hypocrisy – I don’t know about you but the last thing I ever want to hear from Jesus’ mouth to me is that I’m a hypocrite. I imagine you feel the same way. What Jesus is saying about the Pharisaical traditionalists is that they look the part of a God follower but unfortunately they only look like it. They can’t even hear Him!
  2. All Talk and No heart – Traditionalism creates a people who can talk about God but have no real Spiritual connection with Him.
  3. Lost Worship – Traditionalism misses the fact that God’s Word has a sole purpose of connected us to Him. Trying to live to a religious standard completely misses that and worship fades.
  4. Worthless Teaching – When tradition rules in the church, clear, unapologetic, biblical preaching is traded out for something far less. Men standing in pulpits running on about the “good ole days” when hymns and women in dresses ruled. That’s not Biblical, and it’s not preaching.

As we talk about tradition, a question does need to be asked. Are there any good traditions? After all, Paul did say to the Thessalonians:

“So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15, ESV)

As I looked at this idea of tradition, the first thing I noticed was that Paul said that these “traditions” were something that the Apostles had spoken and written. As you research the New Testament, you may find as I have, these traditions are what I call the Jesus traditions. These are the traditional teachings of Jesus they made their way through the first century church and they look like this:

  1. Love your enemies (Luke 6:27)
  2. Humble yourself before the Lord and people (Matt. 18:4)
  3. It’s better to give than receive (Acts 20:35)
  4. Do unto others that you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31)

I’m sure you’ve noticed these types of traditions are not religious externals, but traditions that only come as Jesus, through His Spirit, brings internal changes to us.

It’s absolutely important that we don’t hold ourselves to old man-made traditions within the church and that we don’t create new ones but we hold the traditions of the teaching of Jesus. When we do that, worship is not lost but becomes God-centered, Spirit filled and vibrant. (Anything other than that is not actually worship.) And, the Word and work of God becomes realized in our life, not void as Jesus told the Pharisees because of their tradition.

My hope is that God Word lives out as He promised it, both in me and the church I pastor.

“so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11, ESV)

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