Everyone has traditions.
We even have some traditions we like better than others.
There was a young boy whose birthday it was, who did not know there was a surprise party planned for him later in the day. He moped around, feeling dejected, until his mother asked him what was the matter. He replied that as it was his birthday, he wanted “traditions.” By which he was thinking cake and ice cream.
“You want ‘traditions?,’” his mother affirmed, “We thought you might be a little old.” When he assented he did, his parents chased him down (good naturedly) and gave him a series of “birthday swats,” one swat on the bottom for each year of life. That also was traditional, though it was not the tradition he had in mind.
A tradition is something you do habitually. While we tend to think of annual traditions, those things we do around the holidays, or on birthdays, we also have daily traditions: regularly scheduled mealtimes, prayers before bed, favorite television programs we schedule time for.
In matters of religion, traditions also play a part. This can be either good or bad.
Jesus, during His earthly ministry, had several run-ins with the scribes and Pharisees over matters of Jewish tradition.
There was, for example, the matter of his disciples not washing their hands before eating. This was a tradition among some Jews, and so they questioned Jesus, ““Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” (Matthew 15:2)
Mother’s everywhere will be happy to know that Jesus did not say there was anything wrong with washing hands before eating. Though He did point out that it was possible for traditions to lead you away from God. (cf. Matthew 15:3-9)
Elsewhere there are some traditions that are spoken of in a more positive light in the Bible. One could describe them was necessary traditions. Writing to the Corinthian church, the apostle Paul praised them, saying, “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.” (1 Corinthians 15:2; ESV) In a similar fashion, he wrote to the Thessalonian church, “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)
The “traditions” Paul speaks of to the Thessalonians were not concerning any holidays, or such; but rather they were “traditions” of Christian living. Likewise, with the Corinthian church, Paul is alluding to those Christian practices of worship and lifestyle which was proper for saint of the Lord to maintain.
It is worth noting that these were not traditions either group had grown up with. In both cases, Paul was writing to a majority Gentile congregation, which had not grown up knowing God’s word. And Paul is clear in saying that these were traditions that he had taught them in the course of his preaching and teaching. They were new traditions for these individuals, but they were good traditions to have.
Which leads us to this point: we can make new traditions. Individuals make new traditions all the time. When a couple gets married, they take a few traditions from one family, a few from another, add in a few of their own ideas, and start a whole new set of traditions. Something similar happens in Christianity.
The Bible tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Corinthians 15:7; ESV) When we come to Christ, we have the opportunity to create a new way of life for ourselves. New traditions of behavior.
We all have habits and practices that are not good for us. God teaches us a better way in His word. We don’t have to keep doing the same things over and over again, just because it is the way that we have always done things. If we have a tradition of drunkenness or drugs, God points us to a new tradition of sobriety. If we have a tradition of telling lies, God teaches a new tradition of honesty.
These things God teaches us to do should become so “traditional” with us, so “habitual,” that we do them as second nature. And certainly, once we have such good habits, we should heed the words of the scripture and “hold to the traditions” God has taught us. Not doing so would be a sin.
If you would like to learn more about those same traditions and teachings Paul was speaking of, the church of Christ invites you to study and worship with us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis, Ohio. Likewise, if you have any questions, please share them with us through our website chapelhillchurchofchrist.org.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.