We have already discussed that traditions are not inherently bad; the same is true for religious traditions. We have also mentioned that good religious traditions bring about benefits in our spiritual journey with God. However, we also pointed out that there are bad religious traditions, and things that started as good religious traditions can end up becoming bad ones. In this article, we will focus more on that latter aspect.
It is a red flag if a man-made religious tradition is elevated to the same importance as the scripture. What makes it more dangerous is that it may be elevated to have the same authority as the scriptures. This is dangerous because what can happen is that one’s faith may become hinged or founded not just on the Word of God but on traditions. We know that such a thing is not biblical because our faith should only be hinged on the Word of God. That’s why we give more weight to God’s Word or His commandments than the commandments of man. It is also important to keep the distinction between them. God’s Word is divinely inspired, while men just invent man-made religious traditions.
In the book of Mark, we see Jesus reprimand the Pharisees and the Scribes (Mark 7:6-8). Jesus, quoting from Isaiah’s prophecy, showed how the religious leaders have been teaching the commandments of men (traditions) as doctrines. Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. Mark 7:13 also discusses how religious leaders have nullified God’s Word through the traditions they have handed down. One particular scenario where tradition is elevated is when Jesus was invited to eat in the house of a Pharisee. During their time, it was a tradition practiced by the Pharisees to wash their hands (not just for the sake of washing, but also as a ritual) before having their meal. It is important to point out that this custom was just added by men and was not in the original Mosaic law. Of course, you know what happened. Jesus didn’t practice this, and instead He sat down and ate without washing His hands. The Pharisee was surprised to see Jesus do that (And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first washed before dinner. Luke 11:38). The problem with man-made traditions that are upheld or given the same weight as God’s Word is that it blurs the distinction between tradition and God’s Word. What happens then is that tradition becomes something essential. There are traditions commanded by God, like the Passover feast, but most traditions practiced in churches today are those made by men, not commanded by God. Those traditions are already authoritative, whereas only the scriptures have that authority. In those cases, traditions begin to displace God’s law and go to the extreme of being essential when in fact, they are not. That is why, if it has been the tradition of a certain traditionalist church to worship and praise God with a choir if you put a contemporary band on the altar, some people might call it the music of the devil or dishonorable to God, just because it’s different than the tradition they upheld. However, when you go to the Bible, nowhere does it command that worship or praise should be done with only a choir. This also shows us that just because a person is good at adhering to tradition does not mean that person is right with God. The Pharisees were good at maintaining tradition, yet just as Isaiah’s prophecy said, their hearts were away from God.
Our faith is not founded on the traditions we adhere to, even if they are good traditions. The authority in our lives that dictates what we should do is the Word of God, the scriptures (Sola Scriptura), not human traditions. If you don’t want to follow traditions, that’s fine unless it is the scriptures that you don’t want to follow. When there are questions regarding our faith or things we need to address, we should address and examine them based on what the Bible says, not what traditions say. Just because you are perfect in adhering to tradition does not mean you know the truth. You are more prone to miss out on the truth since you give tradition the same weight as scripture. The Word of God or the scriptures are God-breathed—a divine revelation from God (Timothy 3:16–17). Keeping the boundaries between God’s Word and man-made traditions is important. Even in times of trials and suffering, it is the Word of God, not traditions, that give us strength, reminding us of God’s promises for us in the future.