Truth or Tradition?

Tevye, Jewish patriarch in Fiddler on the Roof… truth or tradition

It’s a very busy, tedious, hard-scratch life in Anatevka. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word!             Tradition!

Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything. How to sleep. How to eat. How to work. How to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered, and always wear a little prayer shawl. This shows our constant devotion to God.

You may ask, how did this tradition get started? I’ll tell you. I don’t know.

But it’s a tradition. And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is and what God expects him to do. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as,   As…  As a fiddler on the roof!

As his family responds to the various circumstances of life, they each tear apart Tevye’s sacred traditions bit by bit. His traditions were not transcendent; their foundation was uncertain.

What can we learn from this movie?

Most Baptists recognize that a major part of the errors embraced by Roman Catholicism are enshrined in extra-biblical traditions that are held up as church dogma. While it’s easy to see this in the Roman religion, do we carefully examine our own walk – as individuals and churches – to see if we are guilty as well? I am quite sure we all know the teaching of Scripture on this topic, as Christ quoted Isaiah in saying to the Jews, in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’  You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” Are we Baptist excluded from this rebuke? My personal experience indicates otherwise. I pray these things are not true of you!

When I was first called as a deacon, it took 6 months of discussion to agree that tithing was not a requirement of that office. I was thankful the other deacons were willing to study this topic rather than merely throw me out. When I was in a seeker sensitive church I was ridiculed because I questioned this teaching, not seeing evangelism as inviting lost people to church, as I studied the Bible.

Baptists have traditions and, like Tevye, we often do not know or care where they came from.

While in a 1689 LBC church, I saw how traditions were to be supported without question, and I was looked down upon for not taking these positions on blind faith. The Decalogue is God’s moral law – why would anyone ask where that is taught in Scripture? The “Christian Sabbath” is binding on all people – why would anyone ask where in the Bible this is found?

In the two years since moving to SE Oklahoma, I’ve been exposed to several local Baptist churches and been intrigued by the extra-biblical traditions they embrace. Just as the other groups of Baptists, they are tenacious in the blind faith they have in their sacred traditions. It’s as if, as one church-man said about his “altar call” – “It’s the most important part of the worship service!” And it’s nowhere found in God’s Holy Word. What’s more, there is no altar in the New Covenant church other than the Lord Jesus Himself. Similar attachments are tied to children’s church (unsaved people have their own worship service!) and children parading through the gathered saints, begging for money to put in an offering plate, being applauded by the adults. I couldn’t help but think of Matthew 6:1-4:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

In this passage we see that the praise of men is the only reward hypocrites have for their giving; it is not accepted by God as are the gifts from the saints on behalf of the saints (Philippians 4:14-18). The parading children played the part of the hypocrites in the passage cited above, with the adults playing the part of the “others” who praised the hypocrites. As with other acts of worship, giving as worship cannot be performed by those who are not clothed in the righteousness of Christ (Proverbs 21:27) and the money earned by sin should not be offered to God (Deuteronomy 23:18).

Celebration of birthdays and wedding anniversaries of all present in a worship service are the norm. Mothers and fathers are honored on those days so identified by the greeting card industry. Veterans and firemen, et al. are honored on Memorial Day as if these men are why we gather. I’ve seen the inside of a Baptist church building virtually clothed in American flags on July 4th weekend.

All of these practices displace the worship of God with lesser things, making man and his domain the focus of at least part of the time God’s people gather to supposedly worship Him.

The standard Baptist membership covenant from the 19th century requires members “abstain from the sale and use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage.” The Bible forbids getting drunk and warns about “strong wine” but does not prohibit the sale or use of alcohol for any but a few, such as Nazarites (Numbers 6:1-7). At the end of the time of his vow, the Nazarite was permitted to drink wine (Numbers 6:13-20).

Baptists call the church building “the house of God,” forgetting one lesson from John 4 – that in the New Covenant there are no sacred spaces and that the Bible clearly declares we are the house of God! The church building is not a sanctuary, it is, as an Anglican from New Zealand put it, a rain shelter. Our sanctuary is in heaven where our altar is – Christ Jesus is our all in all!

Baptist churches have sole “pastors,” “senior pastors,” “administrative pastors,” “executive pastors,” “worship pastors,” and the list goes on. All the while the Bible shows a plurality and equality of elders (“Pastor” not being a title found anywhere in Scripture).  Having two or more men who preach and teach provides several benefits, in addition to aligning with the examples and teachings from Scripture (Acts 11:27-30; 14:21-23; 20:7; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; et al.). Two or more men can sharpen one another and hold each other accountable, while the church sees the true Shepherd more clearly when they see Him work through more than one man. The church will see strengths and weaknesses in each man and those men will have the opportunity to be examples of how to serve in unity without letting egos derail the ministry. As they seek to identify others and train them for this service, more men will have opportunity to serve the saints in myriad ways. This is part of life in the body of Christ that is vital and often ignored or undervalued.

Each of these groups, and I pray, none of us, are what I call “white space theologians,” people who build their doctrine and practice on the white spaces in the Bible rather than the words God put there.

Many of these local churches have no statement of faith declaring to their members and interested saints what they believe; they accumulate their traditions along the way and new members find out by experience what’s important. This can be like walking through an unmarked minefield, and just as deadly.

We who are not of Rome tend to cling to our traditions as tightly as do the Roman Catholics. How can we defend this while rightly decrying their practice? Oh how I wish that Baptists would see the danger of our own traditions that are not based on Scripture and cry out for repentance! We were, once upon a time, called “people of the Book” for our tenacious grip on the Word of God. That name cannot, in good conscience, be applied to Baptists at large.

We protest, “Our traditions are not as bad as following Baal!” Yet search the Scriptures and see if you find any commendation for drifting away from God’s instruction in favor of any teaching of man.

My prayer is that each of us here would recognize the need we have to examine ourselves and our traditions – to see if there be any wicked ways therein. If we worship God according to our personal preferences rather than asking how does Scripture advise us to do so, we are in danger of drifting towards the black hole of Charles Finney.

D’Aubigne, in his History of the Reformation, observed, “Nothing terrifies the defenders of human traditions so much as the word of God.” He further recorded a scene in which a Cambridge professor named Bilney in the 16th century was tormented about his salvation and took the advice of Roman Catholic priests – abasing himself in myriad ways to make himself pleasing to God. He grew weak and wondered if the priests were more interested in themselves than in his salvation. He found a copy of the newly available Greek New Testament; he took it up and read 1 Tim 1:15 – The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. He realized that Christ saves sinners and he was a great sinner who needed salvation. With joy in his soul he rose up from the Book and declared that Christ had cleansed and redeemed him, eliminating all doubt and despair. “I see it all,” said Bilney; “my vigils, my fasts, my pilgrimages, my purchase of masses and indulgences were destroying instead of saving me. All these efforts were, as St. Augustine says, a hasty running out of the right way.”

This is what traditions do, if they are not of God and are pressed down on people as if they are required in order to please Him or build up His people. It’s as Paul said, the letter kills but the Spirit gives life! Unhealthy traditions are a burden that many know not they carry; but they weigh down on them more and more until they lose sight of Christ all together, so consumed in seeing to it their sacred traditions are upheld.

God help us so this may NOT be said of us! Let us remember our Lord’s words: Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jer 9:24 & 25)

23 thoughts on “Truth or Tradition?

  1. A hearty amen, brother! Well said and well needed. I find even in the circles of biblically saved people, these traditions are creeping in and embraced as a way to holiness. it’s just plain wrong and will get us all in trouble unless we stand up and say enough!

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  2. Thanks for you kind comment, my brother. You are right – it is natural for traditions to be pressed as if they were from YHWH. Don’t go to Wed evening “bible study” or “prayer meeting?” Might be called a heretic, even though most likely it’s a book being discussed and rumor-mongering masked as prayer. And I don’t think I’ve seen any instructions in Scripture telling us we must meet on Wed evening.

    This post was my message to a group of Baptist elders last Saturday. It was well received by most.

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  3. I find many people put so much emphasis on attending church that if you don’t go to a “church”, you are sinning and properly not saved. Sometimes one just can’t go, for whatever reason. I’ve been told to move far enough to find a proper church, even if I have to pack up my family, quit my job and find a house in another province (Canada). Not taking into account the huge financial drain this would be on us of course, all that matter is we are in a building with other so called Christians.

    Yes, accountability is important, but not at the sake of putting one’s family in this sort of stress. I find even biblically saved Christians can be insensitive and allow themselves to fall into the trap of “everyone else is doing it…”

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  4. One elder in the 1689 church I belonged to told me missing church on the “Christian Sabbath” was a sin. Another told me he needed the 4th Word to be binding on Christians so he would have leverage to get people to church on Sunday. I told him I don’t see the need to misappropriate Scripture to get people who are indwelt by the Spirit of God to gather for worship.

    Laws are much easier to trust than is God. Yet we are told to trust in the unseen God and not what can be seen.

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  5. Grr….the “Christian Sabbath”. How i hate that term. I had an argument one time with a lady who preached to me at length on this and told me emphatically that we as Christians are commanded to attend church on Sunday and Sunday only. I asked her for scripture, she gave me puritan quotes. I asked for scripture again and she gave me Spurgeon. All i wanted was scripture that showed me that God was commanding me to attend church on Sunday because it would make me more holy and she got mad and told me that I was denying scripture and convoluting things. ARGH!!! Reminds me of Finnegan, to be honest. I ask for scripture, and no one gives me any. These traditions of the church drive me up the wall, Manfred. If I was given scripture that said, it was God’s will to attend church on Sunday, then fine–thanks! I would adjust my lifestyle and work schedule accordingly.

    I find most people today rely on the old guys for their ammo. You’ll find this on FB where someone will post a quote from someone who has been dead for a few hundred years and everyone shares it. If you post straight scripture, no one says a word.

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  6. Just read it Manfred. I agree! Our rest is in Christ alone. This takes humility and submission. Our rest doesn’t come from a day anymore than our salvation come from a prayer. Just think about this: how fast do Sundays go? my Sundays just fly by. If I’m depending on a day to get all my rest to be prepared for the work week, then it’s not working.

    It’s yet another attempt by man to “do something” to earn their place in God.

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  7. in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!”

    Manfred,
    Great article, so full of truth for Baptists, all evangelicals, Charismatics, Pentecostals and Main Line denominations.
    I hate to say this but I would wager that if anyone tried to point this out in their own home church, the elders would keep their traditions and seek to toss you out.
    Snail Mail copies of this article to every family in the directory and see if it creates more light or more heat.
    Our fallen nature is full of pride and love of money. How many pastors love the place of honor consciously and subconsciously? How many covet their salaries be they modest or abundant? I have even heard a pastor (HUMBLY) declare that pastors are God’s gift to the laity.
    Jer. Is full of severe warnings of wrath from God against any who would dare to speak falsely in His name. Teachers/preachers will be judged more harshly for this very reason.

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  8. Thank you for your comment, my brother. The elders in the seeker sensitive and the 1689 churches I belonged to reacted just as you’ve described. I am considering giving this to the “sole pastor” where I currently am. I’ve been teaching Sunday school there and have preached a couple times on Wed and Sun.And we have our traditions!

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  9. Oh brother, you have made my day! Thanks for boldly proclaiming the very Truths that used to get my head torn off here not so many years ago! LOL I and others like Flee Babylon that is.

    Again, thanks brother for your faithfulness to the Traditions He laid down in His Word that men hate because they can obtain no power in and for themselves from! As I’ve said many times, their system isn’t broken, it is another system, or another’s system.

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  10. Thanks, Mickey. One young man who was at the small gathering of Baptist pastor to whom I presented this message wrote me and thanked me for this, as he was brought up in small church where many of these things were LAW. He is heading off to the mission field and has, I believe, a solid foundation upon which to build.

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  11. Pingback: Truth or Tradition? | Talmidimblogging

  12. Finne – the 5 points called Calvinism are biblical. That has been demonstrated many times. I am not going to go through it again.

    ALL people have traditions that are not biblical – such as what time does the worship service starts. Whether they are of “Christian principles” is irrelevant as many of those such traditions will prove out to be rubbish.

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  13. Finnegan Ol’ boy, that ship’s sailed. I’m through with arguing and trying to beat down the brick wall of willful ignorance. May I suggest something? Get a hobby. Your persistent hounding on this blog is getting old real fast.

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  14. forget Calvin already try debating refuting and insulting the first New Testament New Covenant teacher of election, Jesus

    Our Lord Jesus taught the doctrine of election:

    We will confine our references to the Gospel of John since that book is known as the “whosoever” gospel. Some verses from John are often used to refute election. Actually, no book in the whole Scripture is more clear on both absolute predestination and sovereign election.

    I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd (John 10:14-16).

    These words cannot be understood without accepting the truth of election. Our Lord here speaks of certain people who belonged to him even though at that very moment they were lost “Other sheep I have.” Notice the following things clearly taught in this text: (1) Christ calls some people “his sheep” long before he saved them. They belong to him at that very moment even though they are lost. (2) he declares that he “must, and surely will, find and bring them safely into the one true fold.” Not a single sheep will be left not found. (3) Our Lord is positive that every one of those sheep “will hear his voice” and come to him. That is sovereign grace choosing and bringing particular individuals to faith in Christ.

    My dear friend, that is absolute sovereign election pure and simple. Look at some other texts in John’s gospel:

    John 17:2: As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.

    John 17:6: I have manifested thy name unto the men which thou gavest me out of the world: thine they were, and thou gavest them me; and they have kept thy word.

    John 17:9: I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me; for they are thine.

    John 17:11: And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.

    John 17:12: While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept them . . .

    John 17:24: Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me: for thou lovest me before the foundation of the world.

    Six times in our Lord’s High Priestly prayer he refers to a group of people who have been “given to him” by the Father. Christ specifically says in verse nine that he does not pray for the world, but for the elect who have been chosen out of the world and given to him as his sheep. Can anyone believe that Christ would die for an individual and then not pray for that individual?

    Look at one more passage in John. This is a key verse. It is probably the most misquoted, next to Romans 8:28, of any verse in the Bible. Many evangelists use this verse in every service when they give an altar call. The problem is that they only quote half of the verse. They begin in the middle and ignore the first part. Here is the entire verse:

    All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out (John 6:37).

    You will immediately notice the verse contains two distinct and separate statements. Both statements contain a specific Bible truth. The statements are related to each other as cause and effect. As I mentioned, evangelists only quote the second half. They say, with arms outstretched while inviting people to come to the front of the church, Jesus said, him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” Unfortunately they give the impression that Coming to Christ” and coming to the front is one and the same thing. It is true that Jesus said Him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” but he said those words as a conclusion to the first statement. Why can we be certain that everyone who comes to Christ will be accepted? Because everyone who has been given to him by the Father will surely come. The Coming ones” and the “Given ones” are one and the same people. An Arminian will not freely preach the first part, about election, and a Hyper-Calvinist will not preach the second part, the free offer of the gospel. We must preach them both and, I might add, both with the same enthusiasm and in the same order.

    “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me . . .” is the truth of sovereign election. It is assuring us that there will be no empty houses in heaven catching cobwebs because someone was not willing to “claim by faith what Christ purchased for them.” No, no, my friend, every chosen one will be there. The Shepherd will seek, find, and save each one of them. After all, his reputation as a Shepherd is at stake as well as the Father’s purpose and glory.

    The second part of the verse, “. . . and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out,” is the message to a world of lost sinners. It matters not who you are, what you are, or what you have done come to Christ and you will be received. If you do not feel ready, come anyway, and you will be received. You say you have not felt your sin enough. Where, I ask, does the text say anything about feeling your sin enough? It says “come” and assures all who come, regardless, that they will be received.

    People often ask, “Pastor, how can you reconcile election and the free offer of the gospel? How do you get those two things together?” I tell them that you never have to reconcile friends, you only reconcile enemies, and the free offer of the gospel is not an enemy of sovereign election. They are friends. As to getting them together, I insist that the Holy Spirit himself has put those two things together in John 6:37. The real question is, “How dare you try to separate them!” How dare you seek to put asunder what God has joined together?

    PS I did not write this cut and paste

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  15. One verse from Scripture easily under-girds this entire discussion, in a slightly different order than TULIP: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:44). I expound on this a bit in my book.

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  16. That’s better than the acrostic Loraine Boettner came up with. I’ve not been a fan of the “traditional” TULIP; consider it an early example of poor church marketing. The spiritual doctrines known as Calvinism are solidly biblical and those I support and defend..

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