Tradition! Depending on one’s view, tradition can be considered good or bad. For some, the word brings warm thoughts of gatherings and activities often done with family or friends, giving them a sense of camaraderie and massaging feelings of shared history and belonging. For others, tradition feels like a noose around their neck, tying them to the past – as things have always been – stifling and hindering progress towards a better future.
The church has had its share of problems when it comes to tradition. In fact, one of the first major controversies to arise within the Church arose from asking Christians to honor the Jewish tradition. The gospel message was first proclaimed to the Jews in Jerusalem, beginning on the Day of Pentecost with Peter’s sermon, which led to 3,000 people believing in Jesus. Not long after, God orchestrated the events that led Peter to bring the good news of salvation to the Gentiles as well. At the time, Christianity was seen by many as a messianic branch of Judaism. So an issue was raised: Must Gentile believers become Jews to be Christians? Do Gentiles, who come to believe in Jesus, have to be circumcised in practice and keep the law of Moses in order to be saved? There was a group within the church called Judaizers who believed it was necessary. They had tradition on their side. Jews have welcomed non-Jews into the faith for hundreds of years; the procedure was well organised.
Church leaders, including Paul and Barnabas, the apostles, and the elders of Jerusalem, all gathered to discuss and discuss the matter. It was pointed out that God had received the Gentiles by grace through faith, and that they had received the Holy Spirit just as they had themselves. Salvation was not the result of works, so the Gentiles should not be burdened with keeping the law of Moses, which, incidentally, neither they nor their forefathers had successfully followed. Tradition did not trump faith; salvation was by faith in Jesus, not by keeping the traditions of men.
It is important for us to recognize that there is no compromise when it comes to the Christian faith. Salvation is found in none but in Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. Tradition, on the other hand, comes from expediency and personal preference; it should never be confused or confused with matters of faith. When it comes to salvation, our traditions are irrelevant. This is not to say that traditions are bad or not useful. They can be very meaningful because they bring individuals and communities together in a shared history. But they are always secondary and temporary in relation to the eternal truth of the gospel. Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God, who became man to shed his blood for our sins, and now sits at the right hand of God to intercede for us; and one day those who are his will spend eternity with him, apart from all the sin and corruption of this world.
Enjoy your traditions, but don’t hold them tighter than the faith that really saves. And do not require others to revere your traditions as you do, until you are willing to offer them the right hand of Christian fellowship. “For by grace you are saved through faith. And this is not your doing; it is a gift from God, not the result of works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph 2:8-9 NIV)
Don Green is the pastor of the First Christian Church.