This past Lord’s day as we completed our special series of lessons on Fireproofing Your Marriage I spoke of Christ’s teaching on marriage was not just rooted in his own authority, but explained that from the beginning marriages were meant to be permanent.  I further illustrated how we emphasize the importance of the ways things were done “in the beginning.”  This of course is where traditions come from.  With Christ’s teaching on the ways things used to be and what else the scriptures reveal about traditions we can see that they are or at least can be scriptural.  Notice that Jeremiah encouraged the Israelites to search for the old paths (Jer. 6:16) and that Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to follow the traditions that were either taught by word or by the epistles which were written.
However, not all traditions are good traditions.Even arguing what was done from the beginning on some traditions are bad things.  It was a tradition in the south, at the founding of our nation to have slaves.  It was a tradition in the south after the civil war to segregate oneself from African-Americans.  Now, I realize that one could argue that was not the way of Christians.  However, many Christians in the south owned slaves, and many Christians in the south believed in segregation and often based such things upon scripture (and of course, the way things have always been).   
Now, I realize that trying to compare slavery and segregation to that of the traditions of the apostles is like comparing apples to oranges.  However, even Christ spoke of the dangers of some traditions in his day.  “Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees, which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men (Matt. 15:1-9).”
Just what was wrong with this tradition of the Pharisee’s?  Was it wrong to wash your hands before eating?  Certainly not.  Many Christians and non-Christians alike continue to practice this form of sanitation.  In fact, depending on the profession, to not do so would be down right dangerous to not wash one’s hands before eating.  What made it wrong was the fact that they taught it was a sin to fail to do so.,  But why did they call it a sin in the 1st place?  Yes, they said it was a tradition of the elders, but traditions had to start somewhere.  According to Albert Barnes’ commentary on Matt. 15 these traditions were oral traditions supposedly handed down since the days of Moses; that Moses was given two laws upon the mountain.  One was written the other was taught father to son through the generations as wells as Moses to Joshua, Joshua to Judges, and Judges to Prophets until it was recorded in the Talmud.  It was predicated on the idea that external cleanliness was indicative of the cleanliness or purity of the heart.  Christ taught that the issue is that they taught these traditions as scripture although there is no passage in the scriptures that taught such things.  As Christ points out it is what comes out of the heart that defiles a man (Matt. 15:18-20), not what is on ones hands when he eats.
There is a second tradition Christ rebukes here in this passage concerning the Pharisees’ teaching.  They also taught one was not obligated to financially assist their parents if would simply say that it was dedicated unto God, thus absolving them of the that commandment.  This was a tradition that directly taught man to sin.
So, what does all of this teach us about our own traditions.  If a tradition is in direct violation with God’s word, we can know it is wrong, such as, the use of musical instruments or the baptism of infants.  These erroneous traditions are easy to spot.  But what about the others?  What if the tradition is not necessarily a violation of a specific passage, but rather a misunderstanding of scripture?  For the sake of not ruffling any feathers I want mention specifics.  However, I will state we need to be very careful about what we bind upon others.  By all means if you want to practice the tradition (like washing hands before you eat) please do so.  But to say another sins because they do not hold to the same standard is to teach the precepts of men as the doctrine of God.

Grinnell church of Christ
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Not All Traditions Are Equal

The Light
Volume 3 Issue 33   July 15, 2012