Tradition in Christ’s Church According to the Bible

Jesus on the Cross and the Lords Supper Host (610x351)This is our pastor’s newsletter article for May, 2014.

Today, many are practicing “Christian freedom” by living a way of life that is contrary to the Christian faith!  One way of doing that is by seeing faith as only something personal, not communal.  It’s both!  Just read the New Testament.

It’s true: no one can believe for another.  And yet, through Word and Sacrament, the Holy Spirit brings one into a body, the Church, not into a lone existence.  For within the Church, “the faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) is to take place.  But, instead, many have received a newfound, super-tradition and worldview that wants to get rid of all earlier traditions.  In other words, for some Christians, the main tradition is to have no traditions, which ironically is a tradition in itself.

Taught that “the Gospel” means the freedom to follow one’s dreams, many ignore whatever happens to cramp their spiritual style.  Why sing doctrine-laden hymns to teach and correct me (Colossians 3:16) when I find them boring?  Why put money in the offering plate for some spirituality club to spend on who knows what?  I’d rather spend it on what makes me feel fulfilled!  Why bind myself to some old “tradition” when I can worship in freedom just fine all by myself?  (Well, you can’t, not according to Scripture.  See Hebrews 10:19-27.)

The Church of any era before our own would have had no trouble calling such a religious worldview exactly what it is–spiritualized immaturity.  The sin-driven devotion behind pleasing ME, the zeal to have MY will be done, and the undying passion for doing what I want are outward expressions of an inward spiritual immaturity.  It’s our sinful nature having its way under the guise of religion.  (Although their institutionalized forms looked different, isn’t that what the Pharisees did?)

Matthew 15:6b-9: Jesus speaking to the Pharisees: “Because of your tradition, you have nullified God’s word.  You hypocrites!  Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said, ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  Their worship of me is empty, because they teach as doctrines the traditions of men.’”

Contrary to popular opinion and a misunderstanding of Matthew 15:6, Jesus loves tradition.  He likes rules.  Even more, He created them.  Rules are the way God designed the world to work.  Tradition is the way God set up to pass on knowledge from one generation to another.  When He created the world, He programmed humanity to use traditions to help our children remember what we (and our fathers before us) have learned.

The reason Jesus condemned the Pharisees in Matthew 15 was not because they had traditions.  It was because they had the wrong tradition.  They had a tradition of ignoring what the Word of God actually said.  That tradition of theirs incensed Jesus, because the entire reason He came to earth was to restore to humanity the right traditions–His traditions–starting with the tradition of believing God’s every last word.

Yet, we often pick up an anti-tradition bias from our Bible translations.  For example, the New International Version uses the word “teaching” when dealing with the traditions of God and “tradition” for the traditions of men.  The New Testament uses the same Greek word for both: paradidomi.  Such a translational bias wires us to think that traditions in the Church are bad, which isn’t what God’s Word teaches.

Scripture tells us to avoid those who do not hold to the Apostolic Tradition.  2 Thessalonians 3:6: “Now we [The Apostle Paul and Pastors Silas and Timothy] command you, brothers, [those in the congregation at Thessalonica] in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from every brother who walks irresponsibly and not according to the tradition you received from us.”

1 Corinthians 11:2: Paul writing to the church in Corinth, “I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold to the traditions just as I delivered [“traditioned”] them to you.”

2 Thessalonians 2:15: Paul writing to the church in Thessalonica, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, whether by our spoken word or by our letter.”

The Church of Christ is to be the place where those traditions are taught, lived out, and passed on.  We know this because the Apostle Paul told Pastor Timothy that “the Church of the living God is the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

Did you notice that the Apostle Paul said that the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth, not Scripture?  That shows that the Church has a role in teaching and correcting, even correcting someone’s misunderstanding of Scripture.  After all, the Apostle Peter tells us, “You should know this: no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20).

According to Scripture, one may not have his own interpretation of Scripture.  One is to have what the text means; if not, then it’s “someone’s own interpretation,” which is contrary to Scripture.

Jesus wants Christians and Christian churches to believe and pass on every word of Scripture as true.  Jesus wants us to pass on, from one generation to the next, all the statements, beliefs, and traditions He affirmed and founded while He was with us.  But this means, not only keeping the Bible on our shelves, but also reading the Bible with the belief that Christians in every generation between Jesus and us have believed the same eternal truth we will find there.  This means not sticking with your own interpretation but with what the text really means.  And the Church has a role in that, for Jesus set up His Church to be “the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

Against the plethora of self-interpretation, the Apostle Paul said, “I say it again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be condemned to hell” (Galatians 1:9).  For you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:19-20).

Jesus has redeemed us, not into chaos and confusion, but into a harmonious unity of mind and Spirit.  Jesus’ pure doctrine fuses us together, through faith, into His own death and resurrection.  That’s why true Christian freedom begins with believing that the crucified, risen, and ascended King who bought us back from our sin will not tolerate our use of that freedom to prop up our rebellion.  “Live as free people, not using your freedom as a pretext for evil” (1 Peter 2:16).


Next month, we will look at the traditions that the Apostle Paul was so insistent that we keep and preserve.


Click here to go to part 2 of this article.




  1. Chuck the Catholic guy says

    Pastor Rich, excellent article I commend you! Would you object to me forwarding an article of a Lutheran pastors conversion to Orthodoxy? I have no ulterior motive, but thought of you when I read it and I know you appreciate intellectual stimulation. Regards, Chuck