Traditions: Man-Made and Divine (Part 1)

Traditions are literally everywhere. At professional baseball games there is the ceremonial first pitch and the seventh inning stretch. It's flowers and valentines on February 14th. As a youth it was teenage drivers circling our town square in their vehicles. When a tooth is lost it is put under one's pillow at night. At the dinner table it's bowed heads, holding hands, and a prayer of thanksgiving. It's costumes and candy on October 31st. For a marriage proposal, it's an engagement ring while down on one knee. On the fourth Thursday in November, it's gathering with family for turkey and prayers of thankfulness. When eating out it is leaving the server a tip. It's an exchange of gifts on December 25th. It's setting out flowers on a loved one's grave. Yes, traditions are everywhere!

Perhaps your traditions differ from the above list (and that'd be just fine). What is more important than the details of our traditions is the reason why; why are certain traditions practiced? Admittedly, some traditions may not seem to have any discernable rationale behind them. It's just the way we have always done a certain thing, or the initial reason is so old it has been forgotten.

But what about traditions related to religion? Are there traditions we practice wherein we do not know why? If so, that is very dangerous. If we don't understand why certain things are done, we might mistakenly view some traditions as disposable (when they are, in fact, divinely given) and others as non-negotiable (when they are truly man-made). The Clinton congregation has many traditions we have practiced for decades:

All of the traditions I've just mentioned could be altered without sin, because they are man-made practices. But we practice these traditions because of expediency. In other words, there are Biblical reasons for engaging in all of these activities, but a congregation who doesn't do these things exactly as we do isn't in error because these matters are opinions. We could be a faithful church without separate Bible classes, fellowship meals, a paid preacher, a formal invitation, an hour-long assembly, etc. We locally have chosen to maintain these traditions because we believe they are advantageous or best for our circumstances. But we admit that they are, in fact, man-made customs and not commands from God.

However, there are some practices that we might rightly label as divine traditions. In other words, these are customs that God has established; ceremonies or practices that He has implemented and wants us to keep. It is the case that the Bible sometimes refers to God-given practices as "traditions"; that is, traditions the apostles delivered by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Thus, they are traditions that originate with God and, as such, should not be changed without divine permission (e.g., I Cor. 11:2; II Thess. 2:15; 3:6).

Although ignorance regarding secular traditions is not a big deal, it is important for us to know why we practice certain religious traditions as well as being cognizant of the difference between divine traditions and man-made ones. However, it is impossible to know the difference between the two without being a good student of God's word. One cannot rightly divide the Scriptures if he is ignorant of them (cf. II Tim. 2:15)!

In our next lesson we will consider an Old Testament example of a divine tradition and glean an important lesson from it.