Traditionalism is one of the original enemies of God’s truth. We meet it in the book of Job, which is considered the oldest of the Biblical writings. Here  Bildad expresses the traditionalist mentality: “Ask the former generations and find out what their fathers learned ...” (Job 8:8), and “... is the earth to be abandoned for your sake? Or must the rocks be moved from their place?” (Job 18:4). In his opinion what people had always believed, what had been handed down from generation to generation, was right. In his opinion, God would only do what everyone had always believed God would do.

The prophets repeatedly called God’s people to repent of their barren, heartless traditionalism. Jesus repeatedly hit his head against the brick wall of traditionalism, and the apostles, themselves once traditionalists, had repeated confrontations with people wedded to their traditional ideas about God and God’s relationships with people.

In traditionalism:

[1] Human and/or church traditions are added to the written Word.
[2] These traditions interpret and override the written Word.
[3] In time, these traditions become legalistic, adding human effort to the work of Jesus Christ and eroding the Gospel, teaching that I must affirm and conform to certain traditions to obtain or maintain my salvation.
[4] Traditions become more important than Biblical truth.
[5] Some traditions are in the form of beliefs, some are in the form of practice (ritual, ceremony, regulations, the way something is done).

It must be made clear that traditions are not wrong simply because they are traditions. The value of each tradition must be assessed by its faithfulness to the written Word. What is wrong is in the way we perceive the traditions and their relationship to the revealed Word of God.  Traditionalism has had a negative and destructive effect on a church when:

Church traditions hide, suppress or supplant Biblical truth.

A church focuses on maintaining its traditions rather than promoting Biblical truth.

A church becomes self-centred, self-exalting, self-perpetuating, rather than Christ centred and Christ exalting, its goal being to maintain and preserve (or even reproduce) itself and its traditions instead of proclaiming and extending the kingdom of God irrespective of the survival of its particular traditions.

Traditional expressions and presentations of the Gospel assume people understand the terminology and concepts, with the result that there is a failure in communication, and the Biblical Gospel is lost in a labyrinth of “christian” traditions and clichés.

A church is full of sincere but ignorant people, believing and doing the traditional thing, but with little or no understanding of basic Biblical truth.

While most of us are not in a position to undo the negative effects of traditionalism in our churches, we can and must recognise and undo its effects on us as individual Christians. Traditionalism is having an undesirable affect on us individually when:

We assume that all that our church says and does is right.

We assume that our membership of our church and/or our participation in its particular ritual or form of worship is what makes us acceptable to God, and we accept or reject others on the same basis.

Traditionalized presentations of the Gospel have left us ignorant of who Jesus really is and what he really did for us on the cross; for example “ask Jesus into your heart and you’ll be saved” does not really communicate the Biblical Gospel unless one already knows who Jesus is, what “into your heart” means, and what “be saved” means; yet it is a traditional way of presenting the Gospel.

True discipleship and sanctification have been replaced by conformity to church traditions (in the form of rules, regulations or raised eyebrows) about how “good Christians” should live.

Our submission to the authority of Jesus Christ has similarly been replaced by our submission to the expectations of our church.

We consequently find ourselves in a legalistic slavery to the moral codes and expectations of our church, in a same way as the New Testament Christians were being enslaved by the imposition of Jewish traditions. The results of this enslavement to traditional church expectations are many and varied, depending largely on our perception of our ability to satisfy those expectations: pride or despair, false security or insecurity, self-confidence or lack of assurance of salvation, self-satisfaction or depression. Because of a perceived necessity to constantly conform to the traditional expectations of our church the joy and peace which are ours in Jesus Christ are sadly diminished or non-existent. [Continued next week.]

© Rosemary Bardsley 2012