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It would be very easy for each of us to think that traditionalism is found only in churches that are openly traditional, where church traditions have knowingly and deliberately been placed on top of and along side of Scripture and officially given equal authority with Scripture as communicating the will and truth of God. These denominations make no pretence and no apology about their traditions; they glory in and promote their traditions for all to see.

But it is not in these alone that traditionalism exists.

Every denomination, whether it be a large one, or an “independent church” of only one congregation, is a human organization, and wherever there is a human organisation, human traditions are added in some degree or another, to the Word of God. Just as the Roman Catholic and Orthodox faiths have their traditions, so too do the Protestant denominations, so too do “evangelical” churches, so too do “pentecostal” and “charismatic” churches, so too do all of the small Christian groups which separate off in an effort to preserve purity of doctrine. Each develops its own bundle of traditions - human traditions added to and interpreting and overriding the written Word.

What can we do? How can we strengthen and protect ourselves and our families against so pernicious an enemy?

[1] Learn to distinguish between tradition and truth.

[2] Learn to distinguish between harmful and harmless traditions.

[3] Recognise that conformity to traditional perceptions, expectations or rituals has no in-built merit.

[4] Recognise that our relationship with God is not conditional on either keeping or not keeping traditions.

[5] Study the Scripture to learn all we can about the Gospel of our salvation which is soundly and securely grounded in Jesus Christ alone and not in anything we do or are.

[6] Determine to be Christ-centred in our understanding, rather than church-centred.

[7] Be aware that every non-christian religion and every pseudo-christian cult errs in two central points: (a) the identity of Jesus Christ and (b) the grace nature of salvation. The degree to which a church’s traditions and teaching  errs in these two points indicates the degree to which it is leaning towards a non-biblical position.

[8] Do not assume that our particular church is free from traditionalism.

Many traditions are not harmful in themselves. It is our attitude to them, the significance we and our churches give to them, that causes the harm and develops into traditionalism.

This article is not meant to cause you to throw out and avoid traditions like the plague; rather it is written to enable you to discern valid traditions from invalid traditions, and, importantly, to recognize when human traditions have smothered the Word of God, obliterating its power, entrapping us in an enslaving net of human regulations and human expectations, short-circuiting the glorious, liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For your study:
Read through one of the four Gospels. As you do so, note the recurring conflict between Jesus Christ and ‘traditional’ beliefs, rituals and regulations. Also, read through Galatians or Colossians. As you do notice how insistence on maintaining traditions was interfering with and undermining the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.

© Rosemary Bardsley 2012