Manmade Traditions

By Beth Hyduke

Daniel 7:14 says, "And to Him [Jesus Christ], was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom is one that shall not be destroyed." It is a Biblical truth that everything is in subjection to Jesus Christ. He has been given global authority over His creation (Matthew 28:18, John 3:35). Naturally, this authority extends to the customs and the traditions that emerge out of every nation and culture around the globe.

In Mark 7 we find the following account that illustrates this:
The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands — that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles.) So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, "Why don't your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with impure hands?" Jesus replied, "Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: 'These people honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. They worship Me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.' You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions." Jesus continued, "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!" Mark 7:1-9
It's not that handwashing or the cleaning of utensils was inherently wrong or bad. General health and hygiene practices seem like pretty sensible and harmless customs to have. But here we see that even a seemingly beneficial and innocuous custom like washing your hands before eating had become a spiritual pitfall for the Pharisees. By trying to make God subject to their human traditions and customs, rather than making their human traditions and customs subject to Him, the Pharisees had gotten their priorities completely, and profanely, backwards. They had replaced God's will with human tradition.

This principle carries forward to our own customs and traditions. If God is the ultimate authority, and all things are subject to Him, then no cultural practice, custom, rule, or social tradition can ever take precedence over God and His ways. Any specific activity that undermines, violates, or detracts from God or His revealed will to us (His Word, the Bible), should not be observed or practiced by the Christian believer. Sadly, I can think of many customs and traditions, both in my own culture and in other cultures around the world, that do this by promoting idolatry, ungodliness, and paganism. Titus 2:11-14 says:
For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say "No" to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope — the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.
To be a Christian in the world is to practice nonconformity to the world and its ways (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 2:10), so, if the thing in question dishonors God or contradicts the truth of His Word, Christian believers have no business participating in that practice or custom regardless of what culture it belongs to or how ancient the tradition is. As Paul reminds us in Philippians, the Christian's citizenship is not rooted in our civic pride, our national patriotism, or our cultural heritage; "our citizenship is in heaven" with Jesus Christ (Philippians 3:20) in whom "there is no distinction" between nationalities and cultures "for the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call upon Him" (Romans 10:12).

With that in mind, there are many national customs and cultural traditions that are useful, educational, and are either beneficial or amoral (neither good or bad) activities. Many of these kinds of customs simply exist for fun. Setting off fireworks is a traditional custom many cultures share that comes to mind. The Christian is free to participate in such activities. But we need to remember that any activity, even harmless, fun, or otherwise helpful ones, can become a source of idolatry and distraction from true worship (just as handwashing did with the Pharisees in Mark 7), and we need to guard against our same tendency to make idols out of the things we're fondest of, and familiar with, in our own lives.

When we begin to look at the world from a more eternal perspective, we come to recognize that all man-made traditions and cultural customs, as good, as ambivalent, or as spiritually dangerous as they may be, belong to that category of things that are temporary and destined to pass away (1 Corinthians 7:31, 1 John 2:17). Fostering that eternal perspective helps us see that this life is nothing more than an investment in the next (Matthew 6:19-21), and that perspective helps to counter our tendencies towards manufacturing idols out of other, lesser responsibilities and attachments we may feel towards our own cultures, customs, heritages, and traditions. The answer to your question is that there is nothing wrong with observing man-made traditions provided that they do not undermine God's authority or stand in opposition to Him, His Word, or His will for your life, and as long as they don't become subtler idols to us.

Image: Chris and Andrew Stone, Kansas City Royals Superfans — and the GotQuestions' senior editor's nephews.

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Celebrating-Holidays  | Christian-Life  | Controversial-Issues  | Sin-Evil

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Published on 3-14-16