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Traditions Of Men Versus The Word Of God

Neal Pollard

For as long as I have been preaching, I have had at least one copy of the Alvin Jennings’ book bearing the title above. The book was originally printed in 1972, but it has been reprinted several times. Jennings clarifies the way he uses the word “traditions” in his title. Rather than the sense of being a writing handed down from God (2 Th. 2:15; 3:6; 1 Co. 11:2), he used the word to refer to “religious laws and traditions originating from the minds of men and handed down orally and/or in printing from generation to generation” (iv.). He rightly points out that such traditions were condemned by Christ (Mat. 15:2-3,6; Mark 7:3,13; Col. 2:8; 1 Pet. 1:18; Gal. 1:14). Some of the problems with these traditions were that they got in the way of obedience to what God commanded, caused negligence regarding and the setting aside of God’s commands, enslaved one to something or someone other than Christ, and created a zeal that could lead to unhealthy consequences. The traditions Jennings examines substituted  false, human ideas for clearly revealed, divine truth. Anything that binds where God has not bound or gives permission where God doesn’t permit must be rejected. It’s a tradeoff with the gravest consequences (cf. Rev. 22:18-19).

However, I hope that as we strive to follow the pattern for New Testament Christianity we will be careful about elevating any tradition to be on a par with Scripture. There are some traditions we may choose to observe (or not):

  • Offering an invitation after every sermon
  • Having worship leaders, including the preacher, wear suits and/or ties
  • Women wearing dresses to church services
  • Songs or songbooks reflecting a particular time period (whether old or new)
  • Mandating a specific Bible version be utilized in the public assemblies
  • Choosing to have an evening assembly
  • Replicating the format of the morning assembly (in lieu of using the time for class, for example)
  • A particular order of worship (including whether the Lord’s Supper precedes or follows the sermon)
  • Offering the Lord’s Supper on Sunday evening
  • Any practice or tradition that arises from expedience or the realm of judgment, but that is not specifically mandated in Scripture

The church finds itself at a crucial crossroads. Undoubtedly, there is nothing new under the sun, but we do find ourselves at a unique place in cultural history. Since we live in an argumentative, rancorous atmosphere fueled by everything from cable news to social media, we should be careful to maintain a spirit of love and kindness whenever we sort through matters like these. We should never cherish non-binding traditions more than we do people. Those of us who are older and presumably more mature should consider carefully where and when we might compromise regarding matters not tied down in Scripture. More than that, we should foster rather than fear an environment that allows for such discussions to occur—without animosity or distrust. This will mean spending much more time developing our relationships with one another on the local church level (across generations). The better we know each other and the more we grow our love for each other, the better equipped we should be to sort through such things. Coupled with serious Bible study, this will hopefully sharpen our ability to distinguish between traditions and truth. May we have the grace to listen to each other without prejudice or minds already made up. Instead or ridiculing or caricaturizing the church in demeaning ways, let all of us “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone…” (Col. 3:12-13a). 

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A PLEA TO THE OLDER AND YOUNGER GENERATIONS

Neal Pollard

I am at a unique crossroads at which I cannot hope to long remain.  Currently, I am young enough to exercise vigorously, play sports, appreciate indie music,  vaguely cope with technology and its changes, and not feel old.  Yet, I am old enough now to have seen all my children reach the teen years, accumulate some life’s experience, and deepen my appreciation for the living history and wisdom that is our senior citizens.  Subtly, but surely, I will loosen my grip on youth and embrace old age.

As a 43-year-old, I still am able to hold hands with both sides.  No generation is perfect, nor does any have the clear advantage over the others. There are things all of us should keep in mind, no matter our age.

To our older Christians, may we appreciate that our youth and young adults need so much more than a constant diet of teaching and preaching on sexual and moral sins.  They need a larger diet of Christian evidences, how we got the Bible, and similar subjects in a post-faith world that is increasingly hostile to biblical principles. They deserve as many textual and deeper studies as anyone else. May we further appreciate our need to meet the younger people of our churches with technological savvy, newer (though scriptural) songs, and an empathetic view of the challenges they face in the culture. They need us to believe in them, listen to them, and go to bat for them.  May we view them as “innocent until proven guilty,” hoping the best for them.  May we value them, empower them, and use them in meaningful service in the Kingdom today!

To our younger Christians, may we appreciate that the church is comprised of more than those 30 and younger. There may be some things that are lawful but are not expedient. The fact that you are a part of your culture does not mean you should not strive to rise above it, excel, and be an example to it.  That even should impact how you dress for worship (not meaning coat and tie, but meaning doing better than ratty shirts, “holey” jeans, and flops).  Remember that the church has more than one generation in it, and the servant-hearted does not insist on his or her “rights” or liberties but rather strives to serve through love. Wisdom should propel you to “rise up before the gray-headed and honor the aged” (Lev. 19:32).  As was said of Lot’s wife, so we do well to “remember Rehoboam” who listened to his peers instead of his elders (1 Ki. 12:8).  Beware the temptation to hold the “older generation” in contempt and disrespect the greater wisdom that usually accompanies the accumulation of years.

We all truly need each other, now more than ever!  There must be empathy for everyone else, a love that seeks the best for others. Let us look through each other’s eyes as best as we can and so “preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (cf. Eph. 4:3).