Traditions – Good or Bad?

By Dennis Gulledge

Recently I had the opportunity of treating this subject from the pulpit and wanted to stress the fact that just because something is or is called a tradition does not make that thing wrong. The point being that we are strongly controlled by traditions in our ways of doing things. We need to understand that such things are fine in themselves. Aside from there being bad traditions (Matt. 15:3; Col. 2:8), and good traditions (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 2:15; 3:6), there are also neutral traditions. We are strongly controlled by traditions that are not wrong. Into this area we place expedients. There are expedient ways of doing what God has commanded. A command of God may be done in an expedient way and on a regular basis. In such cases a tradition is formed. Examples might be the hours at which we meet for Bible classes and worship, the order of worship service, the manner in which the Lord’s Supper is served and contribution taken, and whether we sing the older, more familiar hymns or the newer, less familiar (at least to those of us who are older) songs. Whether or not we like the newer songs, we should keep in mind that all music was once new music – even Fanny J. Crosby’s hymns.

Every congregation has its own particular order of service. Congregations may differ slightly in the order of worship service that they follow, but as long as all of the avenues of New Testament worship (singing, prayer, preaching, the Lord’s Supper and giving) are present then God’s will is being done. These things may be carried out in expedient ways. An expedient action is a tradition and not a law, and as such it is subject to change even though it will disturb some people. God’s revealed truth is not subject to change. An expedient action should never be transformed into a law.

It is a matter of great concern when a long held practice that is dictated by God’s command is ridiculed by some who call it a mere “tradition.” For example, after I had preached a sermon on why churches of Christ do not use mechanical instruments of music in worship, a sister said to me, “The Bible does not say that instrumental music in the worship is wrong. It is only Church of Christ tradition that says so.” The sister was correct in that the New Testament nowhere prohibits such mechanical intrusion into our worship of God, but neither does it allow such by express statement, approved example, or necessary inference. Any person holding her view will fail to see how a thing may be wrong even if there is no express prohibition of it in the New Testament. Again, her view fails to recognize the law of exclusion in Biblical hermeneutics. That is, where the Bible includes a thing in keeping with God’s revealed will it also excludes anything that would interject a different “kind” into the action under consideration. The command to sing can only permit a cappella music – not mechanical (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16). Song books allow you to do what God commands. Mechanical instruments bring in another “kind” of music than that which God allows.