Tradition or Truth?
By Michael Light
In recent years a charge is made against the churches of Christ that its worship is too "traditional." The charge is that what the brethren have taught and still teach is our tradition and no necessarily based on scriptural truth. Most of our accusers are themselves members of the church Men like Max Lucado, Rubel Shelly, Marvin Phillips Jeff Walling and others bemoan that we will not turn from what they consider to be our traditional teachings on a number of subjects.
They say that we are too traditional in our worship. The persons who level these charges would like to introduce innovations and refashion worship to be spontaneous or "Pentecostal" in style. Is their criticism correct? Have we in the church become too traditional in our worship?
The Greek word, paradosis, translated "tradition," means "a handing down or passing on" (W. E. Vine). It refers to anything (teaching or ordinance) handed down from generation to generation. The New Testament refers to two kinds of traditions. The first is human traditions, which if taught as doctrine will keep us from heaven and render our worship vain (Matt. 15:9). Jesus strongly condemned the false religious leaders of his day for this very thing (Matt. 15:19). The second, is the tradition of God, which must be believed, taught and practiced (2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Cor. 11:2).
If the charge has reference to human traditions, the answer is: The church of Christ is the only church that does not believe, teach and practice human traditions in worship and practice. There is New Testament authority for every act of worship one finds in the Lord's church (Col. 3:17). Faithfulness in adhering to the pattern set forth in the scriptures is the distinguishing characteristic of the followers of Christ (John 14:15; Matt. 7:21). We must vehemently oppose the change agents who encourage us to leave the scripture's way for nonscriptural ways. They are the very thing they say they oppose. They would leave the traditions of God for the traditions of mere mortals. If we follow their godless lead, our worship will be vain because it will follow human traditions (Matt. 15:9).
If their charge has reference to following the apostolic traditions, the answer is still no. How could the church be guilty of being too faithful to the divine form or pattern (2 Tim 1:13)? The Bible teaches us that those who do not abide (remain) in the doctrine of Christ are without God (2 John 9). Living without God by not consciously obeying the commands of the Bible is what the denominational world has done for years. Now many who once were of us have forsaken the truth and are also living without God.
In 1 John 2:19, we have some insight into what we see among our digressive brethren (those who want to change the nature - the acts themselves- of our worship). The passage says, "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not of us."
Until we see these people for what they are (false teachers, who have left the ways of God) we will never understand why they do what they do. When one views the Bible as nothing but a nonauthoritative "love letter," the door is wide open for going far afield on every subject, including worship. They go out from us because they leave the truth. Mark it down. Those who mock the old paths and push for change have lost conviction for the truth and are moving toward traditions of human beings.
It is true that many in the church are simply going through the motions (correct form but wrong attitude) of worship. This is a problem of the heart and not an indictment against the prescribed form of worship. The acts of worship as God gave them are perfect to express love, devotion and gratitude. For our worship to be acceptable it must be in spirit (proper motivation and with a sincere heart) and in truth (according to the divine record, the Bible). It is impossible for our worship to be acceptable if we have the proper form but our hearts are not in it. Likewise, it is impossible for our worship to be in the proper spirit if we do not follow the directive of God (Matt. 7:21; Lev. 10:12). Many are pleasing the worshipers instead of pleasing the God we profess to worship.