How many times have you heard someone boast that they were battling for the truth? How many times have you and I seen ourselves as great contenders for the faith? Though I have seen it in several groups, it would be hard to deny that it is oft-repeated around the Independent Baptist world. Is it as true as we imagine?
No doubt when you proclaim the Gospel with caution and clarity you are defending a much-attacked truth. I can think of no place more than the Gospel where error is thrown like mud against the wall to see what will stick. If you are a Baptist, you may spend a great deal of time clarifying Baptist distinctives that you believe to be thoroughly Bible based. Even though Christians may disagree, for example, on something like Baptism, at least there are a multitude of Scriptures that can be brought to bear on the subject. Surely there would be some justification on making a stand on a subject prolifically mentioned in the Bible!
What about, however, when we go beyond the foundational truths of Scripture? Or what is often mentioned in the Bible? Have you ever, as I have, heard standards, preferences, or worship styles mentioned with equal fervor? Is this defending truth?
I maintain that it is not truth at all, but tradition. I won’t even claim that there isn’t some place for tradition, but that is not the place to divide the sheep and the goats, or cull out the heretics.
I fear that we have even lost our way. We hardly even recognize a biblical criteria to determine core truths. We make a clod of dirt and a mountain of equal value. I have long since lost count of all the articles I have seen on some subject held up as of paramount importance biblically, and even be filled with endless scripture citations, that was merely someone’s preference. The strange thing about these articles is that if you actually check the references,they are not speaking of the subject at hand in any material way. One of the favorites is to call the discussed subject a critical doctrine and quote II Timothy 3:16 on “profitable for doctrine” when it is actually about the Word of God, not the pet topic under discussion.
The saddest thing is that type of teaching is either: a) deceptive, or what I believe to be much more likely, b) naive. The writer does not even realize just how ludicrous that line of reasoning is!
But that is the problem with tradition– to force it you must use strong handed methods. You must be ugly to propagate it with those who no longer want it. What else could you do?
Truth is altogether different. It only needs proclaimed. Unlike tradition, it loses nothing if some let it go. Tradition dies if we can’t prop it up, but truth is ever marching on.
Strangely, we are the group most often lambasting tradition in others while we are blinded to it in ourselves. Vestal garments aren’t the only traditions out there!
Let’s, then, learn the difference between tradition and truth as clearly as we would distinguish the temporal and the eternal. If we don’t, we may waste our lives fighting for the wrong things.
Find all articles in the series here.
10 thoughts on “Tradition Versus Truth (IBTR #31)”
I think tradition is seen as something other people do, what your group is doing is from God. I would say almost every religious group would look at it that way.
That is a fair assessment, I would say!
Having lived over a decade outside of the US as a missionary, my husband and I see this very clearly. We understood as we arrived in South America that a good missionary teaches Bible, not American tradition. But that proved harder for us than we first thought. As we had discussion after discussion about how and what we were going to emphasize and teach, our eyes were opened to how many of those teachings were wrapped up in tradition. But it’s actually been a beautiful process to really search the Scriptures and teach ourselves and the others without the clouded subjectiveness of American tradition.
It has been my observation that missionaries always have a better grip on this issue than we in the States. Realities of ministry on the field demand it and so missionaries have to separate tradition and truth to know the way forward. I sincerely wish missionaries had more of the voice that we would listen to rather than having to answer supporter’s demands. They have it much better figured out!
And I think it’s important to also understand that it’s really fine to hold to a tradition – as long as you keep it in perspective. This is something I really had to come to grips with as I struggle with my own anger to trends in IFB churches. If we don’t, we will be driven insane! The problem with tradition comes when 1. tradition, like you said, becomes just as important as central doctrines, 2. Certain traditions become your axe that you have to keep grinding over and over, 3. you separate with people because they don’t have the same traditions, 4. you neglect to keep moving on in the Faith because you’re comfortable with your traditions, 5. you start interpreting Scripture in light of your traditions rather than your traditions in light of Scripture, 6. you have such high views of your traditions that you won’t allow for any other sort of biblical reasoning about the tradition – any deviation must be flawed. You won’t accept that maybe your tradition is flawed, 7. You start evaluating your walk with God, as well as that of others, on the basis of how closely you hold to your traditions.
I’m sure there are others but those are just the ones that popped into my head.
In short, I do think it’s fine to have extra-biblical traditions and standards if you are convicted to have them. Sometimes they do help us battle with the lusts of our flesh. Sometimes they do provide structure to our worship and growth. But we must realize that not everyone needs the exact same ones you have, or to the same extent that you hold to them. I think if we all evaluate ourselves, every single person has some sort of extra-bibilcal traditions/convictions. Like morning devotion time, musical preferences, how you handle your children’s schooling, how you do your offerings, your political party, etc. We all have them. We just need to keep them in perspective and keep all things in their rightful place.
On the other side of things, as far as perspective goes, we also need to make sure we are making a big deal out of the things that ARE a big deal. It’s not that we just don’t make a big deal out of small things. We must also guard our hearts so that we ARE making a big deal out of things that legitimately are big deals. It’s not just a one way street. We are supposed to be zealous people – zealous for the right things!
I agree with your comments, especially the 7 points. I pray will think through it as you have.
In many IFB churches any questioning of their traditions is interpreted as an attack on truth. The line that separates the two has become so blurred, that many IFBs think that all of their traditions equal Bible based beliefs. Instead, they are holding onto “party lines” that are sometimes preached more fervently, frequently, and louder than truth is, by pastors who consult/reference the opinions of “great” Fundamental preachers more than the words of our Lord.
Maybe Baptist traditions/heritage are so strongly emphasized because they produce the desired excitement and create a high school-like loyalty of “us against them.” (Which results in an IFB mindset that they are the most-correct-kind-of-Christians)
I understand that not all IFBs have this mindset. I wish more would realize the importance of searching the Scriptures and making sure all of their beliefs are grounded in that alone.
Much of what we do and believe are traditions. Many of them are good traditions and ones that I do not see as problems if you believe them. The problem is using the Bible to somehow shove those traditions down people’s throats. That is what chases people away.
For instance, the midweek service is a tradition. Most churches do not have a midweek service. I cannot count how many times I have heard preaching that said that a person isn’t right with God or isn’t spiritual because they do not attend the midweek service. Also churches are blasted as liberal if they do not have one. There is nothing in the Bible to say that we need to go to a midweek service, or that church has to have one. The Bible does say that we are not to forsake the assembly of ourselves together, but it doesn’t say how often or when we are to meet.
Also falling in the tradition realm are hair off of the collar and ears for men, skirts/dresses on women, no beards on men, suit and tie, and many other things. When people are told they have to do those things then that is pharasetical and adds men’s traditions to the gospel.
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