Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
Matthew 15:1-9 (ESV)
We all have traditions whether they be cultural, national, family, or even personal. Traditions are generally passed down to us from those who have gone before us. I would even argue that many of the origins of our traditions are not even known by many of those practicing them. Does that matter? Well, I happen to think it does and I know I’m not alone.
Traditions generally seem harmless and often center on some sort of celebrations. Family and personal traditions are far less likely to have drifted far from their original purpose and meaning, but how about cultural and national ones? Do you know why we have candles on birthday cakes or a best man in a wedding ceremony? The candles originated from the ancient Greeks as a sign of sacrifice and dedication to Artemis, goddess of the moon. The Best Man position dates back centuries to when a marriage was more of a financial arrangement. He was considered the Groom’s best swordsman and his job was to prevent anything or anyone from interjecting in the ceremony. Of course, many cultures have adapted these practices, and many others, to new meanings. I would even venture to predict that the majority of cultural and national traditions held today have ancient roots that are either sinister or revolve around the worship of a false deity.
I know what some people who read this are already thinking. So what? Who cares where traditions come from? I am not saying that you shouldn’t light up pretty candles for your child’s birthday cake because thousands of years ago ancient Greeks worshiped a false deity with the same practice. Nor do I want to dissect our way of life and call us to abandon it all. What I am saying is that it’s not a bad idea to know where our traditions come from, most importantly, when it comes to the traditions within our Christian life of worship. Traditions for fun are one thing. Traditions for worship are a whole other world. The ‘new’ information I alluded to at the beginning of this chapter revolved around that exact topic…ways we worship and honor God.
Holiday: Old English hāligdæg, translated ‘holy day’.
New Oxford American Dictionary
Many of our nation’s traditions are highly laden with pagan and spiritual undertones that were designed at worshiping false gods thousands of years ago. Our two most beloved holidays are no exception. This may be a shock but Christmas and Easter are both riddled with paganism. I’m not talking about how they’ve been polluted over time, but rather they originated as pagan rituals. That was a very hard discovery for me to make. For most of my life my year revolved around Christmas, Easter, and my birthday. No one was a bigger fan of those days than me. But when the veil was removed from my eyes about where those days came from, I was wrecked. This post isn’t a place to reveal the many proofs behind what i’m saying. Chapter four of my book goes into a lot of detail on the subject. I’m sure that you may have even been exposed to some of the information already. Just to give you an idea though, nearly ever single tradition connected to the two days were designed to admonish a false god in the past. Yikes!
So why do I make a point in telling you all of this? For one reason: Jesus is a big deal. He’s the biggest deal, and worshipping Him is never a light or unimportant matter. Neither are His commands. In verse three of Matthew 15, Jesus presents two waring objects: the commands of God and the traditions of men. Keep in mind, the Pharisees and Scribes whom He’s addressing were the religious people of the day in Israel. They were the ones who believed that they worshipped God properly and were the most knowledgeable about God’s written word to date. The scribe’s main job was to write and rewrite the Torah and other scrolls over and over. So you better believe they knew what it said. For us today, we could easily, and rightly should, put those who proclaim allegiance to Christ in the same figurative boat with the Pharisees and Scribes of old. What I mean is, Christians claim they worship the one true God correctly as did the Pharisees and Scribes. So by default, when Christian tradition is adverse to Jesus and His commands, it is opposed to everything our life is meant to be about as Christians.
Any time our traditions come under fire we can easily feel insulted or accused even. However, the idea for every person who confesses Christ, is to live a life of worship and praise to His glory. Right? Sometimes that means taking a good hard look at our most cherished traditions. So why am I picking on tradition so much? Well, perhaps it’s because it so often distracts us from the pure worship of God. Traditions are man-made, usually with the purpose of making us comfortable in the pursuit of God. Traditions have also been used by a small minority to have a sense of control over the masses.
Churches have been inundated by false man-made traditions and teachings. For example, in some churches you can’t take part in communion unless you are a member of their church. Some places hold to the teaching that you have to confess to a priest and he can absolve you of your sins. Some people actually believe, and teach, that if you’re not speaking in tongues you’re not saved. Traditions are empty in comparison to the life God has called us to live, and most dangerous of all, traditions can contradict the word of God. Scary!
But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
John 4:23-24 (ESV)
Man-made doctrines and traditions of worship are vanity. God doesn’t say to worship me as you please but worship me in Spirit and in truth. This is the truth of the bible, not of churches, or of human tradition, or of worldly knowledge. If we are not careful or watchful we can easily be taken captive to empty traditions and false teachings and practices that tickle our fancy and play to our desires and comforts.
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirit of the world, and not according to Christ.
Colossians 2:8 (ESV)