Words, like people, can acquire a bad name and woe betide the word, or person, that is so unfortunate as to suffer this fate. The word “traditions,” has had the unhappy fortune of becoming a word with only a negative connotation to many. It is the ultimate arrow to let fly in an argument over assembly activities. It is the fatal sword thrust that many employ in verbal jousting to denigrate anything with which they disagree. “Traditions of the brethren” has become the rallying cry for many.
Not happy with the time the gospel meeting occurs? Simply label it as “a tradition of the brethren.” Not happy with having a gospel meeting at all? The same label is applied. Everything from the order of the meetings to the seating, hymn book, and singing is fair game for the opprobrium of the non-traditionalists.
Do the Scriptures (to which this same group appeals) really support a wholesale condemnation of “traditions?” Paul praised the believers in Corinth for keeping the traditions (1Cor 11:2; marginal reading). He exhorted the Thessalonians to hold fast the “traditions” (2Thes 2:15) and to practice internal discipline upon those who did not walk after the traditions (2Thes 3:6). The word “tradition” literally means “something handed down to another hand.” In the instances cited from Paul, this was divine truth, not mere human wisdom, being handed from one generation to the next (2Tim 2:2).
In contrast, the Lord Jesus spoke of the traditions which negated the Word of God (Matt 15:2, 6; Mark 7:3, 5, 8, 9, 13). In each instance which merited His condemnation, they were labeled as traditions of the elders, of men, or your traditions. Critical to a fair appraisal of His words is that the traditions did not merely fall “outside of Scripture” but negated Scripture.
Thus we readily see that there are traditions which are bad (those of the elders); and traditions which are Biblical (truth handed down from the Word of God). But there is another category of traditions – those which are beneficial to the orderly activities of an assembly. This would embrace seating arrangements, time of meetings, the order of meetings, and similar details. These “traditions” are not contrary to Scripture, nor do they nullify Scripture. They serve to enable the believers to know what and where the meetings will be and what to expect upon arrival. These traditions give structure to the activities of the assembly.
All who rail against “tradition” must remember that, if they are successful in overturning one tradition, they do so only to establish another. Change the time of the Breaking of Bread from 10 a.m. to noon using the argument that 10am has been a tradition, and you establish the tradition of having the meeting at noon.
“Bad” traditions must be avoided, and we need honesty of heart when they are pointed out to us. “Biblical traditions” must be held with tenacity. Those traditions which are beneficial are under the control and wisdom of the guides of the assembly, whose responsibility it is to see that all things are done “decently and in order” (1Cor 14:40). Let us not jettison the Biblical under the guise of the bad; let us hold the beneficial until something better and more helpful to the assembly appears on the horizon.