Author: Ron Graham

Bible Authority

Authority and Tradition
—What makes a tradition true?

In this lesson we examine whether longstanding religious tradition and custom have any value as authority from God. When tradition holds something to be God's truth, is it?

1 The Value of Custom and Tradition

We ought to respect the longstanding conventions of our society that have stood the test of time, and proven not to be a whimsy of fashion but an element of stability. This includes religious tradition. That is not a blanket statement, however. Not all ancient beliefs and practices have the authority of God.

The Devil and his corruptions have been in the world since the dawn of history. "That serpent of old, the devil and Satan" (Revelation 20:2) remains, these thousands of years later, every bit as wrong as ever he was.

2 Customs Without Authority

Some traditions and customs that lasted for centuries have been recognised as wrong and have been abolished by enlightened societies. The world was well rid of these longstanding practices. Slavery, for example, would have the authority of God if the length of time that it was regarded as acceptable by men were the issue.

We can think of many things that are old but not necessarily right. Take for example the papacy, racial prejudice, infant baptism, idolatry, and ecstatic utterance —to name just a few unrelated things that are questioned and even condemned by some, yet accepted by many as having the authority of God.

Many of the many who accept such things, do so on the basis that these things have been going on for centuries and milleniums. The real issue, however, as to whether we have the authority of God when we practice these things, rests not in the length of time they have been accepted in the world, but rather rests in who put these things in place —was it God, or man or Satan?

Jesus rebuked those who replaced the commandments of God with their own traditions. Having cited an an example of their doing so, he said, "You invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition" (Matthew 15:6-9, Mark 7:1-13). How careful we must be not to make the same mistake.

3 New Things in God’s Plan

What appears as new from God is really older than the world itself. So the question of whether we have the authority of God does not rest in when our traditions first appeared in the world, but whether they were in God’s purpose before the world existed. The only way we can possibly know that, is through what God reveals in his word.

God, according to his purpose, has changed things down through history. Does the scripture not say, "He takes away the first in order to establish the second" (Hebrews 10:9)? However, any new thing put in place, with God’s authority, was already purposed by God before he laid the foundation of the world (Matthew 13:35, Matthew 25:34, John 17:24, Ephesians 1:4, 1Peter 1:20).

When God makes a change, therefore, he does not expect us to retain the thing he has abolished because it is old, or reject the thing he has established because it is new. We accept the new things God introduced, because they were according to his eternal purpose. No tradition of men, no matter how long it has been observed, can ever be as old as even the newest thing that has the authority of God.