Author: Ron Graham
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.
Driving on the left side of the road is customary in Australia. God never said to do that, yet he expects us to respect that law.
That is not a blanket statement, however. Not all traditional beliefs and practices have the authority of God, even though they may seem good to us.
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 is well rid of these longstanding practices.
If God approved practices because they have a long history, then he would approve of slavery for example. However the length of time that a belief or practice is regarded as acceptable has no influence on God.
For example, Moses permitted a man to divorce his wife because men came to accept the practice. Their hearts became hardened to it. Yet God still hated divorce and in the beginning it was not accepted (Matthew 19:7-8, Malachi 2:16).
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 accept such things mainly because these things have been going on for centuries —as though that makes them right. However I repeat that the length of time a practice has been accepted in the world is not the decider. Rather the question is 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
Some people reject innovations and new things out of hand, and cling to traditions and old things refusing to let them go. Jesus brought in new things to religion (Matthew 5:21-48). He was rejected by those who clung to tradition.
Of course, 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 for us 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)?
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.