Is Tradition in the Church a Sin?

The other day, I met an older gentleman and as soon as he realized I was a pastor, he shared a story with me on why he left his church that he had been gong to for decades. It seems the pastor had taken the pulpit off the stage. That’s it…… The pastor took the pulpit off the stage. Not that there was false teaching, lack of love, or hypocritical living. He was angry because a long time ago, they spent a lot of money of that pulpit and who did the pastor think he was taking it off the stage?

The pulpit was a tradition. It wasn’t Biblical, it was a tradition.

Now let me be clear, I was raised with a respect for tradition in the church. There is a beauty within tradition. However, I was also raised in churches that had a problem….they considered tradition more important than the move of the Holy Spirit and it often led to lack of love, compassion, and God doing a new thing.

When this happens, it is a sin.

Explore with me Mark 7: 1-23 with me….

“The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?” Mark 7: 1-5

Notice how the religious people were annoyed because Jesus’ disciples were not falling in line and acting like the other rabbi’s disciples. They weren’t following the tradition of washing their hands before they ate. There was no law given from God on washing your hands before you eat (sorry, parents).

Now, there is nothing wrong with washing your hands before you eat. However, Jesus could see the religious leaders did this because they held a tradition over Godliness….. Watch what He has to say….

“He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are but rules taught by men.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.””

Wow! I thought I was being clear on the topic. It seems like Jesus is more passionate than I am on the topic!

When people hold onto tradition over the move of the Holy Spirit, it is hypocritical, dishonoring to God, worship in vain, and moves their hearts far from God as they hold onto rules taught by men instead of leaning into God.

Now, let me take a break and remind you, I was raised with a healthy respect for traditions. They can be a tool to move us closer to God. However, if we hold them too tightly, they can be a wall that blocks God. This may be the way a church is governed, rules within the sanctuary, a system that tells us who we help and don’t help… it could be many things so we must be careful.

After Jesus explores this, he moves into an example with them and shares with the crowd around Him. He shares a new teaching that shows that all food is now clean to eat. He taught that things going into the body do not make someone unclean but the things that come out of the heart…… lust, theft, murder, slander and more.

Those who were open to this new thing of God, enjoyed the freedom that came with it. However, those holding to traditions were left in bondage to an old way. Which would you rather be?

About Tom Hypes

Tom Hypes is an ordained Pastor who has served in churches and the camping ministry for over 25 years. He currently leads at The Shepherd's Fellowship and volunteers at Leapin' Outreach (clothing ministry), Marion County Citizen Circle (helping clients with transitions from prison to community), Kirkpatrick Food Pantry, and ministers in the local nursing homes. He has also contributed to Group Magazine, CBA Marketplace, and Youth Worker Magazine. He serves in his ministry in the partnership with his family; wife Jenni, son Ryan, and daughter Emily.