Tradition is a comfortable thing for many of us because it’s familiar and holds no unwelcome surprises. In the physical realm, we find reassurance in doing things the way we’ve become accustomed to. However, in the spiritual realm, we must be careful that traditional thoughts and ideas don’t pull us away from the truth found in the Scriptures. Following tradition may be the path of least resistance, but worldly and religious philosophies don’t always agree with God’s Word.
The “we’ve always done it this way” mentality is resistant to change; this type of thinking puts us at risk of becoming stagnant. Some people are proud of this mindset; many churches even boast about their own traditions. The Bible warns us about this danger. “Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). This was true during Jesus’ ministry, and it’s still true today.
The problem with blindly following tradition is that tradition is based on surface appearances and what others think. Strict adherence to it leads us to obsess over empty rituals. While on earth, Jesus had run-ins over this with the religious leaders of the day.
Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?” He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition… Making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do (Mark 7:5-9, 13, NKJV).
Today’s traditional religious doctrines are widely accepted and highly popular, yet they contradict what God says. When we unquestioningly accept what we hear without properly dividing the Word, we don’t benefit from God’s promises. “For unto us was the gospel preached, as well as unto them: but the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in them that heard it” (Hebrews 4:2). God’s Word is available to everyone, but worldly traditions block the faith required to receive what He has for us. Believing religious dogma leads to wrong ideas about sin, grace, and the authority of the believer, and keeps us from living powerful lives.
The world around us encourages us to settle comfortably into the traditions handed down from previous generations, but God takes a dim view of this. “Stay clear of silly stories that get dressed up as religion…” (1 Timothy 4:7, MSG). He calls us to move out of our comfort zone and follow His prompting, which involves following the path He makes for us. This is a scary proposition for some people, because it involves facing the unknown and trusting Him.
Breaking away from our old, familiar ways takes courage, but we don’t have to be afraid when we feel God prompting us to part company from religious tradition. He’s trying to guide and direct us. We can trust that He’ll always have something better for us than what the world offers.