Distinguishing Between Sacred And Traditional

In Christianity, there are beliefs and practices that are sacred. They are sacred because they originate from God; things that God has instructed his people to believe and to do. If something is sacred, then it should be honored, advanced, and defended. There are many things that Christians should rightly treat as sacred. However,  there are things that many Christians hold to be sacred that are not sacred at all, but are merely traditions. The way we know what originates from God, and therefore should be treated as sacred, is the Bible, the word of God. If a belief or practice is not taught or modeled in the Bible, then it must be treated as a tradition, not as something sacred.

Just because something is a tradition does not mean that it is inherently wrong or evil. The important question is: does the tradition contradict or hinder anything the Bible presents as sacred? Jesus warned “you nullify the word of God by your tradition” (Mark 7:13). If tradition interferes with the sacred, then the tradition must be seen for what it is, and it must yield to the sacred. But, if people defend the tradition as if it were sacred, then God’s plans and intentions will be nullified.

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But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good. (1 Thess 5:21 NAS)

Most people are uncomfortable being challenged on things they highly value. And the degree of discomfort will be in direct proportion to the degree of value. Start challenging someone’s perception of God, and their view of the church, and you’ll find it’s easy to stir up a significant level of angst. However, it’s important for anyone who calls them self a believer, to know why they believe what they believe. And as difficult as it may be, we must be willing to carefully examine everything that we believe. Even if our beliefs are correct, it is still important that we have a clear understanding of why we believe what we believe. If we are consistently willing to test and examine everything we believe, we will sometimes find that we are holding on to traditions, and treating them as if they are sacred.

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Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so. (Acts 17:11 NAS)

The Bible must be the test of everything we hold to be sacred, and we must be able to examine what we believe in light of the scriptures. If we are unable to actually present a Biblical basis for something we hold to be true, then it is foolish to get defensive and protective of that belief. God doesn’t expect every believer to be a renowned theologian or a great debater, but He does expect every believer to be willing and able to examine the scriptures to see whether things are true. The above scripture refers to this as being “noble-minded”. God respects noble-minded people; close-minded…not so much.

Let me propose an exercise. If you value truth over tradition, try this: if you ever feel challenged on something that you have traditionally held to be true, write down why you believe it to be true. It’s all too easy to settle for just feeling that something is true. But truth is not based on our feelings. Proverbs 23:23 encourages us to “Buy the truth and do not sell it”. There is effort involved in being established in God’s truth. Your convictions are put to the test, in a good way, when you commit to actually writing down the specifics of why you believe something; when you’re willing to test your beliefs against what the Bible has to say on the matter. Your writing doesn’t have to be polished or resemble a theological treatise, after all it’s just a personal exercise for your own benefit. But I think you will be amazed at how taking the time to put your beliefs in writing, will force you to examine your reasoning, and will usually bring clarity to your thinking. Sometimes this exercise will result in our beliefs being confirmed and strengthened by examining the scriptures; other times it will expose how misguided our belief actually was. Years ago I would have denied that I religiously followed traditions that were not grounded in the scriptures, but years of reading the Bible have revealed that some things I used to view as Biblical truths, turned out to be merely traditions.

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There’s an old adage, “Don’t shoot the messenger”. As a believer, you may occasionally have someone challenge something that you value and regard as an important truth. Instead of reacting in fear, and rejecting outright what they are saying, take a breath, and ask yourself some questions.

  • Are they challenging something sacred, or are they challenging a tradition?
  • Are they dangerous, or is the tradition they are challenging dangerous?
  • Are they attacking in a destructive way, or are they challenging with the intent of bringing life?

Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. (Prov 4:7 NKJV)

May God bless you as you diligently pursue wisdom and understanding.


 

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