In religious circles, tradition can be the North Star to guide through life, or considered the filthy, soul binding rules of a bygone age.
Is tradition good or bad? Well, it depends. The word tradition in the Bible is actually neutral. The word doesn’t denote something good or bad, or it doesn’t mean authoritative or optional. It all depends on the context. The word simply means a “handing down by instruction.” Unless your Thanksgiving tradition involves drunken revelry, or sacrificing a Turkey to the Sun, your tradition probably is a morally neutral family custom. It’s neither good, nor evil, nor authoritative. In the Bible, some tradition is both good and authoritative. Paul uses that word when discussing the doctrine he preached and taught (1 Corinthians 11:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6). As an apostle, Paul received his doctrine from the Lord. Paul “handed down” this tradition as he was moved by the Holy Ghost and penned the God breathed Words of Scripture. Because the source is from God, his instruction isn’t optional. Paul’s “tradition” is both morally good and binding because of the source.
To discern the value of a tradition, you must go upstream and see where it started and what it’s asking of you. Maybe your traditions came from our elders for good, wise, and thoughtful reasons and you just don’t understand their purpose. Maybe the tradition is of men, and is good, but not authoritative. Or, perhaps, there was no reason and it became a habit. G.K. Chesterton said, “…let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate [was] erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”
In Matthew 15:2, the Scribes and Pharisees accused the disciples of transgressing “the tradition of the elders,” for not washing before they ate. Let’s examine the tradition. First, it came from men, the elders. Since it is not God’s Word, we know it is fallible. Next, why? It wasn’t for cleanliness. The Pharisees believed you could defile yourselves by touching something unclean, then eating with “sinful” unclean hands. They were not washing away the germs, they were washing away sin! The tradition came from men (optional) and was evil (contradicting the Bible). This tradition should be avoided (Colossians 3:8). Discover the origins of your tradition, uncover the reason why, determine if it is Scriptural before you tear it down, or follow it blindly. And before you condemn and hang someone for breaking your beloved tradition, make sure it’s of God, not of men. Don’t bind men’s souls for your preferences.