Is it of God or is it just human tradition? That’s a question all Christians have to ask, but it is not an easy one to answer. We humans are social creatures who create our own traditions. We develop customs, habitual ways of thinking, rituals and accepted practices. These may sometimes originate with God but then come to have a life of their own so that observing them in their outward form is given preference over keeping the spirit of what they were meant to express. Ritual washings to avoid contamination by evil spirits can take the place of an inner or spiritual cleansing whereby attitudes are changed and hearts renewed. This is the situation Jesus was confronting in his words to the Pharisees and scribes who criticized his disciples for eating without observing the traditional hand-washing before meals. The issue was not one of hygiene but one of religious tradition. Human traditions are very powerful forces. They influence how we dress, what we eat, the language we use, how we organize ourselves in society, how we do business and much more. They provide the cultural environment in which we live. But we always need to remember that they are human traditions and, as such, are to be brought under the judgment of Christ. Traditions in every society should be examined to see whether they are consistent with Christ’s way of love to God and neighbour. We are called to live by the Spirit that was incarnate in Jesus. It is in the way that we live that we show our relationship with Christ. It is not in what we say, it is in what we do, how we live. Much damage has been done by church leaders who have said the right things but let Christ down in the way that they behaved. Many Christians have given assent to the words of Scripture but have not lived them in daily life. There is a challenge here for all of us: let’s go beyond merely keeping the outward traditions of our faith to living in faithful obedience to Christ in the spirit.
- What are some of the traditions that we follow every day without thinking about it?
- What issues have we in the Church had to struggle with of late which posed the question, “Is it of God or is it just human tradition?”
- Are there traditions in the church that, in the light of Christ, should be questioned? (Remember Protestantism arose out of doing just this)
- What is most important about living an authentic Christian life?