When Church Traditions Are Dangerous?


You probably know there are jokes about different Christian communions — Baptist jokes, Catholic jokes, and yes even Lutheran jokes. More often than not, they’re told by members of that church body to other members. Lutherans are known for being traditional in its ways of doing things. So, “How many Lutherans does it take to change a light bulb?” The answer is, “Change? We can’t change my grandfather donated that lightbulb when the church was dedicated.”

While most of these jokes are a harmless reminder not to take ourselves too seriously. There is an underlying reality that often isn’t funny, our attitudes toward change. Our jokes about religious traditions point humorously, to the danger of taking traditions to extremes and how those extremes can be unhealthy. I share this with a church I was working with, “It’s not a good idea to sit in the dark because you can’t bear to get rid of your tradition-hallowed, but burned-out, lightbulb.”

The Background of the Text

In Mark chapter seven Jesus tackles two important questions about the Gentiles. “Does interaction with Gentiles defile the Jews?” (Mark 7:1–13) And a question you can insert for any group not a part of our tribe “are the Gentiles less Important than the Jews?” (Mark 7:24–37).

For the point of brevity, we will limit the discussion to Mark 7:1-13.

Jesus was being taken to the woodshed (as they say down south) for violating the Sabbath traditions earlier in Mark 2:15–28; 3:22–30). He had received an official visit from the scribes and Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, the Jewish religious ruling council. Because of His early infractions, he was being closely watched to see what others lines He might cross. In Mark seven it violated their tradition of the ceremonial washing of hands. I mentioned earlier that some traditions are dangerous and hurtful. This hand washing falls into that category. This ritual had nothing to do with hygiene; it was purely ceremonial to get rid of whatever defilement the Jews accidentally picked up from the Gentiles or Samaritans.

Nothing Against Tradition.

Let me be clear, I have nothing against traditions per se. Heck, I have some of our family and would hate to see those broken. Traditions go off the deep end when it has more authority than the Word of God. When we get to that point those firmly held ceremonies are wrong. Colossians 2:6-8 warns us against man-made traditions. 6 So live in Christ Jesus the Lord in the same way as you received him. 7 Be rooted and built up in him, be established in faith, and overflow with thanksgiving just as you were taught. 8 See to it that nobody enslaves you with philosophy and foolish deception, which conform to human traditions and the way the world thinks and acts rather than Christ.

The formula that leads us astray is laid out by our Lord and Savior in Scripture. If you fear that your traditions, ceremonies, your practices have strayed from what God requires or desires below are keys indicators from Jesus’ interaction in Mark seven.

  1. We lay aside God’s Word (v. 8).

8 “You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you.” Mark 7:8

  1. Then we reject the Word (v. 9).

9 Jesus continued, “Clearly, you are experts at rejecting God’s commandment in order to establish these rules.”

  1. And finally, we rob the Word of any power in our lives (v. 13).

13 “In this way you do away with God’s word in favor of the rules handed down to you, which you pass on to others. And you do a lot of other things just like that.”

 Things had gotten so far out of control, so far from what God intended that the man-made traditions, not God’s truth, control the lives of God’s people. The Pharisees could rob their own parents of help by hiding behind their traditions!

Jesus exposes the Jews’ hypocrisy; He also exposed their hearts. “14 Then Jesus called the crowd again and said, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand. 15 Nothing outside of a person can enter and contaminate a person in God’s sight; rather, the things that come out of a person contaminate the person.” The Jews were not made unclean by coming in contact with Gentiles, what defiled them came from within. Like us, what defiles us are our own sinful hearts. As King David points out after his issues with infidelity in Psalm 51, no amount of washing on the outside can remove defilement on the inside. “Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!

When the church or our religious traditions place a heavy emphasis on following rules we open ourselves up for the danger of robbing God’s Word of its power…the power to set us free by the work Jesus has already done for us. We make faith about US not about HIM!  Jesus wanted to focus the hearts of the people back to the cross, back the what He had done to set them free form the expectations of the Law, back to grace.


A bonus post on worship to connect with Millennials,


9 thoughts on “When Church Traditions Are Dangerous?

  1. Sim Chen Xing says:

    Thank you for sharing. Here’s my personal experience. I’ve encountered pastors using traditions to harm and lead people away from the faith, then set double standards and cause confusion and tensions in church. I recently wrote about marriage. That’s just one of the example. What happened was when people from non-believing families committed sexual sins before they received Christ. Should they be openly condemned in church just because “it is not pleasing in God’s sight”?

    May God forgive them. Some times, we too pass unconscious judgements based on stereotypes we held dearly too. Sigh. May the Lord forgive me for that too.

    But ultimately, we hold firm to God’s promises. No matter our shortcomings, God is faithful and will lead His elect back home. His sheep recognise His voice. We may be sinful stewards but God is forever faithful. 🙂

    Liked by 4 people

  2. CLOAKMAN says:

    Yup you hit it. Traditions are a tricky animal. “in vain do they worship me teaching for commandments the doctrines of men.”
    I had a friend of mine years ago who came to this revelation. He was the pastor of a very large church (several thousand) and decided it was time to course correct the ship. One day he held up the “church doctrinal standards” in front of the church and asked how many people believed in this book. Of course everyone clapped and cheered. He then held up the bible and asked how many people believed in this book. Again, everyone clapped and cheered. He then took the denominational doctrine and threw it over his should and told the church that book was out. LOL…talk about a shocked group of people.
    But the issue comes when what men say, carries more weight than what God says. And it only takes a small difference of opinion to make an entire denomination on that thought. If it wasn’t so, we would not have over 3500 differing denominations all stating what they say is the real word of God.
    Good post!

    Liked by 2 people

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