Jump Start # 2820
2 Thessalonians 3:6 “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep aloof from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us.”
Recently I wrote about legalism and obedience. There were many encouraging replies to that Jump Start and more than one asked me to write about traditions. Legalism– obedience-traditions, those lines can get fuzzy in many minds and it is very easy to journey from one to the other.
In our verse today, the apostle refers to traditions. Some in Thessalonica were not following the traditions received from the apostles. The word ‘tradition’ is just one degree better than being a legalist, especially in the minds of younger people. And, in any discussion, it is important to speak the same language by understanding what we mean when we use certain words. Tradition is a way of doing things. Some traditions do not happen very often. In our home, we have a tradition of putting up a Christmas tree in late November or early December. We don’t do that in July. It’s a yearly tradition. There are also daily traditions. I drive the same roads every day to get down to the church building. If there is construction or a major accident, I’m forced to really think about what other roads I can take. A daily tradition.
Now, on top of that, there are traditions are passed down from generation to generation. Some vacation the same place year after year. This was something started when they were young and it continues now that they are adults. Some congregations will have a Gospel meeting the same week every Spring and every fall. This has been going on for a long, long time.
Our passage refers to apostolic traditions. We might call these patterns or blueprints of how things were done. Paul told the Philippians, “The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things…” Apostolic traditions carry more weight than our traditions. Here in our verse, discipline was to be imposed upon the one who rebelled and would not follow the apostle’s traditions. It might be easier to understand apostolic tradition as simply the way the apostles taught brethren to do things. They were binding. They were part of God’s will. This is not the same as our traditions.
Churches have traditions, just as families do. And, our traditions bring a sense of order and comfort to us. Where I worship, we begin worship on Sunday at 9:30 in the morning. This congregation has been doing that for a long time. Several years ago, the time we met on Sunday evening was changed. We had to really get the word out, remind people and make it clear why and what we were doing.
Traditions are a way of doing things. The two problems that surface with traditions is when we are unable to adjust them or change them. Some would think meeting at 9:30 on Sunday morning is found in the Bible somewhere. It’s not. If anything, those early disciples met in the evening. When Paul preached at midnight, I do not believe he started at 10:00 in the morning with his sermon. Likely, those disciples were servants and slaves and had to get their work done in the day and they met that evening or night for worship. Covid has shaken and rattled many of our traditions. It has made us look at things and made us consider are these the best way of doing what we are doing. Change for some folks is a hard thing. But sometimes it is necessary. Tradition can lead to lifeless and meaningless worship if one is not careful. Same songs, same way, same everything and one can sleepwalk through worship. Putting energy, passion, thought, organization and planning into worship will help keep things fresh and alive. Some congregations are now thinking about the two services on Sunday. It was a tradition prior to Covid. But having a break and now trying to start up, some are looking at what works best for them. Many congregations are realizing that “Passing the plate,” for both the Lord’s Supper and the contribution, is not the most sanitary way of doing things. Most just never thought about this before. Now we are. And, out of this, new ways of doing things are being looked at. Those that are stuck in tradition won’t do well with new ways. Tradition is not Scripture. What works for one generation may not work for another generation. Because one congregation meets differently than another does not necessarily mean that one is better or one is stronger. Sometimes we like to pass judgment upon what other congregations are doing and we are not a part of them. As long as they are Biblically worshipping the Lord, we ought to be pleased.
The other problems about traditions is that they often make younger Christians scream. They hate traditions. Some go running the other way looking for something different, something new, something “non-traditional.” And, the problem with non-traditional is that one must change all the time. There is nothing consistent. And, even with that, after a while, change becomes the new tradition. A church could meet at 1:30 in the morning, but I don’t think that would please many people, especially mothers of little ones.
Traditions are not wrong unless we are hopelessly stuck in them and refuse to change for what might be something more efficient and even better. Traditions are not wrong unless we view them as the only way things can be done.
What helps seeing what matters and what doesn’t matter is to travel about and worship with some outside of your region. Go South. Go North. Go overseas. In India, when I worshipped there several years ago, everyone sits on the floor. The women and children on one side and the men on the other side. They do not sit as families. Before everyone comes in, they all take their shoes off and pile them up outside the door. The men passing the contribution, have a basket on a long pole. They put that basket before each person. Now all of this was very unusual to me. It’s not the way we do things here in Indiana. But, it was Scriptural and it worked for them. I did not think that they were wrong for the way they did things.
Traditions help us. But don’t be stuck there. There is an old story about grandma always cutting the ends of the ham off before she baked it. Her daughter did the same thing. Now, the grown granddaughter was doing it that way too. When one asked Grandma why she did that, her reply was, it was the only way to get the ham to fit into her pan. Grandma had a reason. Daughter and granddaughter were just doing it because that’s the way they learned it. Let us make sure we know why we are doing things and not just doing them because we’ve always done it that way. I’ve preached for congregations that always had a meeting in late summer. It was always the same week. No adjustments. Could not be the week before and it could not be the week later. When asked why that week, it was because that’s the time before the farmers got the hay in. When asked how many farmers where in the congregation, the reply was no one these days. Don’t throw out reason for the sake of tradition.
Hope this has been helpful…