11 Minute Read


Genesis 46:1–47:31
Matthew 15:1-28
Psalm 19:1-14
Proverbs 4:14-19


Matthew 15:1-2 (CSB) “Then Jesus was approached by Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem, who asked, ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they don’t wash their hands when they eat.'”


It’s funny how certain things from our youth remain in our memory many decades later … especially when those things seemed to be of little consequence when they happened.

For instance, I remember when I was in middle school back in the early 1980’s. One of our field trips was to the Houston Grand Opera where we saw “Fiddler on the Roof.” I don’t remember much about that day except a couple of the songs from the musical. More than 35 years after that day, I will periodically catch myself humming the tune of “Tradition!”

Tradition is incredibly valuable. It is what makes us who we are. Everyone has traditions.

When Kim and I went to Israel this past summer, we learned that tradition is what kept the Jewish people together even as they were scattered throughout the world before 1948. Their common traditions enabled them to maintain their identity as a people for millennia and helped them to quickly develop commonality as they moved to Israel after 1948 from multiple counties with very different cultures and languages.

Christians have our own traditions, too. Almost certainly you, if you are a Christian, have certain things that you do each Christmas. There are certain things you do every year on Christmas Eve and then Christmas morning. The fact that you do them over and over means that you have traditions.

Traditions can be good and healthy.

Whether we call it “tradition” or not, every church has them, too. Tradition is present when we do certain things over and over, when people expect things to always happen a certain way, and when resistance occurs when those norms are changed.

If you ever hear the words, “We’ve always done it that way,” then you’re looking at traditions.

Traditions can be wonderful! They connect our present to our past and help to create a future that is somewhat predictable and safe.

But traditions become bad when they are given more importance than God’s Word.

That is what we read about in our Verse for Today. The Pharisees tried to corner Jesus by asking Him why His disciples didn’t ceremonially wash their hands before eating.

Matthew 15:1-2 (CSB) “Then Jesus was approached by Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem, who asked, ‘Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they don’t wash their hands when they eat.'”

This command is not found in the Old Testament law. The only command to be found of this nature in Scripture was the ceremonial washing that priests were required to do before eating the holy offerings (Leviticus 22:6, 7). It only applied to priests … so Jesus’ disciples were exempt. Yet, the Pharisees were upset at them for not upholding the tradition.

Where did that tradition come from?

There was a law that required all people to ceremonially wash their hands before eating … but, it was found in the oral traditions, not in Scripture.

The law that the Pharisees brought up was simply a tradition that had been created by men, it gave them an excuse to violate Scripture, it kept getting passed down as tradition to the next generations …

… and Jesus took issue with it.

As we continue to read in Matthew 15, we realize that after the Pharisees tried to corner Jesus by pointing out that His disciples were not holding to the traditions, Jesus took them straight to the Bible.

In fact, He took them to the Ten Commandments. Listen as He rebukes them for placing tradition over God’s Word.

Matthew 15:3-9 “He answered them, ‘Why do you break God’s commandment because of your tradition? For God said: “Honor your father and your mother;” and, “Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must be put to death.” But you say, “Whoever tells his father or mother, ‘Whatever benefit you might have received from me is a gift committed to the temple,’ he does not have to honor his father.” In this way, you have nullified the word of God because of your tradition. Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines human commands.”‘”

Are traditions bad? Not necessarily.

But, in this instance, the religious leaders were holding to their traditions that were in direct violation of God’s Word. They were elevating their traditions above God’s Word.

Jesus wasn’t angry at tradition. Traditions aren’t necessarily bad. He was angry at tradition that violated the clear teachings of Scripture.

You can have church traditions. They connect your past to your present and your future. They can create a healthy, comforting culture.

In fact, I am convinced that God has given each church the ability to create it’s own way of doing things that have no biblical basis so long as it complies with Scripture where applicable, it aligns with the spirit of the text of Scripture (is something Scripture would have approved of if it had addressed it), and it doesn’t violate Scripture.

What I just said may make some people uncomfortable but there is simply much that is left unsaid in the New Testament about how to do church.

  • How did the first century saints worship (song service)?
  • What musical instruments did the first century saints use in worship?
  • What did the first century saints sit on during worship?
  • How did the first century saints dress for worship?
  • How did the New Testament saints preach and respond to the preaching?
  • What was the structure in which the New Testament saints worshiped?
  • Etc., etc., etc.

If you look in the New Testament for the answers to the previous questions, you will notice that most of what we do in our churches is simply tradition and not directly addressed in Scripture.

  • We aren’t told how their song services went except that it should flow from spirit-filled hearts (Ephesians 5:18-19). Of course, it would be silly to claim that they were traditional, or contemporary, or blended in worship. Those titles didn’t exist back then.
  • Not a single instrument is mentioned in the New Testament in regard to church gatherings. Pianos, organs, guitars, drums, … all of these instruments and more appear nowhere in the New Testament. Even the whole issue of the sound system, lighting system, and so much are not addressed either.
  • As far as I can tell, no mention at all is given to what the first century saints sat on during a service … except that one guy sat on a windowsill and fell to his death (Acts 20:7-9). There is no mention of pews, or padded seats, or wooden chairs, … nothing of this kind is addressed in Scripture.
  • The only thing we are told about how to dress for worship is that our attire must not draw attention to ourselves and it must not create divides along socio-economic lines (1 Timothy 2:8-9; James 2:1-9). Wearing a suit, or settling for “dress casual,” or wearing blue jeans is not mentioned. If we really want to get technical, maybe we should all wear robes to church like Jesus did. 🙂
  • Regarding the preaching, there is much said about this throughout Acts and the New Testament Epistles. If ever there was something that has a biblical basis in our worship services, it is the proclamation of God’s Word.
  • When we think of the structures in which the first century saints worshiped, we read that they worshiped in houses, in the open air, and various other places. “Church buildings” didn’t come into existence until the 3rd century.

So, what are we to make of the fact that much of what we do in our churches does not appear in the New Testament?

Simply this – when the New Testament speaks, obey. If there is something that appears in the New Testament that informs us of how we are to “do church,” then we do it.

But, if the New Testament does not address other items, then we are free to create our own “traditions,” so long as they comply with Scripture where applicable, they align with the spirit of the text of Scripture (is something Scripture would have approved of if it had addressed it), and they don’t violate Scripture.

  • We are free to sing songs in worship that do not appear in the New Testament so long as they are Scriptural.
  • We are free to dress in whatever attire is socially acceptable so long as it doesn’t draw attention to ourselves and create socio-economic barriers among believers.
  • We are free to worship in church buildings but we are also free to worship in tents, store fronts, auditoriums, or anywhere else God’s people choose to meet.
  • Etc., etc., etc.

Every church has traditions. And they can be a wonderful way of creating our specific identity that connect us with the past and point to the future.

Just make sure that if you are doing something not found in Scripture, hold loosely to it. Allow it to change if needed.

But make sure that Scripture is a non-negotiable and that your church will hold tightly to what the Word tells us to do.

Tradition is cool but the Word rules!