Customs and Traditions

This post was inspired by a quote from Mark Twain:

Laws are sand, customs are rock. Laws can be evaded and punishment escaped but an openly transgressed custom brings sure punishment.

How true this is.

Recently, I wrote a page on baptism. Because I know that just showing Christians the Scripture is never going to be enough—pretty much all Christians prefer their denomination’s traditions to even the plainest teachings of Scripture or historical Christianity—I added a page answering objections to my teaching on baptism.

In response to several Scriptures I reference on the "Baptism Objections" page and dozens on the pages I link to from those pages, one person sent me a one-sentence argument: "If man cannot be saved unless man toils (water baptism), then man cannot be saved without works (faith plus works)."

Faith and Works

What Mark Twain said is so true. For Christians, never mind what the law of Christ is; never mind what the Bible teaches; it’s our traditions (customs) that matter.

Quote dozens of Scriptures, present James 2:14-26 as a concise directed argument that you cannot be saved without works … none of that matters. Our custom says faith plus works is a bad thing.

I have been told many times over the years that we must never "add to faith."

Is that what the Bible says?

I think what the Bible says is, "Add to your faith virtue" and knowledge and self-control and perseverance and godliness and brotherly kindness and love (2 Pet. 1:5-7).

Doesn’t it?

But in most fundamentalist churches, you can deny that verse all you want. You can explain it away using explanations as ridiculous and irrelevant as you want. Your explanations don’t have to make a bit of sense because 2 Pet. 1:5-7 doesn’t fit into our tradition.

On the other hand, use 2 Peter to contradict our tradition, and the hammer will begin to fall.

First, you’ll lose your teaching positions. Second, you’ll lose your welcome. Third, you’ll lose your membership.

Why? Because you violated Scripture?

No, violating Scripture is perfectly acceptable. I was once in a Southern Baptist Sunday School class with three other couples. We were in Matthew 6, and we came to verse 15, where Jesus says that your heavenly Father will not forgive you if you don’t forgive others.

Never mind that this verse is repeated in Mark 11:26. Never mind that the same thought is repeated even more strongly in Matthew 18:35. The real issue is that this opinion of Jesus’ contradicts our custom!

So, all six people in that Sunday School class with my wife and I came to the conclusion that what Jesus said isn’t true. Our heavenly Father will forgive us even if we don’t forgive others.

I was shocked. My wife was shocked. We almost couldn’t talk.

What Jesus said isn’t true???

Recently I heard Charles Stanley say the exact same thing.

Now, mind you, Charles Stanley is more theologically trained than the Pharisees/Southern Baptists who were in Sunday School class with us. So he added some fancy word to forgiven in order to distinguish the forgiveness of all our sins through the death of Jesus from whatever vague, undefined forgiveness Jesus meant in Matthew 6:15.

Nonetheless, Charles Stanley was making the same tradition over Scripture choice that our friends in the Sunday School class were making. He just did it more diplomatically. In some temporary, unimportant way, we don’t feel forgive on earth if we don’t forgive others, but of course, we are forgiven in the eternal and most important way because of Jesus’ death.

Just more Scripture dodging.

Let’s be real: we prefer our traditions to what Scripture teaches.

What Mark Twain said is true in modern Christianity. You can get away with violating the laws of Christ and the Scripture, but you cannot get away with violating custom.

Try telling someone in your Baptist church that they are not forgiven by God because they won’t forgive someone else. You will face justice for it. You will be called before someone, whether it’s the deacon board or the pastor.

I once dropped a note to an acquaintance who had dodged Galatians 6:7-8 in a Sunday School class he was teaching. That verse says that if you sow to the Spirit you’ll reap eternal life and if you sow to the flesh you’ll reap corruption.

Here’s how he taught that verse. He took his class to 2 or 3 other Scriptures, emphasized that we are eternally secure, and then he went on to ignore v. 9 and water down and miss the point of v. 10.

I dropped him a note saying that Paul’s purpose was clearly to present a warning to the Galatians. I asked this Sunday School teacher whether he felt he had passed on that warning to his Sunday School class or whether he had basically just skipped those verses. Even if eternal security is true, surely it would have been good to pass on some warning to the class. Isn’t that true?

He turned my note in to the pastor, and I was called into the office.

I was called into the office.

Why wasn’t he?

Whether or not I was correct was never discussed. All I was asked was why I was sending notes to Sunday School teachers.

Now, keep in mind, I’m not helpless. I was not raked over the coals by the pastor. If you’re a pastor, a supposed guard of God’s sheep, and you’re going to rake me over the coals, you’d better have at least some good reason, or I’m going to verbally and politely dump you on your head.

I did that. The pastor was speechless and embarrassed, especially because he was corrupt and intimidating people was his standard method for dealing with them.

I say that to tell you I’m not complaining about my ill treatment. I’ve suffered through very little ill treatment as human being. I’m simply pointing out what’s true.

What’s true is that it is violating custom that will get you in trouble in modern churches, not violating Scripture or the will of God.

My hope is that someone will read this and be brave enough to get in trouble with man by respecting the Word of God over the traditions of men.

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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