Your Church Might Be Like the Pharisees5 min read

Sideview of Catholic PriestWhat do Baptists, Catholics, Lutherans, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jews, and the Greek Orthodox have in common?


On the one hand, beautiful, and on the other hand, detrimental.

I love traditions. I grew up with them, and I’ve started my own.

One of my favourite traditions is our family’s annual December trip to Kentucky to visit the Creation Museum and the Ark Encounter to immerse ourselves in the Christmas lights and Christmas programs that they host.

All traditions are not created equal.

But traditions have certainly been endowed with inalienable rights by their creators. Because we love our traditions, we have elevated them to positions that they often do not deserve. We value them more than we should.

As we explore the purpose of the church, we need to confront our church traditions. The more we weed out the unbiblical traditions, the more successful we will be in fulfilling the true purpose that God has for us.

Church Purpose Series:
1. Do You Know Why the Church Exists?
2. Your Church Might Be Like the Pharisees (this article)

Defining Tradition

When I started this new series of blog posts on the purpose of the church, I had not intended to take an in-depth look at traditions in the church.

But a recent Facebook post of mine on the topic of tradition received so much feedback that I realized it was a subject that many people are at least semi-passionate about. So the next several posts are going to discuss church traditions, many of which were mentioned on that social media post.

These are the first four definitions of tradition according to
“1. the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice
2. something that is handed down
3. a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting
4. a continuing pattern of culture beliefs or practices”

In other words, tradition is a pattern that is deeply ingrained in our thoughts, our words, and our actions because it has been repeated long enough.

It’s not a tradition if it’s new. Traditions take time to form.

But with time also comes forgetfulness, and eventually we do things simply because that’s what we know to do, not because we have legitimate reasons to do those things.

Is that bad though? Sometimes, no.

Sometimes, absolutely yes.

Evaluating Tradition

The Pharisees were known for their traditions.

Is your church known for yours?

In Matthew 7, the Pharisees found Jesus’ disciples eating without first washing their hands. In our culture, this is also something that we might look upon with disdain, depending on the circumstances. But to the Pharisees, this was a sin!

“Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, ‘Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?'” (Matthew 7:5).

The response they got from Jesus was not what they expected: “He answered and said to them, ‘Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: “This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do'” (Matthew 7:6-8).

Ouch. Jesus called out the religious leaders, called them hypocrites, and did so by quoting one of their revered prophets.

A moment later he said that they make “the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Matthew 7:13).

Yes, washing hands is good. Please do so after you use the bathroom.

But failure to wash hands before eating is not a sin. It’s merely a healthy thing to do.

When we take good things and make them holy things, we take the place of God and define right and wrong by our own standards and preferences.

When we take traditions and treat them like truth, we often forget the things that God actually wants us to do and replace them with the things that make us comfortable.

Tradition is not inherently bad, and God instituted many traditions.

Problems with tradition arise when we assign them the wrong value. Has your church ever taken time to evaluate your traditions?


As we explore the purpose of the church, we are going to take a look at the role of traditions and their potential impact on fulfilling God’s purposes. We know that traditions are deeply ingrained patterns of thought and behavior that have been passed down over time, but we must also evaluate and discern which traditions align with biblical principles and which ones may hinder our spiritual growth.

Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of his day for elevating human traditions above the commandments of God, emphasizing the importance of aligning our practices with God’s truth rather than man-made traditions.

In the coming posts, we will delve deeper into specific church traditions and their implications for fulfilling God’s purpose for His people. Some traditions may hold undue influence or value, overshadowing the true purpose of the church as defined by God’s Word.

Let’s avoid being like the Pharisees by critically evaluating our traditions and aligning them with biblical principles.

Are there any specific church traditions that you would like me to discuss?


1 Comment

  1. Communion and baptism.
    Can communion be led by anyone? Or just a pastor/deacon? How often?
    Can baptisms be performed by anyone? Or just pastor/church leader?

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