Your Church Might Be Like the Pharisees

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?


Do You Know Why the Church Exists?

Most Christians do not know why the church exists.

Yes, that’s a big, bold statement, and it’s also my opinion, but I am very confident in saying that.

Think about it. How many kids go to school and don’t know the purpose of education?

(How many teachers and school administrators in the US know the purpose of school?!)

If almost 50% of all marriages end in divorce, how many spouses obviously don’t know understand the purpose of marriage?

How many children don’t know the purpose of family?

Sadly, too many.

So I believe that I can confidently say that in like manner, most of us Christians do not know why the church exists.

I just finished writing a 7-part series of posts on church membership, but a bigger question lingers in my mind.

Small Country Church BuildingWhat is the purpose of the church?

It’s not a new question either.

Of course, I have known for years what the purpose of the church is. I grew up in a great church, and I went to Bible college. By now, the purpose of the church is a foregone conclusion in my mind.

Just like everything else. I already know everything the Bible teaches.

Ha! Hopefully you sensed the sarcasm.

I thought I knew the purpose of the church, but then I encountered churches that were different than mine. Churches that supposedly were like mine, but they do things that we don’t do, and they don’t do things that we do.

Churches can do things differently even if they believe the same things, but sometimes they also do different things because they have different beliefs about why they exist.

What you believe determines how you act.

The growing number of people leaving their local churches is proof enough that many people do not see the point of church.

In the book Already Gone, Ken Ham says, “When we asked the entire 1,000 young adults [who left the church] whether or not they believe the Church is relevant, only 47 percent said yes, and a full 53 percent said no/don’t know” (Already Gone, p. 119).

How many of us who have not left our churches are merely acting out a lifelong tradition every Sunday, unable to explain or defend the purpose of the church if questioned?

It’s time for that to change.

I am officially questioning you and inviting you to question me on the purpose of the church.

Lest you think I’m going down some slippery slope, remember that when Jesus came to the earth, he questioned everyone and everything, especially the religious people and institutions of the day.

Why did he do it? Because they had strayed from their purpose, and Jesus was lovingly pointing them back.

God expected Hebrew children to ask their parents questions about their laws and traditions (Exodus 12:26-27; Deuteronomy 6:20-21).

It is not bad to ask questions. But it is bad not to have answers.

It’s time for us to make sure we haven’t strayed from our purpose, and, if we have, it’s time for us to rediscover our purpose and return to it.

Are you going to join me? Do you think we have strayed from the true purpose of the church?