“tradition.” The Greek word is paradosis (#3862 παράδοσις), and it means something that is handed over, or something that is handed down. Thus it can mean surrender or arrest, or it can refer to a “tradition.” Traditions can be a great help to people. God established traditions in the OT, such as keeping the Passover feast every year. Jesus himself started the tradition of “the Lord’s Supper.” However, there are Christians who believe that any tradition created by man is an offense to God and should not be practiced or condoned. How should Christians view traditions? It seems clear that we should view traditions the same way Jesus did. There were hundreds of traditions in the Judaism of the time of Jesus (cp. Mark 7:4), but the ones he spoke against fall into several categories.
One category that Jesus spoke against was traditions of men that had, in the minds of the religious leaders, become equal to the commands of God. No matter how helpful they are or holy they seem, and no matter how many years they have been observed, traditions are only traditions, they are not commandments, and should not be treated as such. When traditions are treated like commandments, first, the words of man become elevated to the status of the word of God, and second, someone who is unable or unwilling to keep the tradition is almost always treated badly by those who do.
Another category of tradition that Jesus spoke against was traditions that could not be kept without ignoring or rejecting the commandments of God (Mark 7:8, 9). These traditions, by their very nature, are harmful. Jesus cited the tradition of giving “to God” the support that elderly parents needed (Mark 7:10-13). Of course, the support that was supposedly given “to God” ended up enriching and empowering the religious leaders, and the honor that God commanded that children give to parents was ignored.
A third category of tradition that is harmful is a tradition that has become a burden to a Christian’s life and walk, instead of being a blessing. The religious leaders had many burdensome traditions that they enforced (Matt. 23:4). A godly tradition is to be a blessing and bring people closer to God. A tradition that makes living a godly life into a burden should not be kept.
There are many traditions in the Church, and very few are kept by all Christian denominations. Most are not harmful, and can be helpful. For example, dressing up for Sunday church is a tradition in some denominations, and is not harmful unless it takes on the force of a command and someone who comes not dressed up is scorned or rejected. It can be helpful in that it helps some people take their worship time more seriously. On the other hand, the tradition of praying to “the saints” is practiced in some denominations, but is against the command of God and therefore harmful.
Christians should view traditions like Christ did. Even if a tradition is not “in the Bible,” it can still bring people closer to God in a very meaningful way. However, if a tradition begins to take on the force of a commandment, or if it makes godly living a burden, or especially if it contradicts the Bible or can only be kept at the expense of ignoring a biblical command, then the words spoken by Isaiah more than 2500 years ago still apply: “in vain do they worship me” (Mark 7:7; cp. Isa. 29:13).