Tradition or Sacred Cow? Rethinking How We ‘Do Church’

“Do not make the way you do church a doctrine. Make Christ’s doctrine the way you do church.”

“In our tradition …”

These words are very seldom heard in thriving churches. It is not because they have no traditions, but because traditions are not their focus—people are. For the most part, there is nothing wrong with traditions. Traditions usually start well; they were created with good intentions and value, and were most likely necessary at their birth. That is why they became traditions.

On numerous occasions, the Scriptures instruct believers to hold to the traditions taught them. Our traditions, the traditions of man, are not biblical; they may have initially been Bible-based, but they have not always been Bible-maintained.

What often happens with traditions is that they lose either their meaning or necessity. They become, “That’s the way we’ve always done it,” and, “If it were good enough for …”

Our church traditions may need to be revisited, re-evaluated and re-examined by asking, Do we need to rethink what we do?

  • Church: Order of service and even the word “service.” What has that come to mean?
  • Sanctuaries vs. auditorium: Is it always a sanctified place?
  • Baptism: When, who, how? Is it sacramental?
  • Communion: When, who, how?
  • Membership: What are the scriptural requirements?
  • Government: Pastors, preachers, reverends, priests, bishops, elders, overseers, deacons, various titles and offices. Here is where I think many churches may be getting it wrong. The Epistles are governmental books.
  • Bible: Translations … the last time I went there, I almost got beat up.
  • Dress: What is “appropriate” and by whose measure?
  • Facilities: Should facilities not be designed to hold the body of Christ—the church—and make an outsider want to join the body of Christ?
  • Music: Purpose, talent vs. giftedness, qualifications. Is it worship? Is it praise?
  • Discipleship: Disciple-making, maturity, novices, youth groups, Sunday school classes.
  • Giving: Tithes, offerings, missions. Isn’t this one of the best ways to know the condition of the flock?

Most, if not all, traditions or denominations are based on government, and government literally means the “way” we operate (Acts 9:2). Most denominations are based on the “way” they function. Even the names of many denominations are governmental in title: Presbyterian, Methodist, Congregationalist, Lutheran, Apostolic, Orthodox, Episcopal, etc.

Speaking of the Pharisees and religious teachers, Jesus said, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions” (Mark 7:6-8).

By all means, “Stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thess. 2:15). Again, are we not to understand this to mean in reference to the Word of God, the Bible?

It’s an old illustration, but a good one:

“Mom, why do you trim the ends off of the ham before baking it?”
“Well, dear, that’s the way my mother always did it, and I just follow her recipe.”
“But why?”
“I don’t know; let’s call and ask.”

“Grandma said, ‘That’s the way her mother taught her.’”
“Let’s call and ask Great-Grandma.”

“Great-Gram, why did you trim the ends off of the ham before baking it?”
“Well, dear, so that it would fit into my baking pan.”

Traditions are worth evaluating. There is a difference between a church’s tradition and a church’s sacred cow. Do not make the way you do church a doctrine. Make Christ’s doctrine the way you do church.

Tony Foglio is a pastor, church planter, businessman and author of Discover the Bible: Journey Through the Bible As It Was Meant to Be Read (Thomas Nelson, 2004). For more information, go to DiscovertheBible.com.