The Pharisees and scribes challenged Jesus with the above question, prompting Him to scathingly indict them for putting their man-made traditions and commandments on a higher precedence than God’s actual commands, resulting in hypocritical, vain worship (Matt. 15:1-9; cf. Mk. 7:1-13).
Traditions are a controversial topic in the church. The word literally means “that which is passed down.” There are divinely-inspired apostolic traditions, i.e., the New Testament (1 Cor. 11:2; 2 Thess. 3:6; cf. 2 Pet. 1:19-21). There are also man-made traditions, some fairly new while others bearing the weight of decades or longer. Some fail to distinguish between traditions of divine and human origin. Among these folks are some who erroneously consider rightly divided scriptural commands and principles to be nothing more than “our tradition” and thus want to embrace doctrinal error and practice, particularly in worship. Others mistakenly consider traditions about worship times and arrangements, ways to biblically educate children and adults, and church activities to be equivalent with biblical commands and principles, thus concluding that any change made along these lines is heresy. Some recognize the distinction between divine and human traditions and thus always seem to want to be on the lookout to form new human traditions simply for the sake of change, regardless of whether change in a particular area is actually needed. Others acknowledge the irrelevancy of some long-held human traditions but are so comfortable with them that they are uneasy or apathetic about anything new that may be productive to God’s cause.
Knowledge and wisdom are needed to accurately navigate the tempestuous waters of traditions. Knowledge of rightly divided Scripture in its totality (2 Tim. 2:15; Ps. 119:160) is needed in order to make the necessary and important distinction between divine and human traditions so that we may always stay within the boundaries of God’s will and grace. Wisdom is needed to accurately use that knowledge to guide a church and “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” so that maturity and church growth are reached (Eph. 4:11-16). The goal of obtaining this knowledge and wisdom must be so that we all can “make the best use of the time,” opportunities, and resources given to us to grow and strengthen the Lord’s church and basically “understand what the will of the Lord” actually consists of (Eph. 5:15-17) … rather than being bound to a matter of human judgment which is now irrelevant or changing a tradition that might not need to be changed.
Shepherds and preachers of Christ’s church must be men who know the Bible very well, godly servants of Christ who have Christ’s cause first in their hearts and work together to patiently instruct their brethren to rightly divide scripture. All Christians must humbly grow in their knowledge of Scripture with open and honest hearts so that they distinguish between divine and human traditions, always obeying the former while also submitting to the judgments of church leadership concerning the latter. Both leadership and members must consider what the church needs most, sacrificially and humbly working together towards meeting that end to God’s glory (Phil. 2:1-4).