Human Tradition

See to it that no one takes you captive

through hollow and deceptive philosophy,

which depends on human tradition

and the basic principles of this world

rather than on Christ.

(Colossians 2:8)

The heresy at Colossae is a mystery of the ages. There are few details. At once it sounds Jewish and Gentile in origin. There are elements of the Law of Moses and also pagan mystic practices. It seems that Paul’s’ primary concern is not the origin or details of such heresy, but to battle the essential damning element of them: they replace Christ as our sufficiency. They promote the idea that it is good to have Christ in your life … but only as one of the elements that demonstrate true spirituality. The philosophy and tradition of humans is ranked highly … perhaps even as high as the knowledge of Christ. What are we to make of the Apostle’s instruction today?

We must be cautious when talking about traditions. Traditions are easily born and difficult to kill. Traditions are not evil within themselves. This text is not concerned with the habits that develop over time within any group of people who meet for any reason. I think it is concerned with any human tradition that takes on equal importance with the authority of Christ. What makes it ‘hollow’ and ‘deceptive’? Is it the practice itself, or is it the value assigned to the practice?

Can you think of ways that churches can be taken captive to practices that are held up as equal to Christ? At first we may say no … they are not equal to Christ. But take a look at some of our journals / papers / websites. Are we not quick to condemn people that do things differently than we? In so doing, are we not saying that their practice (whatever it is) is of equal importance to their commitment to Christ … because the practice damns them?

One church decides to have a Saturday night instrumental service. Another church decides to allow women to serve communion and make announcements. Yet another church allows ministers from the Christian Church to speak to them. In another locale the words “church of Christ” are removed from the outside of a structure. And when these kinds of things happen, some of our brothers are quick to say that these people are now “apostate”, “digressives”, and sometimes it is explicitly stated that they have lost their souls.

So, the use of instrumental music is equal in importance to the doctrine of Christ? The metal letters on the outside of a building are of equivalence to the pre-eminence of Christ? Hearing a message from someone who practices their Christianity a bit differently than we do is on the same level as the supremacy of Christ? If a woman passes a communion tray, Christ has somehow been dismissed from the service?

It has been said by an acquaintance that they would rather their children never attend church at all than to attend something other than a ‘Church of Christ’. In that statement alone every human tradition practiced by men is elevated to the importance of the doctrine of Christ.

Music, women’s roles, unity, and identity are all important issues but the truth is that most of our conclusions about those matters are based upon human tradition, and not on specific commandments from God. We may have thought through them and come up with a system whereby all answers are decided for us … but the system itself (hermeneutics) is not commanded by God. How can it determine all of our answers for us?

Many Christians remain captive to human tradition. Recognition of these practices as ‘tradition’ renders them of less importance than Christ in our lives. In fact, all congregations have traditions. Observance of traditions can be a source of peace and identity, joy and comfort. That is, unless those who enjoy those traditions seek to burden other believers with them and turn them into commandments. And that is where we always seem to go with traditions.

The trouble with traditions is that they are equated in importance with Christ in our lives. Some of us can envision Christ getting up and leaving an assembly if someone strummed a guitar. Some can see Christ turning away from a woman who is attempting to serve Him communion. Some can see Christ passing by a building that didn’t have the right words on it’s sign. If you have that vision of Christ, you have forgotten with whom Christ spent most of his time! Even our view of Christ can be manipulated by our slavish adherence to tradition.

The answer is not to dispense with all tradition. Even being non-traditional can become a tradition!  The answer is to give Christ the proper place in our hearts … and in our practice. What do you think?


100 Homes in 100 Days Project Continues. This is a fantastic project and should serve as a model for disaster recovery in the future. In the mean time thousands of people need help buying building materials to finish their homes. Is money available? In theory, yes. However MILLIONS of dollars sit untouched in a fund that is being overseen by a foundation here on the Gulf Coast. Why is it basically untouched? Because to access it you have to (1) apply to Salvation Army and receive their funds, (2) apply to Red Cross and receive their funds, (3) have matching funds, and (4) have volunteers available to do the work … and if you do all of that (which could take months), THEN you can have access to this money that was donated from people around the world for Katrina relief. I understand that this may be changing, but almost 20 months after the storm these funds sit unallocated. Someone from the press should investigate what’s happening here … and who is benefitting from holding these funds. I’m sure they are earning interest…for someone.

American Idol chat. Who do you think will get to go home tonight? MSNBC predicts it will be Haley or Phil. Goodbye Phil. Simon said Sanjaya “wasn’t horrible”. C’mon Simon, get real.

Choctaw Indians Want a Casino in Jackson County. In November we will vote on the issue. I thought they could do this with or without permission? In my opinion, they are going to go ahead no matter the vote. But maybe I’m wrong in my understanding about the legality of the issue.

Trey reveals 10 Traits of a Healthy Church.

Mark Copeland suggests that People Don’t Want A Friendly Church.

Phil touts the Spiritual Sword. I feel he will approve the comment I left, and he usually will respond. Phil and I see things very differently … but I do think he has a lot to offer.

Royce reflects on how far we may have traveled from the vision of the Restoration fathers.

Thanks for reading!

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