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What Does the Bible Say About..Human Traditions?

I was speaking to a friend of mine who pointed out something interesting about the church of Christ unofficial mantra to "speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent." The coC tends to always put a restriction on things that are not specifically discussed, rather than realizing that we have freedom in Christ (as long as we operate within Biblical boundaries already established). Part of my mom's argument is that you know it is "safe" to have a man baptize, and we just don't know about the consequences of a woman baptizing because it isn't mentioned. [See What Does The Bible Say About..A Woman Baptizing?]

My friend also pointed out how unappealing it is for the world to realize that they can remove the burden of a yoke of slavery to sin, only to have to put on the burden of traditionalism. She said all this much better than I can remember, but I found that interesting as well.


As your friend pointed out, the churches of Christ have, in times past and in a few congregations even today, tried to bind on people some things which can not be found in scripture. In defense of my generation and the one that preceded it, however, it would be fair to point out that there was a time when even those things were based on scripture, misapplied though they sometimes were. There was a time that they/we were known for our knowledge of the scripture. That is not necessarily true today.

There are those, like some Pharisees of the New Testament, who add their traditions in order to “put a hedge around the Bible.” They try to say, “It is better to stay as far away from sin as possible, even if it means not doing some things that might be acceptable.” This is really a good idea, as long as you don’t try to make the additions binding on others. This is the idea your mother expressed, of being “safe.” The problem is, the issue of who does the baptizing is not something that you need to be safe on. There is nothing to indicate that women can’t baptize, and even the example of Priscilla and her husband (Priscilla’s name is mentioned first) to indicate that she might have done the baptizing.

On other things, like smoking, dancing, gambling, etc., that there are vague scriptures against, but no clear cut “thou shalt not,” then it may be good to take the safe way. I have even used that argument against the use of instruments of music in the assembly, based on historical records. But even then, it would be wrong to bind that way on others. (And I know many elders in churches of Christ that would agree.)

We do need to get back to the non-biblical admonition to “speak where the Bible speaks, and be silent where the Bible is silent.” Especially since many denominations today are especially good at speaking where the Bible is silent and being silent where the Bible speaks.

I also agree with your friend that it would be unappealing to remove the yoke of slavery to sin, only to put on the yoke of traditionalism. That is one reason I remain a member of congregations of the churches of Christ. I look around at the denominations, and that is all I see. One way I look I see the tradition that one can not lose their salvation. Another way, I see a tradition of multiple congregations being under the oversight of a bishop (elder) or organization (such as a “missionary society”). Yet another way I look, I see people waiting for Jesus to reign on earth for a thousand years. Traditions of men are everywhere. That doesn’t mean they are wrong. They are only wrong when they take on the status of being equal to scripture, or, in the cases mentioned above, when they go directly counter to scripture.

Face facts. Paul said in Romans 6 that we throw off the yoke of sin only to put on a yoke of service to Christ. We are still bound by some things. We just need to make sure that they are the things God says, and not man.