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Scared of Change: When Our Traditions Become Idols

The Pharisees had a special way to wash their hands before they ate (Mark 7:3). Having a special way to wash your hands is not sinful. With our children, we have them say their “ABCs” as they wash to help them memorize the alphabet and to make sure their hands are scrubbed long enough. There is nothing wrong with traditionally doing something a certain way. However, we must exercise caution in these situations, for it is possible for an action that is not inherently wrong to become a sin.

The Pharisees had a tradition regarding hand washing. Over the years that tradition had solidified into a manmade doctrine and now became a tool for condemnation. In fact, the Pharisees and the Scribes asked Jesus “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?” (Mark 7:5). Their tradition became a law, an idol, because of this, Jesus declares to them

“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.” (Mark 7:6-8).

Is it possible that items of our own opinion, which are not inherently right or wrong, have grown into manmade doctrines and become tests of faithfulness? It is easy for traditions to grow into idols that that we serve and worship instead of God. If you don’t think this true, try changing something “that has always been done” a certain way and see what happens.

We are to never change or unbind what God has bound in Scripture. When it comes to matters of tradition, however, it may be good to change things every once in awhile to make sure our traditions have not become idols. Change just for the sake of change is not always bad, although it may be scary at times.

Written by Cliff



  1. Are the “evils” associated with “traditions” the real problem? Or is the lack of authority for “traditions” the real problem? It seems the Scribes and Pharisees desired to be thought of as the “authority” for what they practiced in religion. Do we do the same by insisting on an “open” and “closing” prayer in our worship assemblies? Who authorizes how many songs? Who says how long the preacher orates? Who says communion should be offered twice in one day? Where is our authority? “Change for the sake of change…” – scary or possibly sinful?

  2. Wesley

    September 2, 2010 at 8:32 pm

    I think that is the point the article is trying to get at. (Although this is one contributed by Cliff). But in the Pharisees case what made the traditions “evil” it was elevating something that was good (washing your hands) to a level that God never granted it (if you don’t you have committed grave sin). This can happen with other traditions as well. I don’t think Cliff is against tradition necessary, but against the threat that it is easy for tradition to be elevated to a sinful place.

  3. Esmerelda Tyndale

    November 5, 2012 at 4:46 pm

    I have so many traditions that i really am struggling with.

  4. Esmerelda Tyndale

    November 5, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    God has really moved me though

  5. Esmerelda Tyndale

    November 5, 2012 at 4:47 pm

    I love God sooooo much

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