When I was growing up, my family practiced a lot of traditions. Some were Dutch traditions that my father had brought with him when he immigrated from The Netherlands, such as celebrating Sinterklass Day by putting out wooden shoes filled with carrots for Sinterklass’s horse and awakening full of excitement the next morning to find the shoes filled with chocolate. Some were specific to our family such as watching Fiddler on the Roof (and ironically loudly singing “Tradition!” on Thanksgiving. Some were just things we did weekly such as pop popcorn and drink hot chocolate after church on Sunday night, but we never really said they were traditional.
Traditions are what brings a family together, creates order, memories and uniqueness. The traditions of the church family act in the same way. Communion, baptism, the laying on of hands for healing or to send out missionaries bind us together as a church family in ways that simple belief cannot. However, while baptism and communion can clearly be found in scripture, other practices and beliefs that churches practice are not clearly outlined in the Bible. When I was younger and asked why Catholics prayed to Saints and believed in purgatory, it was explained that Roman Catholics (and later I learned the Orthodox churches) followed the traditions of the church as well as the scripture and we as Protestants followed Sola Scriptura, a theology first proposed by the Protestant Reformers, basically stating that Scripture is the highest authority and all beliefs should be judged by scripture. Because it was one of the strongest tenets that separated Protestants from Catholics, traditions of any sort are often seen as suspect or completely denied in a lot of protestant churches, and even more so in the evangelical churches that are fairly recent and do not have as rich a history as church denominations such as Anglican/ Episcopalian, Methodist, Lutheran, and Presyterian, which follow a liturgy, have a book of prayer, and traditional robes for priest etc.
However much Evangelicals want to deny it, they follow their own traditions and do not simply rely on scripture. While this is not at all negative and I would argue it is probably essential to any church family, it is good to be aware of these traditions so we know why we believe what we believe, whether it be from scripture, church creed, or evangelical tradition and so we can critique and change traditions that are detrimental to the gospel and are not biblically based.
An example of a tradition that is not found in the Scripture directly, but is affirmed by church creed is the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity is never named in the Bible, however it is implied. The doctrine of the Trinity s was actually affirmed in the Anthanasian and Nicene Creeds. Other examples of tradition in Evangelical church teachings is the tradition of conscious eternal torture in hell of people who do not have faith in Jesus. This is not actually taught in scripture, but implied through several passages. Other passages seem to only guarantee eternal life to those who are believe in Jesus (see John 3:16) and still others point to post mortem repentance ) and even others point to universalism (the idea that all will eventually be saved). Though different ideas can be defended through scripture, only one, eternal conscious torment for the damned, has been taught by tradition by Evangelicals. Two other traditions that I believe Evangelicals should look critically at is Purity Culture, the teachings that virginal purity is somehow more important to God than other aspects of one’s life and the tradition of patriarchy, the idea that males have a leadership role in the church and family apparent in some scriptures but other scriptures teach equality and freedom in Christ.
Traditions in all churches are important to bind us together as a family, to maintain our connectedness to others and to God, but just as other churches acknowledge where traditions emerge, it is important that Evangelicals also acknowledge what is Scripture and what is their tradition, both so we can look at teachings critically and honestly.