Do Evangelicals Follow Traditions?

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.


5 thoughts on “Do Evangelicals Follow Traditions?

  1. The word Trinity is not biblical but the concept of a Triune God appears many times in scripture. I like this piece. You are correct, there are a number of traditions that are not based on scripture alone “Sola Scriptura” that have become part of the doctrine of many churches. To clarify the praying to saints by us Catholics, we believe that just like asking others in a church to “pray for you” or intercede for you, we believe that Saints do the same. We are not “praying” to them per se, but merely asking them to intercede along with praying directly to the Lord. As for Purgatory I have to admit the jury is still out for me on that one, but when I was confirmed in the Catholic church I was asked only if I accept the tenets of the Apostles creed. The creed also refers to the Communion of Saints. Another thing to keep in mind is the church existed long before the scriptures. So to say we should only base our beliefs and traditions on scripture alone is an oxymoron because the scriptures were not fully accepted until the council of Trent in the 1500s and it was the Catholic Church that preserved and gave us the scriptures. The one thing that drew me to the Catholic Church is their focus on the Scriptures and Christ. It’s rare to hear a priest ever talk about himself. It’s always a Christ centered service beginning when we enter the church and reconfirm our baptismal vows by the sign of the cross as we dip our fingers in the holy water and it culminates with the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, Christ death and Resurrection. Lots to ponder here. Going to go back to my Catechism and Bible and do some more research. Thanks for this piece.

    • Dot,
      Thanks for your thoughts on this. I know that as someone who has been Protestant and converted to be Catholic, you have a unique and valuable perspective. I was wondering what you see as the positive benefits to asking a Saint to pray for you rather than a fellow living believer. I know that Catholics of course do both, and while asking a living believer to pray builds community, accountability, and humility, I was wondering what you see the specific benefits to praying to a Saint were. Thanks for your perspective on this!

  2. Ok, let me try. For one thing there is a belief among Protestants that we Catholics worship the Saints. This is definitely not correct. There is a big difference between venerating a Saint and worshiping them. We venerate them for their examples and the Godly lives they have led. We believe that the Saints are in constant communion with God and since they are not encumbered with earthly bodies, that is all they do, so who better to send your intentions to, (prayer requests). There is also some who think it is wrong to pray to anyone but Jesus. We pray directly to God and Jesus and that’s all our worship is focused on. But as you say, we ask fellow believers to pray for us, so why not also ask the Saints, “communion of Saints” to pray for us as well. I think it’s more a matter of semantics. When we say we are praying to the Saints, it would be more accurate to say, we are “asking” Saint Anthony to pray for us to help find lost keys, for example. Which, by the way he seems to have a lot of success in that department. When a family member had lost their last key, I prayed to Jesus and I also asked St. Anthony to pray for them to find their keys. Ok, I can’t prove it worked, but a key was finally located. One of the things I like about the Apostles Creed is that it is the basis for just about all Christians regardless of their denominational ties. If you’ll bear with me, I’m going to add it to this reply.

    I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and earth;
    and in Jesus Christ, His only Son Our Lord,

    Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.

    He descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead;

    He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, the Father almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead.

    I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and life everlasting.

    Hope this sheds some light on your question. Peace. Dot

    • Thanks for the reply and the Apostle’s Creed. Brings back what I was originally trying to get at in my post which was that we as Christians have a lot more in common than we often think, regardless of denominations.

      • You’re right. We have one Baptism, One faith, One God and I think there will be a whole lot of surprised folks when we all get to heaven.

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