The Bible and Problems in the Church

Chapter Eight

Problems About Customs and Traditions

What are customs and traditions?

Customs are the usual manner of doing things or the habitual practices of a people. Traditions are beliefs and practices handed down from generation to generation. Traditions are customs so long continued as to be respected as laws.

How are customs and traditions dangerous?

Jesus condemned the worship of the Pharisees and Scribes because they followed customs and traditions in worship (Mark 7:7). He said that they laid aside the commandment of God in holding the tradition of men (verse 8). They rejected the commandment of God that they might keep their own tradition (verse 9). Whenever people hold customs and traditions as sacred in religion, they make void the Word of God as did the Jews (verse 13). Or whenever people keep a tribal or village custom which violates the Word of God, their tradition causes them to sin.

Do men’s customs have any authority in religion?

One of the greatest mistakes in religion is to think that customs and traditions have authority in religious matters. The Jews in Jesus’ day had many traditional practices which they kept as if they were God’s law. When Jesus and his disciples did not do these things, the Scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus why His disciples broke the tradition of their elders (Matthew 15:2). Jesus then asked, “Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” (verse 3). He showed them that they had kept practices handed down by tradition as if they were binding. They taught the commandments of men “for doctrine,” that is, they taught traditions as if they were authoritative. This made their worship vain or worthless (verse 9). These men were blind leaders leading blind followers into the ditch (verse 14). This is strong language to show us that men’s customs and traditions must not be followed as authority in religion. Just because a thing has been practiced by many people for many generations does not mean that it is from God.

What must be done if a village or tribal custom causes a commandment of God to be violated?

Jesus and His apostles often had to teach contrary to accepted and respected customs. Jesus plainly told the Samaritan woman that the worship which her fathers practiced was ignorant and false (John 4:20,22,23). The apostles were continually accused and persecuted because they stood for God’s truth against conflicting customs and traditions (Acts 6:14; 21:21). Saul of Tarsus was very zealous for the traditions of his Jewish fathers (Galatians 1:14). But by holding to these customs of the Jews’ religion he was persecuting and wasting the church of God (verse 13). Christians must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). When a conflict comes, tradition must be violated rather than violating God’s Word. We must always be ready to examine by the Bible practices and beliefs which we have held strongly for years. We must be open-minded about customs of our ancestors and our people. Let no tradition be considered sacred or binding religiously, and let no other custom cause God’s Word to be violated.

What are some Nigerian customs and traditions about birth?

Many pagan customs have been kept by some present-day Nigerian parents and even by some brethren. Female circumcision causes great trouble after the child grows to be a mother. Children are often named during a religious naming ceremony. Sacrifices are often offered to the god of the land or the god of yams for bringing the child. Some parents believe that a boy is a reincarnated spirit and consult a ju-ju priest as to where it came from. Any custom which is done as a religious practice is wrong, for all religious practices must come from the Bible. Any custom which is bad for health and may endanger life (such as female circumcision) must be rejected, since the Christian’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16,17). All tribal and ancestral customs should be examined or proved (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Hold fast that which is good and abstain from every appearance of evil (verse 22).

Should a Christian mother forsake assembling for worship for a long period after the birth of a baby?

This is a denominational custom which violates Bible teaching. Hebrews 10:25 forbids forsaking the assembling of Christians for worship. But often Nigerian mothers forsake church worship for many weeks after delivery, even though their strength has returned. Christian worship must be steadfast (Acts 2:42). Another common traditional practice is to refuse to attend worship after delivery until the husband buys the wife new clothes. Jesus asked, “Why do ye transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3). “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition” (verse 6).

What are common Nigerian wedding customs which violate scripture?

The fattening room celebration with naked dancing is a sinful heathen custom. Taking an intended girl to a man for “trial” is a practice which usually leads to fornication. Wedding celebrations are often lustful rather than spiritual and wholesome.

Is requiring a bride-price a good practice?

The custom of requiring a dowry is very old. It was practiced in Old Testament days (Genesis 34:12) and spoken of in the Law of Moses for the Jews (Exodus 22:17). But the bride price is a social custom which often results in abuse and sin. It is God’s will that to avoid fornication every man have his own wife and every wife her own husband (1 Corinthians 7:2). In many instances unreasonable bride prices which young men cannot afford greatly tempt them to fornication. This does not excuse any fornication, but Christian parents should be reasonable and fair if they charge any bride price at all, so as not to contribute to the spread of fornication. I Corinthians 7:9 says it is better for a person to marry than to burn in lust. Another evil which the dowry causes is that a good Christian boy will often be rejected by the parents because he is poor, while a wealthier young man is accepted who is not a Christian or not good in character. In this, parents will reap what they sow (Galatians 6:7,8). The more civilized countries of the world have dropped the practice of the dowry. Christian parents who are truly interested in their children’s souls will not put money above character in approving their daughter’s marriage (Matthew 6:33). They will consider the girl’s spiritual welfare as the most important matter. And in dealing with a prospective son-in-law they will treat him as they would want to be treated if they were in his place (Matthew 7:12). Christian parents are asked to search their hearts and to examine carefully their motives as to the practice of requiring a dowry. If their abuse of the custom causes sin, then they are also at fault.

What customs are often practiced when a Nigerian dies?

Sacrifices, food, and cloth are often given in behalf of the spirit of a dead man. People may fear the spirit and offer it gifts for many days. After three days it is a custom to “wake” the spirit into heaven. An operation is sometimes performed to cut out the portion which caused disease so that the re-incarnated body will be well. Second-burial celebrations are common traditions. Mourning ceremonies and practices claim to appease the spirit of the dead. The wife of a dead husband may suffer many traditional practices, thinking that the spirit’s anger will be quieted. Most pagan burial customs show a belief in re-incarnation of the soul. What happens to the soul when a person dies? A person’s soul departs from the body at death (Genesis 35:18,19). The body returns to the dust, and the spirit (soul) returns to God who gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7). When Jesus died (gave up the ghost), His spirit went into the hands of God (Luke 23:46). The body which is buried no longer houses the soul of the departed person. After death it is too late to attend to a person’s soul.

Does burial affect a departed soul?

Jesus told of the death of a very poor, sick beggar named Lazarus, and the death of a very rich man who in life had been clothed in “purple and fine linen and had fared scrumptiously every day” (Luke 16:19-23). The rich man was buried (verse 22), and we can imagine a great and expensive burial with feasting and celebrations by many prominent guests. But Jesus did not say Lazarus was buried. Before he died no one fed him or took care of him. The dogs had licked his sores. It is likely then that no one took care of him in death or buried him. But if he was buried, surely no expensive or well-attended ceremony was held. His body may have been dragged to a rubbish heap and burned, or, at best, he may have been dropped roughly into a beggar’s grave. But look at his soul! The Bible says, “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried: And in Hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments” (Luke 16:22,23). Surely the fine burial in no way helped the soul of the rich man. And the lack of a fine burial in no way affected the soul of Lazarus. Neither today does a person’s burial or lack of burial affect at all the condition of his soul.

Is a burial or funeral relatively unimportant?

A man thinking of following Jesus one day wished to first go and bury his father (Matthew 8:21). Jesus answered, “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead” (verse 22). Jesus was saying that burying the dead is not as important as following Him. The dead who could bury their dead were likely worldly people who are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1). But the far more important matter is to follow Christ. Likewise today should heathen burials be left for heathen people, and followers of Christ should follow Christ.

Is the type burial a Christian has important to His soul?

The only important burial to a Christian’s soul is his burial with Christ in baptism (Romans 6:4, Colossians 2:12). A proper burial in baptism is much more important than a proper physical burial. If a person properly buried his old life of sin at baptism, and if he is truly living in newness of life afterward, his physical burial is of no importance to his eternal welfare.

What type physical burial should Christians practice?

The most meaningful acts which a Christian can do for another person should be done before the person’s death. Jesus commended a woman for her love toward Him in anointing Him while He was alive (Matthew 26:12,13). But it is not wrong to prepare a body properly for burial as Jesus’ body was prepared (John 19:39-42). Washing and perfuming a body and wrapping it in clean clothes is honorable. But none of these acts is done to affect the departed one’s soul. Devout men carried Stephen and buried him (Acts 8:2). Dorcas was washed and laid in an upper chamber after her death (Acts 9:37). Surely today Christians may be buried in a reasonable and sensible way without unscriptural heathen or denominational practices.

Should Christians comfort those who mourn?

Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep.” At the time of death, or at any other time of sadness, Christians should seek to comfort those who weep. But the death of a faithful Christian is not as sorrowful as the death of others. The Bible says not to sorrow for those who sleep (die) as others do who have no hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13). This is because we believe that those who die in Christ, God will bring with Him (verse 14). We are told to comfort one another with these words (verse 18). Revelation 14:13 says that the dead who die in the Lord are blessed (happy). They rest from their labors, and their works follow them. Christians do not fear the grave (1 Corinthians 15:55).

Is a special church service appropriate when a Christian is buried?

A worship service at the burial of a Christian is in order for several reasons: (1) It is a fitting time to comfort the bereaved family with readings from God’s Word. (2) It is an appropriate time to preach the Gospel to non-Christians who may attend. (3) It is also a good time to exhort all Christians to be ready for death. What the Bible teaches about death and the hereafter will be most impressive when death is seen in the midst of all. But brethren must be careful not to return to former heathen or denominational burial practices on such an occasion. Witchcraft, divination, masquerading, and dancing have no place.

Should visitors at the time of a death expect to be fed and entertained?

Many Jews came to the house of Martha and Mary to comfort them when their brother Lazarus died (John 11:19). When Jesus came He also wept and groaned in His spirit out of sympathy for His close friends who sorrowed (verses 33,35,38). This should be the purpose of visiting those who sorrow. Instead of wanting to be fed and entertained at a death, Christian people will try to help and comfort the sorrowing family. They will bring food to the bereaved, rather than expecting the family to bring food to them. Every means should be sought to relieve the financial burden of such a family rather than increasing their burden. True Christians will bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). Let members of the Lord’s church show others the true spirit of Christianity at the time of death.

Should relatives be taxed to provide expensive burials and grave stones?

This is another wasteful and unnecessary tradition. The greatest monuments to departed Christians are the good works which they have done. The works of Christians who die will follow after them (Revelation 14:13). Children of Christian parents are also their monuments. These are the, true remembrances of a person’s life after he has gone. Costly physical monuments can be very deceptive of a person’s real character. They can also be misleading about how relatives appreciated the deceased since payment for the effigy is often forced. A simple and inexpensive grave marker is in order if desired. But most other traditional practices have come from paganism and superstition. Surely every Christian knows that he cannot build a house for a departed spirit.

Does a spirit ever return to earth after death?

At death the body goes back to dust and the spirit goes back to God who gave it (Ecelesiastes 12:7). Abraham told the rich man that Lazarus could not be sent back to earth to warn the rich man’s brothers (Luke 16:26-31). Those on earth had the Scriptures, which is the way God speaks to men today (verses 29-31). Reincarnation and the returning of departed spirits is pagan superstition. It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

Can an occultist bring a curse upon a person by magic?

Sorcerers (occultists) shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone (Revelation 21:8). To Barjesus, (or Elymas) the sorcerer, the apostle Paul said, “0 full of all subtilty and all mischief thou child of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord” (Acts 13:10). Sorcerers are deceivers who trick ignorant people by superstition (Acts 8:9-11). Many magicians in Ephesus believed the Gospel and burned their expensive magical books (Acts 19:18-20). Sorcerers will not enter into the eternal city or partake of the tree of eternal life (Revelation 22:14,15).

Are prayer houses scriptural?

Most prayer houses are wrong for several reasons: (1) They indicate that the Lord’s church is not sufficient to carry on all religious needs and practices. But Christians glorify God “in the church,” not in some other organization (Ephesians 3:21). (2) Prayer houses usually conduct prayer for miracles to heal the sick. But the Bible plainly teaches that miracles were meant to cease (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). Prayer houses are usually money-making schemes. The owner collects much money from deceiving the people. Jesus grew very angry at those who wished to change religion into money making (Matthew 21:12,13). Christians must not operate or participate in prayer house activities. Instead, brethren in the church can pray for one another according to Bible teachings about prayer (James 5:13-16). But these prayers will not be for miracles or done for money.

Are some native medical customs wrong?

Mothers often paint their children to drive away an evil spirit which they think brings fever. Sometimes one will allow his body to be cut to let out a disease-causing spirit. Any such native practices based upon evil spirits are wrong. Medical customs which are supposed to drive out evil spirits are really practices of false religion. Belief in these practices is superstition and ignorance. Christians must have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them (Ephesians 5:11). Many native medicines and treatments go back to pagan beliefs about evil spirits, curses, and hexes. Furthermore, many traditional medicines and “cures” are harmful to the body. Injections given by untrained and unauthorized persons cause many deaths. A Christian’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and whoever destroys that body, him will God destroy (1 Corinthians 3:16,17).

Is love of prominence commonly practiced in Nigeria?

Many Nigerian customs and traditions center around man’s love of prominence. The sin of pride is everywhere, but it is often allowed and even approved by customary practices. Village chiefs and elders often love prominence. Religious leaders usually seek the praise of men. Because pride is practiced so commonly, it spoils many church members. The first member of a congregation thinks he is a bigger man than others. Members try to rule the church like politicians because they seek praise for themselves.

What does God think of man’s pride?

Proverbs 16:18 says, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 26:12 says, “Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? there is more hope of a fool than of him.” Psalms 12:3 says, “The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things.” Imagine how foolish man’s arrogance appears to God who is all-wise and all-powerful! If haughty men could see themselves as God sees them, they would know their true insignificance.

What are Jesus’ teachings against loving prominence?

Luke 14:11 says., “For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” Romans 12:16 says, “Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.” 2 Timothy 3:2 says that evil men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, etc. James 4:6 says that God resisteth the proud but giveth grace to the humble. 1 Corinthians 13:4 teaches us that Christian love “vaunteth not itself is not puffed up.” Philemon 2:3 says, “Let nothing be done through strife or vain glory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than themselves.” 1 John 2:16 shows that “pride of life” is worldliness, and that the love of God is not in such a one. 3 John 9 speaks of Diotrephes “who loveth to have the pre-eminence” among the brethren. Many Nigerian brethren love prominence like Diotrephes. Many congregations are troubled by men of this character. Such men damn their own souls and the souls of others.

How does pride enter a person’s heart?

1 Timothy 3:6 forbids a novice becoming an elder. The reason is then given: “lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil” The devil is the source of pride. He tries to use church members and leaders to spoil the congregations. Whoever lifts himself up with pride is being used by the devil.

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