As Christians, we believe that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God. It is our guide for faith and practice, providing us with all the knowledge we need to know about God and His will for our lives. However, over the centuries, various church traditions and practices have emerged that are not explicitly found in the Bible. While some of these traditions may be harmless or even helpful, others can be harmful or even contradictory to what the Bible teaches.
In this blog post, we will examine some of the church traditions that are not in the Bible and discuss their origins and implications. Specifically, we will discuss three traditions that are commonly practiced in some Christian denominations but are not found in the Bible: the sign of the cross, praying to saints and Mary, and infant baptism. We will explore the history and significance of each of these traditions and discuss their relevance for Christians today.
Our goal in this blog post is not to attack or criticize these traditions, but rather to provide a thoughtful and biblical perspective on them. We recognize that Christians have diverse perspectives and experiences, and we aim to engage in respectful dialogue about these topics. Our hope is that this discussion will help Christians to better understand these traditions and to navigate their relationship to them in light of their faith in Jesus Christ.
The Sign of the Cross
One of the most common church traditions that is not in the Bible is the sign of the cross. This is a gesture where the worshipper traces a cross on their body with their fingers or hand, typically by touching their forehead, chest, and shoulders. The sign of the cross is often used as a symbol of blessing or as a way of invoking the name of Jesus. However, there is no biblical basis for this practice. While the cross itself is certainly a central symbol of the Christian faith, the act of making a sign with one’s fingers or hand is not found in the Bible.
Some argue that the sign of the cross is a harmless or even beneficial tradition that can help us focus our minds on God or remind us of the sacrifice of Christ. However, others argue that it is a superstitious practice that distracts from the true worship of God. In either case, it is important to remember that the sign of the cross is not a biblical mandate, and Christians are free to practice it or not as they see fit.
The origin of the sign of the cross is unclear, but it is believed to have emerged in the early Christian church. One theory is that it was a way of identifying oneself as a Christian during times of persecution, as the sign of the cross was seen as a symbol of loyalty to Christ. Another theory is that it was a way of invoking the power of the cross and of Christ himself in one’s prayers and blessings.
In the end, whether or not to use the sign of the cross is a matter of personal preference and conviction. While it is not a biblical mandate, it can be a meaningful and helpful tradition for some Christians.
Praying to Saints and Mary
Another church tradition that is not found in the Bible is the practice of praying to saints and Mary. This is a common practice in many Catholic and Orthodox churches, where believers often ask for the intercession of various saints or the Virgin Mary in their prayers. While the Bible certainly teaches that we should pray for one another (James 5:16), there is no biblical support for the idea that we should pray to anyone other than God.
Some argue that praying to saints and Mary is a harmless or even helpful tradition that can provide comfort or inspiration. However, others argue that it is a form of idolatry that detracts from the worship of God alone. In either case, it is important to remember that the Bible does not teach us to pray to anyone other than God, and Christians are free to follow this biblical principle as they see fit.
The origin of the practice of praying to saints and Mary can be traced back to the early Christian church. In the early centuries of Christianity, there was a strong emphasis on the idea of the “communion of saints” – the idea that all believers, both living and dead, are part of a larger spiritual community. This idea led some Christians to believe that they could ask for the intercession of deceased believers in their prayers.
However, as Christianity became more institutionalized and hierarchical, the practice of praying to saints and Mary became more formalized and entrenched. Some Christians came to believe that the saints and Mary had a special ability to intercede for them and that they could act as mediators between God and humans. This led to the development of a complex system of saintly patronage and devotions, which is still a significant part of Catholic and Orthodox practice today.
The Bible teaches that there is only one mediator between God and humans, and that is Jesus Christ (1 Timothy 2:5). While it is certainly appropriate to ask for the prayers of other believers, we must be careful not to elevate them to a position of divine authority or power. Ultimately, our prayers should be directed to God alone, through Jesus Christ.
Another church tradition that is not found in the Bible is the practice of infant baptism. This is a common practice in many Christian denominations, including Catholic, Orthodox, and some Protestant churches. The idea behind infant baptism is that it cleanses the baby of original sin and welcomes them into the community of faith. However, there is no clear biblical support for this practice. While the Bible certainly teaches the importance of baptism as a symbol of faith and repentance (Acts 2:38), there is no example of infant baptism in the New Testament.
Some argue that infant baptism is a harmless or even helpful tradition that can provide a sense of belonging and community for families. However, others argue that it is a form of legalism that detracts from the true gospel message of salvation by faith alone. In either case, it is important to remember that the Bible does not clearly teach infant baptism, and Christians are free to follow this biblical principle as they see fit.
The origin of infant baptism can be traced back to the early Christian church, where baptism was seen as a way of cleansing new converts from their sins and welcoming them into the community of faith. However, as the church became more institutionalized, baptism became more closely associated with membership in the church and the sacramental system of grace. This led to the development of infant baptism as a way of ensuring that children were included in the church and received the grace of baptism from an early age.
However, the Bible teaches that salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, not by any outward ceremony or ritual (Ephesians 2:8-9). While baptism is certainly an important symbol of our faith and obedience to Christ, it is not a requirement for salvation. Therefore, Christians should approach the practice of baptism with care and discernment, recognizing its symbolic significance while also affirming the centrality of faith in Christ.
Other Church Traditions
The three church traditions we have discussed – the sign of the cross, praying to saints and Mary, and infant baptism – are just a few examples of the many traditions that have developed in the Christian church over the centuries. Other examples include the use of incense, vestments, and liturgical practices such as the use of the Book of Common Prayer.
While some of these traditions may be harmless or even helpful, others can be divisive or even contradictory to the biblical message. As Christians, we must be careful not to place undue emphasis on any tradition or practice that is not grounded in the clear teaching of the Bible. Instead, we should seek to follow the example of the early Christians, who were guided by the Holy Spirit and the authority of Scripture.
As we have seen, there are many church traditions that are not found in the Bible. While some of these traditions may be harmless or even helpful, it is important to remember that they are not authoritative sources of doctrine or practice. As Christians, we must be guided by the clear teaching of the Bible and the guidance of the Holy Spirit in all our beliefs and practices.
We should approach church traditions with humility and discernment, recognizing that they are not infallible or binding on our faith. While traditions can be meaningful and helpful in our worship and spiritual life, they must always be subservient to the authority of Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Ultimately, our goal as Christians is not to follow a set of traditions or practices, but to follow Jesus Christ and His teachings. We must be willing to examine our beliefs and practices in the light of Scripture, and to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit as we seek to grow in our faith and obedience to God.
As we navigate the many church traditions that are not found in the Bible, we should approach them with grace and charity, recognizing that Christians have diverse perspectives and experiences. We should also be willing to engage in respectful dialogue with those who hold different views, seeking to learn from one another and to grow in our understanding of God’s will for our lives.
In the end, the most important tradition we can follow is the tradition of faithfulness to God and His Word. As we seek to follow Christ and to live out His teachings, we can trust that the Holy Spirit will guide us in all truth and lead us into the fullness of His purposes for our lives.