Last week I enjoyed studying Matthew 15:1-9 with our interns. The teachers of the law and Pharisees were upset about Jesus’ disciples failure to follow their traditions by not washing their hands before meals. Jesus responded by pointing out that the religious leaders were placing their own traditions above God’s commands.
The Pharisees, instead of honoring their parents by helping them financially, claimed that those moneys had been given to God. It seems to me they’d found a way to count twice the money they were placing in the collection tray. The Pharisees’ tradition, then, was in direct conflict with God’s commands.
Obviously, the story teaches us to check our traditions, that they not oppose God’s desires or force us to be disobedient to God. Traditions which are in conflict with God’s commands are wrong.
But even church traditions which do not directly oppose God’s rules can be dangerous. Here are two other reasons to check our churches’ customs and rituals: Continue reading
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’ and ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”
– Matthew 15:1-9
A few thoughts:
- It is entirely possible — and all too common — for us to say the right words without any involvement from our hearts.
- I should honor my mother and father.
- I should never put man’s traditions ahead of God’s commands.
- I should never be willing to disappoint God in order to please man.
- I should study carefully to distinguish between that which is of God and that which is of man.
- In missions, we should imbed early in Bible study groups a desire to look to the Bible to know why or how to do anything — not to our denomination’s traditions or commentaries and the like.
- We tend to offer – unknowingly even – our own (cultural and church) traditions when involved in evangelism. We should strive to 1) know when that is what we’re doing and 2) make efforts not to.
- Doing so will make Christianity “lighter.” What we are now trying to pass on to seekers is incredibly laden with denominational baggage and cultural traditions. It’s difficult for them to receive and even more difficult for them to pass on to others. [Not to mention that we're blurring the lines of what is from God and what is from us, all the while making it difficult for them to be obedient to God.]
- A form of evangelism which offers the Word of God with little other baggage and tradition will be more easily accepted and more quickly reproduced.
We know not all traditions of man are bad, so here are a few helpful questions* we should ask of each one we encounter. They may help us determine whether to continue in that practice or not:
- Is this tradition against God’s commands in the Bible?
- Will this tradition be a barrier to the gospel’s advance in the culture in which I’m living?
- Does this tradition water down or dilute the understanding of other Biblical practices?
I’ll try to go a little deeper into these questions in upcoming posts. What are your thoughts?
* I found these questions in a notebook as if I’d written them (as an “I will” statement) following a Bible study on this text. But I honestly don’t know that I’m smart enough to come up with these questions — so this asterisk and comment are here just to state that there may be credit due another individual for these questions, but if so I’ve got no idea who. If it’s you, let me know…