Bible · Church · Church Authority · Commandments · Traditions

Traditions – 1

In our introductory post, we spoke of our families traditional Christmas celebrations in order to establish an understanding of what a tradition is, and to offer my understanding of a traditions flexibility. Some of my readers may have read of our historical changes during the traditional gift giving in our home as an unwillingness to maintain a tradition, to create a tradition that would be longstanding and annually honored. This may be true.

But we all must agree that traditions start at a point in time, and are handed down to the next generation, and so on until they become “traditional”. Think of the many nations in this world and each nation having distinct traditions. Every tradition is started by an authority, possibly based on a historical happening.

For some practice to become a tradition, it must originate from an authority, who establishes the practice as worthy of repeating, and by a group of followers who consistently exercise that practice through a period of time. Within the Bible, the authority usually is God of course (there are exceptions), and the repeating of the practice is dependent on the faithful.

Traditions, based on the instruction of an authority and if practiced accurately, are worthy of maintaining. Traditions based on the instruction of an authority but not practiced accurately, are worthy or rejecting, and to return to practicing per the original intent of the instruction. Unless of course the authority repeals the practice.

Given this basis of understanding a “tradition”, lets consider Matthew 15:1-9, where Jesus is questioned by the Pharisees and scribes concerning His disciples breaking of a tradition.

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” – Mat 15:1-9 ESV

First off, let’s establish the authority of the tradition. In this passage, the Pharisees tell us the authority over this tradition of washing hands is that of the elders. The religious leaders readily admit the source of authority is mankind and not God.

Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter by returning to the ultimate authority, and also informs us of the conflict that human authority creates when introduced to assist in obeying the commandments of the true Authority. Jesus asks one tough question, centered on the authority giving the command.

Why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?

The Pharisees are whining about clean hands. Jesus goes for the jugular, and focuses on the fifth commandment of God, (without the resultant blessing if obeyed.)

Exodus 20:12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

No blessing is included in the passage Jesus quotes, yet Exodus provides the promise of long days in the land. No promise, but He does include Exodus 21:17, defining the judgement if the commandment is broken.

Exodus 21:17 Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.

Jesus then describes the elders efforts to “clarify the commandment” for the masses, but masterfully brings to the Pharisees (and any who may listen) the effect of modifying Gods commandments with a human tradition.

If the believer sought to honor their parents with a gift, the elders allowed that believer an exception, in order to receive the funds themselves. I am of the opinion that Jesus is actually quoting the elders instructions in the 6th verse, where the allowance to disobey is clearly offered.

he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. – Mat 15:6 ESV

Are clean hands an issue in your life? Is outward appearance a priority for you? Do you watch for insignificant rule breaking of others? In your rule keeping, do you dishonor God?

A quick story that brought this passage to life for my wife and I.

We were attending a church years ago, when a close friend and his family were seeking to enter into missionary work. I informed the leadership of our desire to divert our giving’s to this family. This was acceptable to the leadership, although they did ask for a period of time to be defined, so that the funds would begin returning to their coffers. This I gladly provided and we rejoiced in giving to this family on their way to Indonesia with the gospel.

Not long after this, my father-in-law passed away, leaving my mother-in-law a widow. Things became desperate for this sweet woman and we needed/wanted to help. This did not go over well with the church leadership, with their counsel being that we should give above and beyond the tithe to the church in order to help mom. But the tithe was to take a priority.

Eventually, after prayer one morning I landed on the passage above, and it became crystal clear as to what we were to do. Honor our parent.

Eventually this decision became a point of tension with the religious leadership. This authority conflict between the Word and the religious leaders counsel led me to study the teaching of tithing in the church, and a believers responsibility in giving. Eventually, the religious leadership asked us to leave.

Friends – religious organizations have many ways of twisting a believers obligation that negate a commandment of God. Traditions are one way these obligations are nullified. Though many traditions are established with good intentions, it seems it is inevitable that the tradition is followed without thinking, and sometimes becomes a stumbling stones for the believer.

Traditions of men, or in other words, religious requirements to “please God”, beyond the Word either become a conflict and needs to be rejected, or a repetition of the commandment in a different context.

It is safe to consider the Word only as our final authority, since the One who saved us lived and died under it’s authority and provided the church the full orbed teaching of grace and truth for us to understand.

Our next post will consider the same incident with the Pharisees, but from Mark’s perspective. Hope you can join me.

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