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Matthew 15:1-9:  Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”—then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying, ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ”


In this passage from Matthew’s Gospel, the Jewish religious leaders were displeased with Jesus’s disciples over not upholding one of their traditions. The Lord quickly rebuked them over these traditions that they adhered to and taught as doctrine. Contextually, in verses 10-20 Jesus explained what defiles a man and that is what is in a person’s heart. However, that is not my focus in this blog. Instead what has piqued my interest is Christ’s calling out the religious leaders on the traditions they teach and the negative effects these traditions have. These leaders looked holy and sounded righteous, but in their hearts they were miles away from God.


Over the time since the Mosaic Law was introduced by God through Moses in the 1440’s BC, the Jewish religious leaders had come to see living by the Law as the means to righteousness in the eyes of God. In fact, they had added a lot of traditions to this already weighty Law. To add insult to injury, the Pharisees and other high Jewish religious instructors elevated these traditions, these commandments of men, to the level of doctrines. Jesus was extremely unhappy about this—and over the past 2000 years or so His feelings about this have not changed. Neither has the adding of traditions to our faith since the birth of the Church.


Today there are roughly half a dozen branches of Christianity and tens of thousands of denominations. Mixed in with all this are a great number of traditions and erroneous teachings. Not all traditions and erroneous teachings are universal to all of these branches and denominations, but here are some: The wearing of fine clothing to church, tithing, the church program, substitution of the sprinkling of water for baptism, the belief that water baptism saves, having no musical instruments, chanting, the teaching that some of the spiritual gifts are not for today, women being required to wear dresses, praying about a matter only once in order to demonstrate faith in God, singing a set number of songs in the service each week, keeping to a stringent church service schedule, the elevation of the clergy above the laypersons, and Sunday school. There are many others, but here is the point: While some traditions may be relatively harmless, such as Sunday school or the church program, all traditions are manmade and no erroneous teachings are good.


Jesus made the point here that the Jewish religious leaders’ traditions made the commandments of God of no effect. After all, they were contrary to what God wanted. Traditions add on to or take the place of Biblical doctrines. There are churches which add on to the Scriptural qualifications for Church offices. For example, in addition to the qualifications for deacons outlined in 1 Timothy 3, deacons might be required to tithe (implying proof thereof) and to wear three-piece suits. This is legalism and tradition all rolled into one. It is real and it is practiced today. I have seen it myself. To be fair, this is not as serious as some other false teachings out there, but it is still not good. Generally speaking, what draws God’s ire about teaching as doctrines the commandments of men?


God’s Word contains all the Bible doctrines we will ever need. It is up to us as believers, particularly for those who preach and teach the Word, to dig into the Bible, prayerfully seek out these doctrines, and clearly present them to other believers. We must also accurately teach the way of salvation to the saved and the lost alike, the saved so we can properly share the Gospel and the lost so that they can follow Biblical—not manmade—instructions as to how to be saved. The whole counsel of God must be taught, not just what makes the listeners feel good. We do not live by the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, but we must still use the OT because it is just as much a part of God’s inspired word as the New Testament is.


In reading the four Gospels you find that Jesus reserved His harshest rebukes for the religious leaders. These men had a sacred calling, a sacred office, and a sacred responsibility to rightly teach God’s sacred Word. The Word of God is not subject to man’s opinion. What it says, goes. When poring over the rebukes that Jesus gave to these Jewish leaders it can be easy to cheer the Lord on as if He is some sort of holy prizefighter beating down His religious opponents, but Christ did not do this to show off or to humiliate those He was rebuking. It was out of love that He did this.


The Law had been God’s prescribed way to be pleasing to God for a long time, and it would continue to be that until Calvary, when Christ’s sacrifice of Himself for the sins of the world would usher in the new covenant that we live under. It is just as crucially important to accurately set forth what is taught in the New Testament. Jesus Christ is filled with love for the Word of God because it was spoken from out of  the mouth of God, by the Holy Spirit, as He moved upon the men He used to pen Holy Writ. Jesus is also called the Word (John 1:1, 14; 1 John 5:7). He is filled with love for His people, the children of God, and therefore wants all of us to know exactly what God says in the Bible. Jesus Christ is filled with love for the lost and wants what is in the Word properly conveyed to them. When the commandments of men are taught as doctrines and when traditions substitute Biblical instructions, the results can be disastrous.


Do you honestly believe the hand of God is upon a church service where feelgood preaching is all that is ever spoken from the pulpit? Can the Lord possibly bless a service where healing involves kicking old women in the face with combat boots? (Yes, this has happened!) How can God be anywhere near a church service where the parishioners are convulsing, laughing uncontrollably, and making animal noises  all over the sanctuary? Do you expect God to give an “Amen” to the teaching that tithing can keep you out of hell? How can God give His blessing to prayers for healing when those praying do not even believe that the spiritual gift of healing is for today? Is the Lord going to be pleased when one person passionately and honestly prays to God in an authentic prayer language and someone else teaches that this is Satanic gibberish? How do you suppose God feels when He has given us His Son as the one and only true and all-sufficient means of salvation, only to have some misguided preacher tell his congregation that one must get saved again every time he or she commits a sin?


I could say more, but the point should be clear: If the hand of God is not on a church service, then all the congregants did was have church, a religious dog-and-pony show. Christians come away thinking they had a real encounter with God when in fact all they experienced was an emotional high. The lost who answered the altar call come away believing their souls have been saved when the Lord’s hand was not on the service at all. The preacher thinks he gave a powerful word from the pulpit, not understanding that by teaching man’s traditions he actually contradicted and counteracted the very Scriptures he was preaching from! All of this breaks God’s heart. He longs to see the lost saved, the backsliders to return to Him, and His faithful children to grow in the Word and in Christ. None of this can happen effectively if the churches are off-base!


What, then, can we as Christians do individually? Sadly, church traditions and erroneous teachings have been around for so long that they are not going to be done away with before Christ’s return. Also, in all this negativity there are still some churches which are functioning and teaching Biblically. Finding one, however, might be like trying to find the proverbial needle in the haystack. We refer you to the lesson entitled “The Christian”, Level 1, Lesson 6 of The Remnant Bible Study Course on this website, which has a list of characteristics all churches should have plus the bare minimum number that should be seen in any given church.


As far as what else we can do individually, it is to know God and His Word well. We are to be led and guided by the Holy Spirit. We must pray that God will not allow us to be deceived by any of the false teachings out there, including the doctrinized commandments of men. As devoted disciples of Christ it is mandatory that we uphold the truths of the faith even if we have to do so alone sometimes. We share the truths of the Word with others, and in due time fruit shall be borne (Galatians 6:9-10). There may be times when God-given opportunities arise to correct the erring. When doing so we are to do it in love, not in fleshly anger or intellectual showmanship. Regardless of whatever else we do or do not do, we must pray, pray, and pray! Ask God for boldness and wisdom in doing so (Acts 4:23-31; Ephesians 6:18-20; James 1:5-8). The importance of correct teaching cannot be overstated, nor can the damage done by what is false and ineffectual be underestimated. We are to be bearers of the truth wherever we go, and that includes inside the church walls.



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