Saturday, April 19, 2014

Commentary: Christ and Religious Tradition

Christ and Religious Tradition

Tradition is a long-established custom or belief passed on from one generation to another.  It is also the transmission of such customs or beliefs from generation to generation, or the fact of being passed on in this way.  In Christianity it is a doctrine not explicit in the Bible but held to derive from the oral teaching of Christ and the Apostles.  In Judaism it is an ordinance of the oral law not in the Torah but held to have been given by God to Moses.

Traditions may have had their purpose when they started.  There was a reason based on circumstances of time and place, but, that original purpose has long been forgotten.  This reminds me of two stories where something was done originally for a reason.  The next generation continued the practice, even when the circumstances that wrought the practice had change.  Story number one: a guard is placed by a garden for hundreds of years.  No one knows why.  Until one day someone questions the need for the guard by that garden.   An inquiry is ordered.  Only to find out the original guard was posted there to protect a flower that the princess - centuries before - was fond of the flower. 

The next story is of a woman who cuts the end of a link of sausage before she placed it in the frying pan.  The daughter asked why.  The mother said she followed what grandma did.  The astute child eventually saw grandma put the whole link in the prying pan.  So, she asked grandma, "Mommy cuts the end of the sausage before putting it in the frying pan, and said she learned it from you.  But, you do not cut yours."  Grandma started laughing.  She told the granddaughter, "The only reason I would cut them was because the frying pan was too small to put the whole link." 

In These two stories the traditions came from a real need.  Sadly for the Jews these traditions, costumes and rules came as a way of interpreting the Word of God which all had misunderstood.   Our lesson stated that the Israelites (Jews) found more than 600 laws in the Torah.  They believed that if these rules and traditions were kept faithfully, they would also keep the bigger laws.  To them only the perfect keeping of these rules and traditions would please God.  Their traditions were based on these more than 600 laws.  Ellen White tells is why these Laws were given.  Let us read the passage,

"If man had kept the law of God, as given to Adam after his fall, preserved by Noah, and observed by Abraham, there would have been no necessity for the ordinance of circumcision. And if the descendants of Abraham had kept the covenant, of which circumcision was a sign, they would never have been seduced into idolatry, nor would it have been necessary for them to suffer a life of bondage in Egypt; they would have kept God's law in mind, and there would have been no necessity for it to be proclaimed from Sinai or engraved upon the tables of stone. And had the people practiced the principles of the Ten Commandments, there would have been no need of the additional directions given to Moses. {PP 364.2}"

Paul says of Noah and Abraham,

Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Heb 11:7 By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark to the saving of his house; by the which he condemned the world, and became heir of the righteousness which is by faith.

Heb 11:8 By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.

Heb 11:9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:

Heb 11:17 By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,

Heb 11:18 Of whom it was said, That in Isaac shall thy seed be called:


If Noah and Abraham lived by faith then they pleased God.  No ritual or traditions were necessary.  So, what we have here is a competition between Christ and the elders of old; between tradition and faith; between God's word and the words of men.  This is what Christ expresses in this week's memory text – Matthew 15: 8-9,


Mat 15:8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.

Mat 15:9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.


Their myriads or oral ordinances did not bring them close to God.  On the contrary, it kept the Light away from them and others.  Because, Jesus often did not follow the ordinances they accused Him of being against the Law.  Jesus response to them was, 1. "I came to fulfill the Law"; 2. "You do not keep nor fulfill the Law." 


Could it be that we have fallen in the same trap?  Ellen White says,


The substitution of the precepts of men for the commandments of God has not ceased. Even among Christians are found institutions and usages that have no better foundation than the traditions of the fathers. Such institutions, resting upon mere human authority, have supplanted those of divine appointment. Men cling to their traditions, and revere their customs, and cherish hatred against those who seek to show them their error. … In place of the authority of the so-called fathers of the church, God bids us accept the word of the eternal Father, the Lord of heaven and earth. {DA 398.3} 


Let us say that the church makes a trip to the lake on the Sabbath day.  Everyone knows not to go in the water, and if they do, not to go beyond where the water is beyond your knees.  All of a sudden a deacon dives in the water and goes off swimming far into deeper waters.  Can you see the faces of disapproval?  Can you hear the murmuring?  The Elder – trying to assert authority – states categorically, "This is unacceptable.  What kind of testimony is he giving?  We will have to disfellowship him.  This kind of behavior should not be tolerated.  He has shown today what kind of Christian he is."  Everyone said, "Amen!" 


3 minutes later the deacon is seen swimming back to shore.  He is struggling.  He is dragging someone along.  Who could it be?  The elder's face fell and turned read when he realized that the deacon - the elder had just condemned - had saved his daughter.  No one, except the deacon, saw her drift away into the deeper waters of the lake - far beyond where the water hits the knee. Things are not always what they seem.  The intentions of the heart matter.  Needless  to say, there was no mention of disfellowhipping the deacon after that.  Christ said, "It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath" (Mark 3: 4).

Raul Diaz