We all love our family traditions, particularly those traditions that we observe during the major holidays. We dress in our finest spring outfits for Easter. We have a big family cookout before popping of a lot of fireworks for 4th of July. We gather around the family table for Thanksgiving. We go to a candle-light service on Christmas Eve before polishing off a couple of rounds of spiked eggnog. Our kids wake up early on Christmas morning to open a mound of presents before we gather around the family table for another feast. We stay up late on New Year’s Eve to watch the great ball in Times Square drop signaling the ringing-in of a new year. These all seem like beautiful traditions, but what if there was a dark-side to each of these events? Would we really still love these traditions in spite of the dark-side?
Two thousand years ago, our Lord’s favorite pests, the scribes and Pharisees, came to Him and asked Him why His disciples didn’t keep their traditions. It seems that they “forgot” to wash their hands before they ate. He pointed out an even bigger problem with their traditions to them.
Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 7 You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
8 “‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
The Pharisees were a Jewish religious sect that emphasized “personal-holiness” based on law-keeping. God had given a fairly-detailed set of laws through Moses known as the Torah. The Pharisees weren’t content with merely keeping the laws in the Torah, they thought that God had left quite a few “important” things out, so they compiled an even more detailed set of laws known as the Oral Torah, alias “the traditions of the Elders“. A couple of problems with “the traditions of the Elders” was that the Pharisees thought that their laws were on par with God’s laws, and if there was a conflict between “the traditions of the elders” and God’s laws, their “traditions” always won out. They saw no problem with disobeying God’s law to keep theirs, and this is the problem Jesus pointed out in this passage.
They would count out spice-leaves for their tithe while their brothers and sisters went hungry, and they expected Jesus and His disciple to wash their hands before dinner while their ignored their responsibility to take care of their parents. Neither counting spice-leaves nor washing their hands before dinner were in God’s laws, but feeding the hungry and taking care of their parents definitely was.
The Pharisees are still alive and well today, although very few are Jewish. They can be found in almost every Evangelical church and they have made their presence felt even in the chambers of city councils and county commissions. I grew up in a very legalistic church environment, and since my dad was a pastor, I saw the worst of it. Do any of these ring a bell?
Ladies – Keep your necklines high and your hemlines low.
Ladies – You may only wear a skirt or a dress to church.
Ladies – You must wear some kind of head-covering in church.
Girls and ladies are forbidden to wear any type of two-piece bathing-suit, and all bathing suits must be “modest”. Swimwear from http://www.swimsuitmodest.com/ would fit their prescription.
Men – You are expected to be in a suit and tie, or at least a sport-coat and tie when you come to church.
Members may NOT drink any alcoholic beverage. The ONLY exception is the Communion wine.
Members may NOT use any tobacco product.
Dancing is sex standing-up.
Playing pool is sinful.
Gambling is sinful.
Rock music is evil.
If you think that I am making this stuff up, this was just the tip of the iceberg when I was growing up, and many church have an even more extensive set of rules. The anti-nudity ordinance in Polk County, Florida, where I live, even has a “bikini–regulation” which specifies how much of a woman’s anatomy must be covered up to be “legal“. The purpose behind all these rules and regulations is to enforce/protect the “morality” of either church-members or county residents. Churches and county commissions have taken it upon themselves to be “morality-police“, and all of this is based on “the traditions of the elders“, because none of it is in the Bible.
I am thankful that I belong to a church which affirms that the Bible is our ONLY guide for faith and life. Legalism never brings about true holiness. Only God, working in our lives, can truly make us holy.
Which is more important to you, “the traditions of the elders“, or the Bible?