The Folly Of Tradition


The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, and saw some of His disciples eating with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as washing of cups, pitchers and kettles). So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’ (Mark 7: 1-5).

A good plan – to wash hands before eating, especially after being at the market! And as for washing dishes – don’t we do that every day? So what was the issue? The religious types were not critical of Jesus’ disciples for not washing their hands before lunch. They had issues with them for eating with ceremonially “unclean” hands. Their problem was not hygiene but religion.

They were fastidious about keeping the detailed instructions handed down from their sages – the ancient rabbis who spent all their lives debating the meaning of the 613 laws of the Torah, and adding what they considered to be interpretations which were supposed to protect the people from inadvertently transgressing the commandments. The outcome was a top-heavy load of rules that made the ordinary people’s lives intolerably weighed down by so much “do-ing” that they had not time for “be-ing”.

That led to another problem. The emphasis of the rules was so much on the doing or not doing that they lost the implications of the Torah, to show mercy to their fellow beings, both Israelites and foreigners by being generous and kind, like the God they served. They were so self-absorbed in their efforts to be right that they became self-right-eous, and despised those who were not as “holy” as they. The nature of their God was distorted and the ones they were supposed to be influencing toward Him were driven away.

He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’ You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’ (Mark 7: 6-8).

Aha! So this was not new. It was already happening in Isaiah’s day, some six hundred or so years before. It was not new then and it certainly is not new today. Look at some of the additions to Jesus’ simple command to follow Him that have become integrated into the gospel and the Christian way of life. Those who are bent on being true disciples of Jesus might wonder where all that stuff came from.

I have a simple test when it comes to evaluating all the trappings of Christianity. I ask myself the question, “Is this why Jesus came?” Of what value are fancy embroidered robes and sashes, swinging of incense, bowing to altars, wearing of crucifixes, praying to saints and lighting of candles and . . . and . . . and, to people when Jesus only said, “Follow me”? Did He insist that all of that was part of His calling? Did Jesus set up a hierarchy of people so that some are “holier” than others because they have education or a title or wear embroidered robes? What about “That they may be one . . .”?

What about all the other stuff we have added? Some believers in some circles regard other believers in their circles as “second-class” because they don’t speak in tongues, or they haven’t been “baptised” in the Holy Spirit. Where do they find that in the teaching of Jesus? And if there is no being “slain in the Spirit” during ministry, then they say that the Holy Spirit had not “worked”. Really? Who said? Who is the judge?

And what about being called “born-again” believers as though there are two kinds of believers, those who have been born again and those who have not? Jesus told only one man that he had to be “born again” because Nicodemus was a Pharisee. He had such fancy notions about himself that he needed to go back to square one, symbolically, and begin all over again through the power of the Holy Spirit, like beginning life from scratch as a baby in his understanding of God’s way.

Jesus called everyone else to follow Him; to become like Him, to think like Him, to live like Him, to speak and act like He did – to “become” Him so that the world would see what the Father is really like.

Is it any wonder then, that the church in the main is irrelevant in the world? It is no better than any other religion – fragmented, ritualistic and unrealistic, making people slaves to do’s and don’ts just like any other man-made ism.

Jesus came to set people free from all that stuff to become true sons and daughters of God. Over the centuries, rules, rituals and traditions have been so piled on Jesus’ simple call that He has become an unrecognisable caricature of the true Son of God. In some quarters the Bible, God’s Word to His people, has even become a forbidden and hated book! Why? In simple terms, because people love their darkness rather than the light because of their wicked lives.

In some places the church has become nothing less than the temple of Baal – with altars and images all over the place and beads and saints and holy water and every other irrelevancy to draw people away from Jesus. Jesus came as the truth to do away with every picture and symbol so that we can focus completely on Him and Him alone.

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Cor. 3: 18).

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

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Luella Campbell

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