Matthew 15

honorI have heard tradition described accurately as giving a vote to our ancestors. As with all principles, the principle which explains the law supersedes it. In Mat 15 Jesus says as much when he says “Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” The Law of God had been equated with the tradition of the Jews. This is the point of the accusation “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?”
In the Pharisee’s minds the traditions were now authoritative and could be sinned against. In other words, a tradition was held coequal to the scripture. This is a problem that persists today as many groups have their “biblical” views and not adhering to these traditions means expulsion or shunning from the group. By Ravi Zacharias’ definition these groups constitute a cult since they add to and deviate from the completed work of Christ. A good, and nearly parallel example would be a family which leaves their children alone in a room unattended so that they can attend a prayer meeting. They do this because they love God, but they undermine this when they neglect the gift God has given to them. Jesus explains an almost identical case in verses 5 and 6 when he says “But you say that if a man says to his father or mother ‘Whatever help you might have received from me is a gift devoted to God’ he is not to ‘honor his father with it.’ Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of tradition. I had a man tell me once if I missed a daily bread meeting to see my mother who has cancer I would love her more than God and when I mentioned we are to honor thy father and mother I was told that Jesus said to hate our father. Thus he nullified the Law for the sake of a tradition.

Jesus words are harsh and direct “You hypocrites!” The second point here is that Jesus realizes the stakes are high and reserves no harsh words, and compromises nothing when dealing with this fall teaching. The disciples even question this asking “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” But Jesus’ response is twofold: first, that judgment will come (verse 13) and since it will come we cannot afford to have the blind leading the long. Jesus often rebukes his disciples, but he reserves his harshest critics for teachers, because they spread teachings and therefore represent true danger. The early church would often put down groups, not because they hated them- but because they wagered that it was better to have a group eradicated than to have the gospel messaged changed and distorted amongst the body of Christ. Although their methods were at times harsh, their aim was the same as Jesus’ in this passage. Right beliefs preclude right action, on the other hand wrong beliefs preclude wrong action. Jesus concludes by teaching both the Pharisees and the disciples the right belief, that our heart is what determines our holiness. He concludes that the ritual does nothing to determine a person’s faith. Righteousness comes by faith, and adherence to any tradition in and of itself is meaningless (Gal 2:21). I have heard people in UBF go so far as to out rightly claim that a person’s spiritual maturity is based on adherence to their traditions. It is fanaticism in its truest. It’s wrong through and through.

A specific tradition may be invaluable to a particular person at a particular time, but it takes a special type of evil to unilaterally decide that that’s the way it ought to be for all. When I think of myself I have to be very careful myself not to fall into this trap. It is easy enough for a person to fall into, but I find the danger only grows with time. Perhaps there is a certain maturity I have yet to reach where I take all of this with the right amount of levity, but I find that I have the same tendency to asset my religiousness over others. The gospels seem clear to me that this is a problem to be fixed, not a feature to be upheld and enshrined.

Forestsfailyou

6 comments

  1. In UBF, it is virtually a law/tradition that the older/oldest senior leader absolutely needs his subordinates (virtually everyone else, except perhaps his own children) to always clear things with him in order to receive his permission, blessing, consent, approval, clearance, etc.

    If you fail to do so, expect some wrath, rebuke, retribution, disapproving comment, “training,” gossip, slander, etc, coming your way. In my opinion, this is driving many mavericks, committed and innovative young people away.

    Is it any wonder why some/many older leaders “hate” UBFriends?? Oh, some also do not like Wikipedia! Apparently, many have repeatedly tried to alter the unfavorable comments about UBF!

    Such accounts are almost as varied as there are UBF chapters: “I had a man tell me once if I missed a daily bread meeting to see my mother who has cancer I would love her more than God and when I mentioned we are to honor thy father and mother I was told that Jesus said to hate our father. Thus he nullified the Law for the sake of a tradition.” – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/08/27/matthew-15/#more-9468

  2. Charles Wilson
    Charles Wilson

    “I had a man tell me once if I missed a daily bread meeting to see my mother who has cancer I would love her more than God and when I mentioned we are to honor thy father and mother I was told that Jesus said to hate our father.”

    This does not surprise me at all, and I fully believe it happened. In fact, a long time ago I also told a sheep a similar thing who went to visit and help his single mother during Sunday worship times. I think I quoted Philippians 2:21. Ouch. I’m so sorry for that.

  3. Thanks for this rather timely article, forests. I want to make sure I understand your points.

    It seems to me that your main point is about the topic of hypocrisy and how it relates to tradition. You seem to be saying that we all need to be aware of this, and that Jesus exposed hypocrisy as a major problem of the Jewish leaders. Is that a fair assessment?

    Hypocrisy

    I like these two statements you made:

    “In the Pharisee’s minds the traditions were now authoritative and could be sinned against. In other words, a tradition was held coequal to the scripture.”

    > This is indeed a major problem, found in many parts of Christendom. Making Tradition and Scripture co-equal is not something I see stemming from Christ’s teachings. What I do see is more of the Wesley Quadrangle, where Tradition, Scripture, Reason and Experience all work together to understand humanity and the world around us. In the Karcher Pentagram, I add the Holy Spirit into the mix. I really think all 5 components need to be weighed in order to avoid the pitfall you point out.

    “They do this because they love God, but they undermine this when they neglect the gift God has given to them.”

    > Great, succinct summary of the religious leader’s main problem! They loved God, but they undermined that love by neglecting the gift of God. That is a powerful statement. In fact, that is a good way to summarize my entire book about to be published. When we were steeped in UBFism, we did love God, but we undermined that love repeatedly. All the good things we experienced at ubf were tainted by this neglect. That is what I rail against.

    • forestsfailyou
      forestsfailyou

      Yeah that is a good assessment. One telling reaction was after the messenger gave a message over this passage, which focused mostly on honoring your parents and having a good heart, someone (not me, my former roommate’s father) asked the messenger if he saw this issue of ubf tradition being like what the pharisees were doing in this passage. The person (I can’t make this up) *laughed* and said “Well UBF is only 50 years old so it doesn’t have traditions.”

  4. Oh and best of luck forests in challenging the marriage-by-faith tradition! If you feel like writing a book afterward, let me know.

  5. “Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” – Mark Twain

    I want to make a tie between this article and the tales of Huckleberry Finn. In “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, the antagonists are Tom Sawyer and Widow Douglas. Huck Finn calls their homes “smothery houses.” While, Tom constantly tells Huck what is “regular,” “considered best,” “the correct thing to do,” i.e. normal tradition. But that is the greatest enemy, complacency, laziness and self-righteousness.

    I like this article because you mention the danger of tradition. Tradition can be the most dangerous enemy because one never notices it; everyone accepts it. It is the hidden poison that is sitting right next to you in church. Just like the the tradition of slavery that lasted for 200 years in the US (Twin abhorred it). It was the status quo.

    I like your last statement, “Perhaps there is a certain maturity I have yet to reach where I take all of this with the right amount of levity, but I find that I have the same tendency to asset my religiousness over others.”

    We will never be perfect on this side of heaven.
    But life is more interesting when there are challenges and growth. Self-development never ends, once it ends we become stagnant and that leads to death.