The argument on whether we should obey and follow only the written Word of God (Scripture) or traditions that have been handed down also has been going on between the Protestants and Catholics (and probably other traditional churches) for a long while. The Protestants would say only the scriptures , the ‘written word’, and the Catholics would say, ‘traditions also’ as the Bible refers to oral traditions also having to be followed besides the scriptures. But what does the Bible really say? Does the Bible say that scripture, the written word is our only authority or does it say something about following traditions also? Is it bible or tradition or both?
TWO KINDS OF TRADITIONS IN SCRIPTURE
What most people don’t understand is that the Bible talks about two kinds of traditions. The Word of God clearly states that there are certain traditions that we can practice:
‘Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle’.(1 Thess 2:15)
‘But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us’. (1 Thess 3:6)
‘Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you’. (1 Cor 11:2)
Looking at the above scriptures it is quite obvious that traditions by themselves are all fine. Some are quick in quoting these scriptures and saying that all tradition is fine.
But, let’s look at another portion of scripture in which Jesus Himself talks about traditions. This is from Mark 7:1-13:
1 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and 2 saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were “unclean,” that is, unwashed. 3 (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. 4 When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)5 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 ‘unclean’ hands?”
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’
8 You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”
9 And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother, and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.e 11 But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban’ (that is, a gift devoted to God), 12 then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.”
In this portion of scripture Jesus is clearly teaching that there are certain traditions that we should not keep or practice and also that the written scripture is more important than traditions. So, studying the scriptures as a whole, we understand that there are traditions that are right and can be kept, but also traditions that are wrong and should not be followed.
How do we decide what traditions can be followed and what should be avoided?
In the first three verses here, Apostle Paul refers to traditions that were handed down by word of mouth, which were traditions that were entirely in line with the written scriptures, because you never find Apostle Paul doing something that is not in line with the rest of the scriptures, and hence can be practiced,. But, Jesus is speaking against those traditions that nullify the Scriptures as they are directly against the Word of God and the command of God.
The primary issue in Mark 7:1-13, as Jesus our Lord states, is the conflict between the traditions of men (tradition of elders/forefathers) and the written Scriptures (the command of God). The Pharisees were more concerned about their traditions than what God had already spoken through His Prophets in the scriptures. The Pharisees approached Jesus complaining of the fact that the disciples were not keeping the traditions of the forefathers. The Pharisees had a book called ‘Mishnah’, which contained the ‘oral traditions’ that had been handed down through generations; these were not part of the original commandmentds God had given to Moses (the clear word of God and the command of God) but were their own set of rules, regulations and practices. And the practice of washing hands as in the above instance was one of them. And, Jesus emphatically stated that it is wrong to nullify the Word of God for the sake of any man made tradition (Mark 7:13).
In any Christian denomination, there are traditions that have been handed down that may not in any way go against the written Scriptures. But, the problem is when a particular tradition is against what is very clearly written in the Bible. What’s the point when the Church, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, has agreed upon the books of the Bible, and declared it to be the WORD OF GOD, and then introduces practices that go against it? Does the Holy Spirit say something once and then later inspire something else exactly opposite?
UNDERSTANDING THE BIBLE
We should always understand what the scripture says as a ‘whole’ and should never build doctrines based on just one or two verses of the Bible. Most of the practices in the Catholic Church are directly in opposition to the written Scriptures. Many doctrines are based on a misunderstanding of one or two scriptures, ignoring completely what the Bible teaches as a ‘whole’ (Ex. Confession of sins to a priest for forgiveness). As the Pharisees had a separate book related to their practices, the Catholic Church seems to be having a separate book of traditions that are not in the Bible – Infant baptism, the mass as a sacrifice of Jesus again and again, keeping of and bowing down before statues, praying to Mary and the saints, confessions, the teaching that Mary remained a virgin even after the birth to Jesus, purgatory and so many more – are all directly against the Word of God and more importantly, against the very purpose of God. These can be said to be scriptural teachings only if we misinterpret or misunderstand the scriptures.
Just to take an example here, infant Baptism is nowhere to be found in the New Testament. Firstly, Baptism has to be by ‘immersing’ an individual fully in water, because the very meaning of the word Baptism is ‘IMMERSE’. A child cannot be immersed. And, if an infant is sprinkled with water it is only ‘sprinkling of water’ and not baptism! In this, the Catholic Church (and certain other churches), is in a ‘fine way’ setting aside the command of God in order to keep their tradition (Mark 7:9). Secondly, it is very clear through the Gospels, and the Acts of the Apostles and the other letters that Baptism is to be taken only by a person who has repented of his sins and has believed in Jesus as His personal savior (Mt 3:13 -17, Mt 28:19, Mk 16,16, Acts 2:37, Acts 2:38,Acts 8:12,13, Acts 8:26-38, Acts 9:17,18,Acts 10:44-48,Acts 16:13-15, Acts 16:30-34, Acts 18:8, Romans 6:3-4 ). And the only scriptures the Catholic Church uses to justify infant Baptism, are the 4 scriptures (Acts 16:25, Acts 16:33-34, Acts 18:8, 1Cor 1:16), that state that entire households (families) were baptized, making an inference from those verses that the families had infants. In the light of plain understanding of what Baptism is and the magnitude of scripture references that show that an individual has to repent and believe in order to be baptized, how can the above scriptures, referring to households, be conclusive evidence? There are so many thousands of households where there are no infants! Moreover, 2 of the above stated 4 scriptures say that ‘all in the household ‘believed’’, which means that none of those who heard were infants! Therefore, this is a misinterpretation for convenience sake.
Then there are some others who believe that just as infants were circumcised under the Old Covenant now infants can be baptized,! This reason stated by some is a clear misunderstanding of the work and the very purpose of God. Circumcision in the Old Testament does not equal to baptism in the New Testament!
Firstly, in the Old Testament, by God’s explicit command to Abraham, the children of Israel were required to enter into a covenant with God through circumcision; but in the New Covenant, the ONLY way of entering into a covenant with God is through the Blood of Jesus. Once an individual has repented and believed in Jesus, and enters into a covenant with God by the washing away of his sins by the precious Blood of Jesus, then he/she needs to be baptized in obedience to God’s command. Secondly, we can never once find Baptism standing by itself in the New Testament; it always follows repentance. There was no such pre-requisite for circumcision; it was always an isolated event. The fact that many Christians have been preaching and teaching for hundreds of years that baptism is the means to enter into the covenant with God does not make it true; the truth is there for any sincere Bible reader to see in the Bible.
Therefore this tradition of infant baptism is in direct opposition to the word and command of God. Jesus said that we cannot let go of the command of God and hold on to the tradition of men (v 8)…no matter how many hundreds of years it has been practiced.
HONORING GOD’S WORD ABOVE ALL ELSE
Each of the traditions mentioned earlier can be studied with the Bible this way and we will find each of it is completely against what the Scripture says. Jesus said that ‘you have a fine way of setting aside the command of God in order to observe your own traditions!’ We cannot just quietly, shrewdly, through ignorance or indifference set aside the Command of God. We cannot play around with what God has said, because Jesus said in John 12:48,
‘He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.
Please remember, that on the day of Judgment you and I will be judged by God’s word, the Scriptures, and not by the traditions passed over to us; because, the written word never changes. Mathew 24:35,
‘Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.’
We need to understand that the Church fathers (Leaders of the early Church up to the fourth century AD) by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit acknowledged the books we find in the Bible to be the Word of God; so, it’s absolutely foolish for us now to be following practices that are against it. The Church is not above the Bible, just as the government is not above the constitution. God and His word are above the Church.
Most people are not bothered about whether a particular practice is in the Word of God at all; they just choose to ignore it. As the Pharisees did they are just blindly following everything that has been handed down to them by their forefathers. They feel it is more important to do what their parents, elders and leaders have taught them than what God Himself states. Look at what Jesus said in Mark 7:6-7,
6 He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
7 They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’
Every time we pray and worship, God looks at us and judges whether we are doing it from our hearts or just with our lips. If our hearts are sincere and yielded to Him in truth, then we will obey His word, the Scriptures, rather than the teachings of men, whether it be our parents, forefathers or leaders. Jesus said, ‘If you love Me, keep My commandments’ (John 14:15). If our concern is only about following rules and rituals taught by men and our hearts are not inclined to obeying His word above all else then He will hear us pray and worship and then declare that our worship is useless and in vain! None of us would want that, would we? Sincerity and devotion in prayer alone is insufficient, we need to hear and obey what God has said in the Bible; it is not enough to read the Bible, we have to obey it!. Jesus said,
21 He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me…(John 14:21)
“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word…(John 14:21)
You may be faced today with this conflict if you have been born and brought up as a Catholic or in any other form of traditional Christianity; I urge you earnestly choose God and His word above all else. Don’t nullify the Word of God by the tradition that has been handed down to you. Don’t honor men above God. There were many people who believed in Jesus but would not follow Him for the fear of being thrown out of the synagogue. In John 12:42-43, we read,
42 Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
When you understand what is true, stand for Jesus Christ and His word. People around might insult you, persecute you and even laugh at you; don’t give in. Don’t be fearful of men don’t look for the praise of MEN rather fear God and look for praise from Him. Only what He thinks about you matters on the Day of Judgment!
‘…Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”’ (Acts 4:19,20)
‘Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.’ (Acts 5:29)
Whom will you please? Who will you obey?