By Larry Ray Hafley
The title of our essay from the pen of the peerless apostle Paul is especially pertinent to any consideration of Matthew 15:1-20.
In this text, Jesus calls the tradition of the Jews “your tradition” and the “commandments of men.” These traditions were sacred, hallowed rites that claimed Divine authorship and had been for ages and generations most minutely and meticulously observed. Jesus, the Truth, goes to the core of these religious rituals. He shows that the traditions of the fathers had their origin or source in men, their result in making worship vain and the word void, and their end in condemnation. “Every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up.”
The Lord was approached and reproached for the behavior of his disciples. “Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread.” Jesus fully dealt with this charge. First, he charges their tradition with transgression. Secondly, he says it is “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man.”
“It Is A Gift”
“For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.” Two things inhere here. ( 1) God requires honor, blessing, or care of children for their parents. This is positive duty. (2) God specifies a condemnation of those who fail to perform their responsibility to their parents, and should one even curse father or mother, “let him die the death.” However, the Jewish tradition said that if one consecrated his savings to the temple or to some other service of God, he was released from the responsibility of succoring or honoring his parents. “It was further ruled that if a son, from any motive whatever pronounced any aid to his parents to be corban (that is to say, a gift -Mk. 7:11), he was thenceforward precluded from affording them help” (Pulpit Commentary). So, their tradition offset or made void the word of God.
All traditions of men have this same fatal flaw. It matters not how highly a practice is venerated or how piously it has been perpetuated, if it is not in the revealed word of the Lord it makes worship vain and the word void. “Infant baptism” is an example. It appears to be an innocent tradition. What harm can there be, though it be not taught in the Scripture, of sprinkling an infant? Volumes have been written on this theme, but briefly, this “innocent” tradition contradicts the nature of the New Covenant. The New Testament includes those who know the Lord, who have the Lords laws in their hearts. It encompasses those who will not have to be taught to “Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest” (Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8:8-11). Baby baptism excludes and precludes other scriptural acts which are to precede immersion; namely, faith, repentance, and confession (Mk. 10: 16; Acts 2:38; Rom. 10:9, 10). This is a second serious indictment and conviction. So. infant sprinkling is not innocent, but guilty. It is not harmless, but deadly (Matt. 15:8. 9, 1:3).
Mechanical instruments and other corruptions of the worship of the church after the New Testament order are other items that stand accused and accursed as human traditions that should be steadfastly exposed and opposed.
Perversions of the work and organization of local churches are likewise the result of human appendages being fused and joined to the New Testament structure. Charging the church with works not assigned to it are traditions of men. Supplying the church with additional activity naturally forges the necessity for supplementing it with further organizational arrangements, all of which are devised, designed and delivered by men.
But a tradition of men, whether it comes from within or without the faith, is a pollution of the Divine order. The Divine arrangement is perfect and any change is essentially a change for the worse. A human alteration is a Divine abomination.
The lesson of Matthew 15 and of all Scripture is that traditions of men render it impossible for one to please God. A tradition of men nullifies the word of God. Further, every tradition of God must be diligently observed and preserved. It remains for all who love the Lord and who want to go to heaven to reject the traditions of their fathers and to return to the traditions of the Father as revealed in the word of God.
TRUTH MAGAZINE XVII: 14, pp. 7-8
February 8, 1973