Recall our previous discussion about natural law, moral law, civil law and ceremonial law? Our working theory is that each level of law (with natural law at the top) is intended to support or explain the higher level of law. We know, however, that this does not square with what we observe in life. Some civil laws are clearly contrary to moral and natural law. Humans substitute their own judgment for that of God. We see the disasters which follow. How do we deal with the failure of human lawmakers? Let's dive into our study of the Bible and see what we can learn!
Key Thought : While tradition has its place in the church, no human has the authority to create religious traditions and elevate them to the level of Divine law.gless03=2014b
[Lesson plan for Christ and Religious Tradition April 14, 2014]
1. Have a volunteer read Matthew 15:8,9.
a. Ask class members to share a thought on what the most important point in this text is.
b. Why are traditions important, and what role do they have in our community?
c. Personal Application: What are some traditions that we as Seventh-day Adventists follow? Are they important, or do they divert us from Godâ€™s truth? Share your thoughts.
d. Case Study: One of your relatives states: â€œWhy does your church have the order of service that it does? Have you changed it much? If you did, would people be upset?.â€ How would you respond to your relative?
2. Have a volunteer read Matthew 23:1-7.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the most important point is in this passage.
b. We have a tendency to exalt and revere our spiritual leaders in the church. But how do we help them from becoming prideful, egotistical, and lifted up?
c. Personal Application: Have you ever experienced a boss or leader who gave good advice but didnâ€™t follow it themselves or model it as they should? Share.
d. Case Study: One of your neighbors states, â€œAll the ministers are hypocrites. They talk about following Christ, but all they seem to want is money, prestige, and power. They are more in love with the world than the unbelievers.â€ How would you respond to your neighbor?
3. Have a volunteer read Matthew 15:1-6.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
b. What are some ways that people â€œrationalizeâ€ breaking Godâ€™s law? Are any of these â€œlegitimateâ€ reasons?
c. Personal Application: What traditions do you see in your culture that by keeping are in opposition to Godâ€™s law and will? Share.
d. Case Study: One of your friends states, â€œMany pastors are working so hard to serve the churches that they sometimes neglect their own families. How can they balance the demands of the Conference, their church functions, their church members, outreach, and their own families?â€ How would you respond to your friend?
4. Have a volunteer read Matthew 5:17-20.
a. Ask class members to share a short thought on what the main idea of this text is.
b. Is Jesus saying we should be better law-keepers than the Pharisees? Or was He saying something different? Share your thoughts.
c. Personal Application: Have you ever been guilty of being critical of others for not following Christâ€™s teachings perfectly in some way? Share.
d. Case Study: Think of one person who needs to hear a message from this weekâ€™s lesson. Tell the class what you plan to do this week to share with them.
(Note : â€œTruth that is not lived, that is not imparted, loses its life-giving power, its healing virtue. Its blessings can be retained only as it is shared.â€ MH p. 149.
Christ and Religious Tradition
Commentary for the April 19, 2014 Sabbath School Lesson
“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.” Matthew 15:8-9, NIV
When I attended a Seventh-day Adventist college back in the 1970s, my wife and I lived in a run-down apartment complex that had a disproportionately large percentage of theology students compared to other student housing around the campus. Perhaps this was because theology students are proverbially poor in this world’s goods. Considering the lack of benefits, meaningful retirement plans and low-level compensation maybe this was preparation for things to come. Back then, when my engine blew a head gasket from all the miles travelled between churches in the high heat while pastoring one summer in Kansas, I had to do the repairs myself. While some enjoy automotive work as a hobby, working under a shade tree in hundred degree heat to replace a head gasket was far from enjoyable. I had to do the job twice because I did it incorrectly the first time due to my lack of experience.
But before that experience and back at the college, as sundown each Friday approached, normal activities would cease, and more often than not, we would all sit in our front yards watching each other, afraid to do much for fear that what we were doing might be seen as transgressing the sacred hours of the Sabbath. The vehicles had all been washed, and the casseroles for Sabbath dinner had been made. Everything had been prepared for church in the morning. Now we were left to our own devices until Sabbath Eve vespers at the college church.
One activity that was never challenged was a neighborhood game of Frisbee catch. For some reason, this had received popular endorsement as a proper Sabbath pastime. We could not play catch with a football or a baseball without catching the evil eye of some saint who felt it was most improper, but the Frisbee was apparently blessed. We tried to understand why this was so. We thought that maybe the pointed ends of the football or the hardness of the baseball made it too dangerous to toss about on Sabbath, but anyone who has ever been hit by the hard edge of a flying Frisbee can tell you that can cause injury to the inattentive as well. We failed to come up with a rationale for Frisbee acceptance. We found it difficult to conceive of a God looking down and seeing people playing on Sabbath and starting to judge them for it and then saying, “Oh, it’s alright! It’s just a Frisbee.” Maybe Wham-o missed an endorsement opportunity here. Imagine the cachet of being able to claim your product was approved by God.
To be sure, there are those who would remove any opportunity for pleasurable recreation from the hours of the Sabbath citing the prophet Isaiah.[i] However, it may be hard to love a God that is always looking to zap people who are innocently having a good time. People may have unknowingly represented such a God to their children when they restricted their pleasure without any real biblical precedent for such strictures. A case in point would be those parents who would tell their children they had to stay out of the water on Sabbath because God wouldn’t like it, or even worse telling their children they could wade, but swimming was out of the question. To enforce this they would roll up their children’s pant legs and admonish them if the bottoms of the legs got wet they would be considered Sabbath breakers. It is strange to think that God would love nothing better than to catch naughty little children with pants legs that had gotten damp on the Sabbath.
All of this legalism, for that is what it was, would have been bad enough if it were based on the Ten Commandments or some other biblical precept, but worse, it was based on traditions that had arisen out of an improper understanding of the role of the commandments for the Christian. Today, we laugh about the Jews who had to fasten a handkerchief to their garments before Sabbath instead of carrying one on Sabbath. Fastened to the clothing it became clothing and thus not a separate burden. Yet as ridiculous as this may seem is it any more so than the examples I have already cited? This all distorts the character of God and alienates those who would otherwise be drawn close to Him. By our traditions, we build walls that prevent people from approaching God and finding out who He really is.
The Seventh-day Adventist denomination has become extremely good at this. For instance, in the past, even though there is no biblical command to do so,[ii] they have advocated a vegetarian diet as essential to a full spiritual experience. Often this took the form of a lacto-ovo vegetarian diet. Dairy and eggs were allowed to insure adequate balance to the diet. Now, however, for many it is not enough of a spiritual experience to reach that level. Some are going so far as to maintain a vegan diet is essential, and some beyond that are advocating a paleo-diet where nothing is cooked. I even knew someone who became convinced that it was necessary to only eat the vegan diet twice per day at certain hours, and if others, family or visitors, did not eat at those times, he refused to eat with them or even come to the table to talk, his tradition had such a hold over him. All of this is derived from the idea that God desires for us to enjoy good health. Something appears to get lost in the interpretation of that standard, however. We work long hours each day of the week, sitting on our rears before a computer screen in poorly ventilated work places receiving little opportunity for exercise, sunshine and fresh air, then on Sabbath we are expected to do the same for hours in a church building, but then we take pride in how healthy we are because we are vegans. Does anyone else sense a disconnect here?
Some might say that we have Sunday to do all that outdoor fun and games. But that is not biblical either as the very commandment we claim to be honoring with our traditions commands us to work six days a week.[iii] Some feel that the Sabbath hours should be used only for benevolent works such as helping others or introducing them to Jesus. But in our modern world with a five-day work week, maybe we have things backwards. Perhaps we should enjoy restorative recreational activities on the Sabbath and do the benevolent work on Sundays. Why restrict benevolence to Sabbath? Is it a greater sin to enjoy restful outdoor activities on the Sabbath or to seek our own pleasure on Sunday when the commandment has ordered us to work? If we must work, what greater work could there be than to emulate Jesus’ benevolence toward others in that work?
For many centuries, the Jews hid themselves behind the wall of their traditions to protect themselves from the pagan influences in the rest of the world. This hindered their ability to adequately represent the character of God to that world. Eventually, it even distorted their own perception of God to the point that they could not recognize the Son of God who came in the character of God as was prophesied.[iv] This was the case even though He came as a Jew among the Jews. Perhaps we are in danger of failing to recognize the character of God as well. As a result, we can fail to emulate it in our characters and may fail to see or appreciate it when it is emulated in others.
When we faithfully show up in church each week, yet choose not to socialize with our friends and neighbors because we see our lives and theirs as being too far apart for such familiarity, do we truly believe we are representing the same Jesus who sat talking with a Samaritan woman on a hot day by the town well?[v] That woman’s response to his initial request for a drink illustrates how high the wall of tradition had become that prevented conversations like the one Jesus was now having with her. Yet in His willingness to overcome tradition to breach that barrier was the seed of a promise of salvation for many, both on that day and in the future when thousands would come to enjoy a relationship with God in a single day.[vi]
Perhaps we should ask ourselves if our extra-biblical traditions are a help or a hindrance to introducing others to a loving God who desires above all else to do what is necessary to save and restore His relationship with His people. He wanted it so much that He would rather die in the person of Jesus than lose it.[vii] In a sense, He was crucified on those traditions to build a bridge over the gulf they had created between God and man.
[i] Isaiah 58:13-14
[ii] Romans 14:17
[iii] Exodus 20:8-11
[iv] John 1:9-11
[v] John 4:1-42
[vi] Acts 2:41
[vii] John 3:16-17
"Christ and Religious Tradition"
April 15, 2014
Texts: Matthew 23:1-7; Matthew 15:1-6; Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 5:17-20; Romans 10:3
There is a website called, "Stupid Laws" whose sole purpose is to research and publish laws that seem . . . well . . . stupid.1 The site even has a section of old religious laws that seem a bit unbelievable. But they were tradition. For example:
Kentucky: Any person who displays, handles or uses any kind of reptile in connection with any religious service or gathering shall be fined not less than fifty dollars ($50) nor more than one hundred dollars ($100).
Washington: It used to be illegal to interrupt a religious meeting by having a horse race.
Nebraska: If a child burps during church, his parent may be arrested.
Boston: It is illegal to eat peanuts in church.
Alabama: It is illegal to wear a fake mustache if it causes laughter in church.
Delaware: One may not whisper in church.
Ohio: It's against the law to kill a housefly within 160 feet of a church without a license.
South Carolina: Merchandise may not be sold within a half mile of a church unless fruit is being sold.
These laws may seem a bit ridiculous or rigid to us today, but in their time they held meaning. And some of their principles still remain. We may not need to worry about our religious meetings being interrupted by a horse race, but church still isn't the place to shell and eat peanuts!
Although we wouldn't call them "stupid laws" the scribes and Pharisees, as we learned in this week's lesson, tended to major in minors when it came to the law. And "somewhere along the way the minor laws began to take on major status, and after a while it was difficult to distinguish the traditional from the biblical." Thursday's lesson calls it, "Excessive Righteousness."
Take, for instance, the story in Matthew 15 when the Pharisees were aghast that the disciples didn't wash their hands before they ate. "Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 'Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!'" This is a good example of a law that was hygienic, but that in no way brought salvation. Only Jesus could do that.
Jesus said in Matthew 5:20, "'For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.'" Why was this? What was missing in the scribes and Pharisees? They placed traditional laws over God's laws. So theirs was a righteousness based on works -not on faith in Jesus.
After the Pharisees had rebuked the disciples, Jesus called them hypocrites, and then said, "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.'"
It's clear what Jesus is saying here. Our lips and hearts need to be connected.
So He [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read.Â And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written:
â€œThe Spirit of theÂ LordÂ isÂ upon Me,
Because He has anointed Me
To preach the gospel toÂ theÂ poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty toÂ theÂ captives
And recovery of sight toÂ theÂ blind,
ToÂ set at liberty those who are oppressed;
To proclaim the acceptable year of theÂ Lord.â€ Luke 4:16-19
In the parables which Christ had spoken, it was His purpose both to warn the rulers and to instruct the people who were willing to be taught. But there was need to speak yet more plainly. Through their reverence for tradition and their blind faith in a corrupt priesthood, the people were enslaved. These chains Christ must break. Ellen White, Desire of Ages, p 611, 612
How tragically ironic that a people who religiously observed the Passover representing God’s deliverance of an enslaved people from Egypt could not comprehend they were just as enslaved to false teachings and needless traditions of men. Christ came to set them free from traditions that under a guise of righteousness were nothing more than cunningly devised methods of control that led away from the truth.
The religious rulers who longed to be free from the dominance of the Roman power were meanwhile unscrupulously dominating those that revered them as godly leaders. While they were looking for a Messiah to deliver them from bondage they would plot to kill the Messiah who came to deliver them from sin.
This week as we look at Christ and Religious Tradition we come face to face with one of the greatest helps or hindrances to spiritual growth. As recorded in Matthew 23 Christ pulls back the curtain on the Pharisees who sat in Moses’ seat. He revealed the hypocrisy that ran rampant through the leadership. He exposed the pride of the natural heart that found its way of expression through so-called prayers and public exhortations.
Christ’s full assault against the debilitating traditions of the Pharisees was more than a discussion over preferences to worship styles and practices that governed society. This was not a matter of finding more modern relevant ways of serving and worshiping God. This indictment of their traditions was deeper than that. Eternal life weighed in the balance.
Â â€œIâ€™ve had it with you! Youâ€™re hopeless, you religion scholars, you Pharisees! Frauds! Your lives are roadblocks to Godâ€™s kingdom. You refuse to enter, and wonâ€™t let anyone else in either.” Matthew 23:13 The Message
It’s really quite stunning when you think about it. Instead of being seduced by heathen gods and practices, the people were being seduced by their own. The enemy was within the camp. But thanks be to God who provides salvation to all, including those who thought they didn’t need it, Christ came to set captives free.
What about today? What about our religious traditions and maxims of man? Are they roadblocks to God’s kingdom or helps? Are we fostering godliness or creating incubators for spiritual pride? Will we debate style over substance? Sabbath school should be very interesting this week!
Here are a fewÂ Hit the MarkÂ questions for this weekâ€™s lesson discussion:
What does “tradition” mean to you?
What is the difference between a good tradition and a bad tradition?
Some say Jesus left us an example of compliance to religious laws and norms and traditions. Is that true? Why or why not?
Isn’t it true that unless a religious tradition clearly violates principle we should comply? Why or why not?
Isn’t it true that we should discard traditions that are not relevant to today’s society, i.e. young people and unchurched? Why or why not?
Isn’t it true that the best way to attract new members is to make our church traditions and practices more modern? Why or why not?
We close this week with an insightful exchange over the role of highly-regarded traditions alarmingly disregarded by Christ and His disciples:
Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, â€œWhy do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?â€ He answered and said to them,Â â€œWell did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written:
â€˜This people honors Me withÂ theirÂ lips,
But their heart is far from Me.
And in vain they worship Me,
TeachingÂ asÂ doctrines the commandments of men.â€™
For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of menÂ —the washing of pitchers and ccups, and many other such things you do.â€ He said to them,Â â€œAll tooÂ well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. Mark 7:5-9
[Thought questions for Christ and Religious Tradition April 16, 2014]
Image Â© Jeff Preston from GoodSalt.com
Image Â© Jeff Preston from GoodSalt.com
1. Intro.Â We like to think that “other” churches teach the doctrines of men while “our” church believes in doctrines that are 100% from God. Is it possible for “our” church members today to prefer hand-me-down beliefsÂ to the clear Word of God? Is it wrong to have religious traditions in our homes? If not, what sort of religious traditions do you believe would be most helpful to God’s people today?
2. Sitting in Moses’ seat. Did the scribes and Pharisees have good reason to monitor the teachings of the people to be sure they conformed to the law?Â Does it matter ifÂ weÂ recognize the mistakes of othersÂ before weÂ overcome the underlying problems first? Why or why not? The story is told of a minister long agoÂ whoÂ wouldÂ ease his way to the TV set in a home he was visiting on Sabbath and feel to see if it was warm. Is it wrong to search for errors by fellow Christians in order to make it right?
3. Human commandments. Logic was that if the Jewish people would follow minor requirements, they would automatically follow the major ones. What is the natural result of this belief? What is wrong with that logic? Sometimes students at our boarding schools begin thinking that the faculty enforces rules of livingÂ as if they were God’s law.Â Where do such thoughts lead? AreÂ “human commandments” necessary in ourÂ programs for our children?Â If so, why? and to what extent?
5. Majoring in minors. Have you ever had a great idea for your church or Sabbath school class only to be spurned when you tried to present it? Why did people gradually come to regard the rabbinical teachings as equal to Scriptures? Did our friend and prophet Ellen White think of her words as equalÂ or superior to the Bible? Should we? Interpret the following from Lesson 5: “(Jesus)Â was well aware that the Pharisees were majoring in minors.” What does that mean? Do we ever have a similar problem?
6. Precepts of men. What did Jesus mean when He said, “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition”? (Matthew 3:6) Did He mean that hand washing, tithe paying, and other rituals were unholy? sinful? Should we ignore religious rules and traditions that seem illogical? What was the Pharisees’ underlying motive in promoting human-made standards? What was the final effect of such action?
7. Excessive righteousness. If a righteous person isÂ more like God than the rest of us, how can we have “too much”Â righteousness? What about self-righteousness? Or, in some cases at least, righteous indignation? Have you ever been a hypocrite? How easyÂ was it? How can you and I make sure that our hearts are so close to Christ’s that our faith in Him guides us in all the we do?
8. Discussion questions. The discussion questions at the end of the lesson are especially appealing this week. Consider the following based on these questions as you prepare for the Sabbath.
While visiting other Seventh-day Adventist churches, whatÂ traditions do you find that aren’t evident in your home church?
How can you and I wander from righteousness without knowing it? How can we stay out of the “self-righteous rut”?
Would you be upset if items such as the opening hymn, special music, and the offering were placed in an entirely different order–maybe with the offering being first and the special music immediately following the opening hymn? Should you be? What should you do if you don’t like these changes?
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