Mat 15:1-3 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, (2) “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” (3) He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?
Mat 15:8-9 “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; (9) in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
As it was, so it is today. Human beings, in creating their own brand of the religion of Christ, replace His freeing and life-giving Word with their own traditions – the inventions of their own imagination. These distortions of God’s truth always bring bondage and, ultimately, spiritual death. They become a false gospel of justification by works.
The Christian church is not free of this business of replacing God’s Word with traditions. Laws created by man which supposedly earn merit before God, and condemnation if not obeyed. We see this always trying to creep in among us in Christ’s church and in many cases it has largely replaced the gospel itself.
Most of you have seen it in the case of how local churches handle domestic abuse. The “tradition of the elders” takes over so that mercy is replaced with sacrifice. You must get permission from the church to separate from evil. You are required to be counseled by the elders or their appointee. The marriage and family are presented as the highest good, never to be dissolved no matter the cost. I saw a local church the other day with its name in big letters on the building – The Family Life Church. Christ, you see, replaced with worship of the family. I bet we can guess how they would handle domestic abuse among their members!
But you see the point – it is the same point Jesus made to the Pharisees. When man creates his own brand of laws – traditions – they enslave people. Nowhere in the Bible can you find a “law” which requires oppressed victims of a wicked, abusive spouse, to plead with their church for permission to leave. It isn’t there. Churches have assumed an authority that Christ has not given them.
Some years ago I was told by a lady that she was soooo excited because her church leaders had started a new ministry and program to address domestic abuse in the church. She was just sure they had seen the light and that I should be excited about it. But in reviewing the material she sent, I noticed that the pastor and elders still retained the authority (insisting upon it in fact) that abused spouses needed to come under the “authority of the church” and submit their case for approval (presumably approval from God). As soon as I read that I told the lady that inevitably those church leaders were still going to add to the abuse of victims. Because as long as churches set themselves up with an authority God has not given them, the traditions of men will replace the freedom of God’s Word. I, of course, was pronounced to be overly critical and judgmental.
The church does indeed have authority. It has the authority to preach and teach God’s Word – pure and unaltered. It has the authority to confront sin and to deal with unrepentant people who claim to be Christians. The church is to put out of its midst false teachers and members who walk in sin (see 1 Cor 5). But this authority comes from Christ, who is the Head of the church. It must never originate in the imaginations and inventions of man.