Is Tradition an Adequate Standard for Religious Practices (part 3)

One of the arguments that is used to defend church tradition as a source of religious authority is that the Bible speaks regarding traditions that the apostles held. It is pointed out that in 2 Thessalonians 3:6 Paul demands that Christians walk in submission to the traditions that they received from the apostles. Moreover, others point out that the language used in 1 Corinthians 15:1-3 and 1 Corinthians 11:23 (particularly in the words “received” and “delivered”) that Paul was passing along traditions that ought to be respected. Those who argue for such then state something to the effect that if there were apostolic traditions recorded in the New Testament that must be observed, then there were also apostolic traditions handed down orally that must also be observed as well. Does the Bible teach that there are some good traditions and that we must observe such in our lives?

First, there is no doubt that the apostles expected first century (and beyond) believers to accept their words as gospel truth. Acts 2:42 states, “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles� doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.” We have an obligation today to continue in the apostles’ doctrine as well. But notice this: the obligation is to continue in the APOSTLES’ doctrine, not what someone else SAYS to be the apostles’ doctrine. The only way to KNOW what the apostles’ doctrine was, is to go back to the things that the apostles themselves said and wrote. This entails acknowledging the source documents as authoritative, but not necessarily secondary sources.

Second, we must remember that during the first century, men and women were directly inspired by the Holy Spirit to speak the gospel message. Jesus said to the apostles in John 16:13 “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.” Much of the inspired teaching that occurred in New Testament times was oral in nature. Jesus taught the apostles orally. The apostles, in turn, taught the first Christians orally. It wasn’t very long, however, before the inspired began to write down their Holy Spirit given messages to be preserved for all Christians everywhere. However, the quality of being inspired isn’t the same as receiving and delivering tradition. Inspiration can’t be wrong; one’s uninspired reception and delivery of tradition CAN be wrong. Herein lies the difference. Yes, individuals were expected to obey apostles and any other individuals who could PROVE they were inspired of God. But once inspiration ceased, the obligation to accept tradition as authoritative ceased as well.

Third, there is no evidence to suggest that the apostles wanted men to believe a succession of church leaders over the inspired words that they spake and wrote. In fact, Paul made it clear that he expected no one to believe anything less than what he himself directly received from the Lord. In Galatians 1:11,12 he wrote, “But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” We can understand Paul to say here that the message he taught was given to him directly by God and that he held no expectation for anyone to believe anything less than that. His teaching and preaching wasn’t “after man” nor did he “receive it of man” nor was he “taught it” by man. The meaning is clear; Christians have no obligation to respect such teaching when it does not contain authority that is directly from God Himself.

Finally, we can be confident that in these documents they recorded everything that they taught orally. Paul told Timothy that everything that he needed to know to be a faithful man of God was found in the scriptures (2 Timothy 3:15-17). Peter said that everything that the Christian needed for life and godliness they had through the knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:3). We know that Jesus promised that His words would never pass away (Matthew 24:35). When we couple these facts with the truth that God always keep his promises (Hebrews 6:17,18), we have irrefutable evidence that the scriptures are all that we need in order to live the kind of lives that God wants us to live today.

Yes there was authoritative tradition in the first century, but the authority in that “tradition” ended with the apostles and inspired teachers of the first century. That authority was not handed down to uninspired successors who then were able to preach and teach their own traditions and etc. until the present day. The only obligation we have as Christians is to obey what the apostles and inspired teachers preached and taught and that obligation comes not from the fact that they were apostles and teachers, but from the fact that it was the Holy Spirit Himself who was giving them the teaching! Let us acknowledge the Holy Spirit’s authority to teach and deny it to all man made traditions whether they come from the past or present or whether they will be invented within the future. Catholic tradition holds no inherent authority in and of itself. Only the scriptures can supply us with everything for life and godliness.

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Is Tradition an Adequate Standard for Religious Practices? (part 2)

Second, the Bible makes it clear that God’s revelation to man was only for the time that the church was initially being built until such a time as the complete will of God was revealed. In 1 Corinthians 13:8-10 Paul wrote:

Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

Directly inspired prophecies, knowledge, and tongues were for a limited time. They were never intended to be a permanent part of the work of the church. Paul wrote during a time when Christians did not have a complete set of documents that they could call the New Testament, though, they did have the directly inspired teachings of the apostles and prophets. However, the miraculous nature of these offices were going to cease when the unity of the faith was revealed (Ephesians 4:11-13).

Moreover, such ability to receive the Holy Spirit and exercise said miraculous gifts were only available through the personal laying on of the apostles hands. Philip the evangelist converted many people in Samaria to Christ, but it wasn’t until Peter and John came up into that area that these converts could receive the Holy Spirit and the ability to perform miracles (Acts 8:14-17). Paul’s converts also couldn’t perform such miracles until he had laid his hands upon them (Acts 19:6). The ability to lay hands upon another so that they would receive a spiritual gift was not granted to just anyone. Only Jesus’ specifically chosen apostles had such authority (Acts 8:18-21).

And such authority was confirmed by the miracles which they did (Mark 16:20, Hebrews 2:3,4). They restored the maimed to health, immediately. They raised the dead. They walked on water. They miraculously punished the wicked. These were things that could be clearly distinguished from that which was natural. Paul wrote that their words were confirmed with power of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:4). Yet we are supposed to believe that Pope John Paul II healed someone because he laid his hands on him and then after several months the individual recovered? That’s substandard to the quality of miracle that Jesus performed and ought to be rejected. Where are the miraculous deeds done by the Catholic Church that were done by the apostles and prophets of the first century? They are non-existent. The Catholic Church simply cannot prove that their words have the same authority as the apostles’.

The Holy Spirit guided these miraculously aided men into all truth, as Jesus promised (John 16:13) and the result of such was that they were able to record these inspired truths in documents that would be preserved for all ages also per Jesus promise (Matthew 24:35). We have these words today without corruption in the pages of the New Testament. Taking these words, studying them, and applying them to our lives is all that we need in order to be faithful Christians today (2 Timothy 3:16,17). Hence, the Catholic magisterium contains no more religious authority than what any other man may have, which is really none.

Third, it is clear from the scripture that man’s authority never has been on equal footing with God. The writer of Proverbs declared, “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” In fact, it is consistently condemned in scripture as a viable standard for behavior. Jeremiah the prophet wrote, “O LORD, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). Isaiah also declared that man’s standard for right and wrong doesn’t cut it with God. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8,9). More often than not, man gets spiritual matters wrong, than right.

This last point is clearly proved through the history of the Catholic Church in the very magisterium that is claimed to be infallible. Time and time again, the Catholic Church contradicts itself over its own doctrines. It was once wrong and sinful for the good Catholic to eat meat on Fridays and during the traditional time of “lent.” Yet now it is no longer held as sinful, but merely out of keeping with a more spiritual way. It was once strictly held that for Catholic priests to marry was sinful. Yet now, it is held that it is not necessarily sinful for them to marry, merely not convenient for them to so do and maintain their personal duties. It was once acknowledged that the pope’s words were fallible; yet now, it is stated that his words are infallible. It was once thought that the sale of indulgences in the Catholic church was a legitimate practice. Yet now it is held in scorn. It was once held by the Catholic church that religious warfare in the name of God was a righteous thing to do. But today, the Catholic church’s position on war is more or less that of a pacifist. If Catholic tradition is so infallible and authoritative as is claimed, then why all of the errors, corrections, modifications, reversals, and amendments? It simply cannot be stated that such these things were due to the current cultural conditions of the time. Marriage has been around since Adam and Eve. The eating of meat nearly as long. The office of the pope has been around for over a thousand years. Does culture dictate his fallibility or infallibility? Carnal warfare has been known since the time of Cain and Abel. Was it right to go to war for religious reasons during the middle ages but wrong to do so today? Where is the consistency in these so called infallible traditions?

The tradition of the Catholic Church is no more than man’s opinion compiled over a long period of time. The length of time does not change the fact that these are simply man’s opinions and not God’s. And one man’s opinion has no more authority than any other’s. The teachings of the Pope have no more true authority than the teachings of a rice farmer in China. Man’s thoughts are all equal with one another, but they are not equal with God’s. The prophet asks, “To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?” (Isaiah 46:5). The answer is returned, “Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure” (Isaiah 46:9,10). Man’s tradition simply is NOT an adequate standard for religious practices. We ought not be satisfied with anything other than that which has been proved to be God’s word, the inspired scriptures that constitute the Bible.

To be continued….

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When Judges Pervert Justice

When one reads through the Old Testament prophets one picks up on the theme that judges ought to be righteous in their judgments. Isaiah pleads with them: “Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). Jeremiah scolds them: “They are waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge” (Jeremiah 5:28). Micah preaches to them:

“Hear this, I pray you, ye heads of the house of Jacob, and princes of the house of Israel, that abhor judgment, and pervert all equity. They build up Zion with blood, and Jerusalem with iniquity. The heads thereof judge for reward, and the priests thereof teach for hire, and the prophets thereof divine for money: yet will they lean upon the LORD, and say, Is not the LORD among us? none evil can come upon us. Therefore shall Zion for your sake be plowed as a field, and Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the mountain of the house as the high places of the forest.” (Micah 3:9-12)

When we think of the standard for Moses recalls setting the standard for righteous judgment in Deuteronomy 1:16, “And I charged your judges at that time, saying, Hear the causes between your brethren, and judge righteously between every man and his brother, and the stranger that is with him.” Moses also tells us that the point of having judges to begin with is to uphold that which is right and condemn that which is wrong. He writes, “If there be a controversy between men, and they come unto judgment, that the judges may judge them; then they shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked” (Deuteronomy 25:1). Seemingly more and more, however, judges in our country are condemning the righteous and justifying the wicked. Indeed, if a judge does not judge righteously then state corruption and anarchy are the ultimate results.

Lest we think that judges in our country are blameless in this regard, consider the case of Robert Harlan, a man convicted of rape and murder in Colorado 10 years ago. During the sentencing phase, the judge in the case instructed the jury to make an “individual moral assessment.” Taking this to heart, several jurors researched Bible passages and discussed them with other jurors during deliberation. Based upon these deliberations, the man was sentenced to death. Recently, however, the Colorado Supreme Court reviewed the case and found (by a vote of 3 to 2) that the jurors had acted improperly in so consulting the Bible. The man’s sentence was changed to life without parole simply because the jurors consulted the Bible in making their own “individual moral assessment.” Is this justifying the righteous and condemning the wicked? It is just the opposite.

In contrast, consider the case over which America has been gripped this past week, Terri Schiavo. Here is a woman who could have lived and been cared for by parents who loved her, but because of the actions of one man and many judges, was starved to death over a period of twelve days. What kind of judge would allow someone to take food and water away from the weak, needy, and defenseless? In contrast to a man guilty of murder who will now live the rest of his natural life and be cared for at the expense of the taxpayer, this woman was, more or less, sentenced to death simply because she was disabled and could not express her desire to live. Even noted liberal Jesse Jackson said, “I feel so passionate about this injustice being done, how unnecessary it is to deny her a feeding tube, water, not even ice to be used for her parched lips.” He then said, “This is a moral issue and it transcends politics and family disputes.” I couldn’t agree with him more, yet the judges that reviewed this case and intervened in this situation failed to see what Jackson clearly saw, namely, that we have a moral obligation to help, not destroy, the weak. Again we ask, is this justifying the righteous and condemning the wicked? It obviously is not!

David understood the potential havoc that a corrupt judiciary could wreak upon a nation. He wrote about it in Psalm 82. David pleas for justice, but ultimately concludes that in the face of wicked judges, God will ultimately judge a nation. (Please note that “the gods” in this passage refers to Israel’s judiciary.)

“God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods. How long will ye judge unjustly, and accept the persons of the wicked? Selah. Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy. Deliver the poor and needy: rid them out of the hand of the wicked. They know not, neither will they understand; they walk on in darkness: all the foundations of the earth are out of course. I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes. Arise, O God, judge the earth: for thou shalt inherit all nations.”

What will happen if our judges continue to condemn the righteous and justify the wicked? God says through Jeremiah, “Shall I not visit for these things? saith the LORD: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?” (Jeremiah 5:29). I’m afraid for our country and what God will do to her should we continue on the course that our judiciary is currently taking us and God would be right in so destroying us if that’s where we’re headed.

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