Sadly, I must confess to feeling the overwhelming pressure to write a disclaimer at the beginning of this article. Such an opening statement is not necessary for those individuals who actually know me. But for those who don't, please indulge me in this very brief preface. I believe, preach, teach and live the precepts of the Word of God to the best of my knowledge and ability. Holiness, modesty and moderation have been the tripartite guidepost principle of my Christian life. But, because of the tenor of this article and my often unfortunate understanding of human nature, it is inevitable that someone will question my motive. Please accept that my motive is as simple as this: to stand justified in the eyes of God on my last day and to see as many others as are within my ability to influence stand likewise.
The Pharisees and scribes came to the Lord Jesus at this point in His ministry after He had already fed the multitudes, healed many sick and walked on the surface of the water. In our modern vernacular, we would say that Jesus of Nazareth had established street credit. He had already been rejected at His hometown of Nazareth in spite of the people marveling at His teaching in their synagogue (see Matthew 13:53-58). Add together His teachings with His miracles (which would include the great miracle of the Resurrection) and you have the sum total of all that the Prophets said the Messiah would be. Nevertheless, many did not believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Some rejected Him based upon Scriptural misconceptions (John 7:41) and others because of their presuppositions about His origin (Mark 6:3). Then came the Pharisees and scribes with a most peculiar objection.
"Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?" - Mark 7:5 (NASB)
The supernaturally inspired teaching didn't matter to them nor did the amazing miracles. That His Disciples could vehemently attest to the fact of seeing Jesus walk across the surface of the water was immaterial. Furthermore, the testimony of 5,000 who had been the beneficiaries of the miraculous multiplication of a few fish and bread was not to be considered. The Pharisees and scribes couldn't see past the fact that Jesus' Disciples ate their meals without first washing their hands. From a personal hygiene standpoint their objection was reasonable but, in this case, they were not considering hygiene at all. Instead they found a doctrinal objection to the Disciples' actions. In short, they had taken what could be called a "good idea" and turned it into "thus saith the Lord." There would have been nothing wrong with the question had they asked, "Is it sanitary?," or "Isn't that a poor choice?," but this was not their motive.
Some things are poor choices but they are certainly not sinful. And while we have the right to object to those practices on a personal level and abstain from them ourselves, we absolutely do not have the right to invoke Divine dissatisfaction over the individual's action nor to require conformity to our preference. No matter how logical the position might be to us, God never gave any human being the right to establish His commandments outside of the mandates of inspired Scripture. Had the Holy Spirit wanted another ordinance to be written, He would have inspired it while He was breathing out the lines of His sacred Word. This fact didn't stop the Pharisees and scribes from invoking the oral tradition concerning various washing rituals as an objection to the leadership of Jesus Christ. He was not following the traditions of the elders and, therefore, was unquestionably wrong.
This is not merely a matter of poor judgment on the part of the Pharisees and scribes. Rather, it is symptomatic of a far more tragic spiritual condition. Notice that their attitude was, "Why don't your disciples do this?," while never once stopping to ask the more important question: "WHY DO WE DO THIS?" Obviously the Pharisees and scribes had no reason to question their own actions since they had determined beforehand that they were unquestionably right. After all, what firmer foundation does one need to establish right and wrong than the tradition of the elders? To try to comprehend this mindset it must first be understood that these individuals were taught that the oral traditions were as binding upon humanity as the written Law. The Law represented that which was written by Moses while the oral traditions were those things which God said but Moses simply forgot to write down. And while this is an obviously simplistic explanation it is nonetheless accurate.
So then, we have a group who is objecting to the leadership of Jesus based upon the actions of His Disciples which, while not in contradiction of the Law, were in violation of the oral traditions of the elders. But, had they been pressed to present a Scripture, they very well might have done so. They may have gone to Exodus 30:17-21 where God commanded the Levites in the Tabernacle to wash themselves and said, "See here! Here is the principle behind why we are teaching this!" Likewise, they may have opened their scrolls to Leviticus and pointed out any number of the examples of various legitimate washing requirements and boasted, "Obviously there is a principle here that needs to be applied to meals!" They could have done so and, yet, they would have been absolutely wrong to teach it for doctrine as the commandment of God. This is obvious in Jesus' response to their objection.
"And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘THIS PEOPLE HONORS ME WITH THEIR LIPS, BUT THEIR HEART IS FAR AWAY FROM ME. BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME, TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.’" - Mark 7:6-7 (NASB)
Here we see the taxonomy for the systematic theology of the Pharisees and scribes:
1. We are always right and, therefore, have no need of questioning our beliefs.
2. We do not question our traditions because our traditions are unquestionable.
3. That which offends us offends God.
The title of this article is "Things We Believe For All The Wrong Reasons." Perhaps it would have been more fitting to title it "All The Wrong Reasons For Things We Believe" since, in truth, I am far more concerned with addressing the motive for our doctrines than the specifics of those beliefs. The Lord Jesus was very clear in His assessment of the Pharisees and scribes: “Neglecting the commandment of God, you hold to the tradition of men.” He was also saying to them, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition" (Mark 7:8-9 - NASB). But there are motives for believing certain things other than those of the Pharisees and scribes as displayed in Mark 7..
Some have said, "I've always believed thus and so and, therefore, continue to embrace it." So what? Truthfully, the answer to this statement could stop there. What does it matter how long you have believed something? Does that make it true? Slavery was the accepted practice of the British Empire from the 1600's. Did that make William Wilberforce and the abolitionists wrong when they demanded an end to the atrocity of human trafficking in the 19th century? Did the fact that it had been the accepted practice of the English for two centuries mean that it was right? Absolutely not! When something is wrong, fix it. Swallow your pride! Do not let it be said of us that we neglected the commandment of God to hold to the tradition of men.
Others have said, "My friends all believe this and I'll lose them if I change positions." So what? Is the value of temporal friendship more precious to us than eternal truth? Is the esteem of our peers of greater importance than the approbation of God? With whom would you rather stand: a friend who will not be at your side in 100 years or a Heavenly Father upon whom your eternity depends? If everyone in our circle of friends believes a certain thing which the Scriptures do not support and the only way to remain in that circle is by accepting their belief, it's time to find a new circle. At one time the consensus within the scientific community was that the earth was flat and the only way to be accepted within that community was to embrace that notion. Does that mean that we simply turn a blind eye to the curvature of the horizon or the spherical shadow of the earth as it shades the lunar surface in eclipse and reject them because our circle would approve of us for doing so? Do not let it be said of us that we were experts in setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep our tradition.
WE BELIEVE IT IS RIGHT...is a wrong reason to believe something.
OUR ELDERS TAUGHT IT...is a wrong reason to believe something.
IT IS OUR TRADITION...is a wrong reason to believe something.
WE CAN INTERPRET THIS PASSAGE...is a wrong reason to believe something.
THIS THING OFFENDS ME...is a wrong reason to believe something.
I'VE ALWAYS BELIEVED THIS...is a wrong reason to believe something.
I'VE ALWAYS TAUGHT THIS...is a wrong reason to believe something.
MY FRIENDS ALL BELIEVE THIS...is a wrong reason to believe something.
MINISTERS I FELLOWSHIP TEACH THIS...is a wrong reason to believe something.
The reason to believe something is because it is written. God did not stutter nor does He need an interpreter. His Spirit spoke plainly in the days of the holy Prophets and Apostles and speaks clearly enough today in the hearts of Believers and points them back to THUS IT IS WRITTEN! For those who believe otherwise, the Holy Spirit gave a clear definition of their nature through the Apostle Paul to Timothy:
"If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels..." - 1 Timothy 6:3-4 (ESV)