In many Christian Churches today, we see one of two extremes. We see churches preaching against traditionalism (or legalism as it often referred to today) but not preaching against lawlessness. We also see churches preaching against lawlessness, but many of these same churches fail to preach against traditionalism (legalism). It is becoming less and less common in our culture to see Churches that neither go to the left nor the right of God’s law.
Do not turn to the right or to the left
This subject of not going to the right or left of God’s law seems to be a very important theme in the Scriptures.
“Be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you are not to turn aside to the right or the left.”
Deuteronomy 5:32 HCSB
This phrase of not turning to “the right or the left” of God’s commands is repeated 7 more times in the Scriptures(Deuteronomy 17:20, Deuteronomy 28:14, Joshua 1:7, Joshua 23:6, 2 Kings 22:2,2 Chronicles 34:2,Proverbs 4:27).
God also uses another phrase to express this same sentiment:
“You must not add anything to what I command you or take anything away from it, so that you may keep the commands of the Lord your God I am giving you.”
Deuteronomy 4:2 HCSB
This same phrase of “not adding or taking anything” away from God’s law is repeated in Deuteronomy 12:32.
So in total, 10 times, count them – 10 times God says he does not want us to go the left of his law, or to the right of his law, he does not want us to add to his law, or take away from his law.
When we go to the left of God’s law, and we take away from God’s law, we get lawlessness. When we go to the right of God’s law, we add to God’s law and we get tradition.
Jesus Christ himself reserved some of his most vehement scolding for Jewish teachers of the Law who added to God’s laws and taught their traditions as being equal to God’s law when he quoted from Isaiah:
“In this way, you have revoked God’s word because of your tradition. 7 Hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied correctly about you when he said:
8 These people honor Me with their lips,
but their heart is far from Me.
9 They worship Me in vain,
teaching as doctrines the commands of men.””
Matthew 15:6b -9 HCSB
The Apostle Paul, when fighting against a new false teaching that added rules to God’s Word spoke these words:
“8 Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ… 16 Therefore, don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of what was to come; the substance is the Messiah. 18 Let no one disqualify you, insisting on ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to a visionary realm and inflated without cause by his unspiritual mind. 19 He doesn’t hold on to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and tendons, develops with growth from God.
20 If you died with the Messiah to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: 21 “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”? 22 All these regulations refer to what is destroyed by being used up; they are commands and doctrines of men. 23 Although these have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence.”
Colossians 2:8 & 16-23 HCSB
The Three types of spiritual slavery in the New Testament
In the passage we just quoted from Colossians 2, Paul talks about human tradition taking us captive. He has used this concept of captivity with lawlessness as well when he states:
“19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption, since people are enslaved to whatever defeats them.”
2 Peter 2:19 HCSB
Paul talks about another type of slavery, a positive type of slavery:
“16 Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey—either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness? 17 But thank God that, although you used to be slaves of sin, you obeyed from the heart that pattern of teaching you were transferred to, 18 and having been liberated from sin, you became enslaved to righteousness. “
Romans 6:16-18 HCSB
So we have three masters we can serve, Lawlessness, God or Tradition. Being a captive of Lawlessness or Tradition are both equally sinful activities.
Examples of the difference between Lawlessness, God’s law and Tradition
What if I or my Church practice some of these traditions, am I sinning?
Please don’t misunderstand me. We all have some rules for ourselves, or as parents for our children that may fall into some of the categories I have mentioned above. Even some Churches may have some rules that are not found in the Bible.
It is one thing to have a rule or standard for one’s life, one’s family, or even for Church activities, and another to teach these things as doctrines of Scripture that all men must follow, else they are sinning.
For instance, if I personally have a rule for my family that we won’t drink alcohol in our home, there is no sin in that. But if I teach that the drinking of any alcohol is wrong for all people, and sinful for all people – then I am being a slave to tradition and I am sinning by adding to God’s Word. God’s Word condemns drunkenness, not drinking.
Perhaps you believe that God wants you and your family to tithe, to give 10 percent of your gross income to your local church. There is no sin in this belief, as long as you understand that it is not sinful for others give less than 10% to their local churches, because tithing was never instituted as a method of giving for the New Testament Church. Anyone who teaches this as a doctrine for the New Testament Church is being a slave to the traditions of men, and is adding to the New Testament which clearly says with New Covenant, we are no longer under the old law.
I could go on, but you get the point. There is nothing wrong with having traditions that you follow, as long as those traditions do not cause you to violate the commands of God, and as long you never equate those traditions with the commands and doctrines of God’s Word.
So the question is what master will you serve? Lawlessness? God or Tradition?
This has been the first in series of posts I wanted to write relating to traditionalism. In this first post I wanted to compare and contrast following lawlessness, God’s law and the traditions of men. This is not just some theoretical exercise, I grew up in Churches that believed in many of the traditions I listed, and they held strong convictions that anyone who did not embrace these traditions as the commands of God, were in fact sinners under the judgment of God.
Many times on this blog I have been accused of being a traditionalist myself, because of my strong convictions regarding Biblical Gender Roles. But the major difference between mine and millions of Christians who believe in Biblical Gender Roles and these traditions I listed above is – there are ample Scriptural commands that teach Biblical Gender Roles, there are no Scriptural commands that teach any of the traditions I have shown above. They are built on conjecture, and opinion, not on clear Scriptural commands.
In upcoming posts I will be reviewing actual doctrinal statements from a church website that one my blog readers referred to me where this Church teaches many of these traditions as the commands of God, rather than the traditions of men.