He said to them, "All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition ... making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. Many such things you do".
The context in which this Scripture is written concerns certain of the Pharisees and Scribes finding fault with Jesus's disciples because they did not observe the tradition of hand-washing before eating. Furthermore, Scripture tells us that this tradition of external washing carried over to the washing of cups, pots, tables, and anything that the Jews felt could defile them.
Jesus takes this opportunity to reprove them for worshipping Him with their lips, but not with their hearts. But this kind of worship is in vain [producing no fruit], and He admonishes them for teaching the commandments of men as doctrine. He then tells them that it is apparent that they are willing to lay aside the commandments of God -- to disregard and neglect them -- in order that they might cling faithfully to their man-made traditions (Mark 7:8). In verse 9, He then takes it one step further and bluntly tells them they are experts at the outright rejection and nullifying of God's word in favor of their traditions! Our Lord then sums it up in verse 13 by declaring that they are making the word of God have no effect through the traditions they have handed down. In other words, He accuses them of canceling the authority of the word of God in favor of their own traditions and doctrines.
My question to Believers today is this ... Aren't we just as guilty? Haven't we gotten so caught up in ritual and traditions and doctrines that we have disregarded and neglected the word of God? How much of our "faith" is centered around oral traditions that have been passed down in our denominations, yet there is no Scriptural support for them? How many Christians will passionately defend their belief systems of Cessationism, Calvinism, and Replacement Theology -- yet use the words or writings of men as their primary source to re-interpret the Bible? I am not saying that these writings are worthless or that we should not consider them, but when they become the foundation of our theology, rather than the Bible, then aren't we diminishing the power and effectiveness of the Word of God?
How many Christians cling faithfully to following the traditions of Christmas and Easter, when there is no mention of either in the Bible? What about the doctrine of a Pre-Tribulation Rapture? Why are Christians so willing to accept the postulations of men instead of searching the Bible for what God actually says or commands?
Those are the "heavy" doctrines of men, but we are just as guilty of creating our own worship rituals that are as vain as the external washing practiced by the Pharisees. Where in the Bible do you find God commanding us to establish Church buildings, a structured order of worship services, Sunday School, Sermons from a head Pastor or Preacher, or Church Boards or Councils? Think very hard before you answer that question ... I am not denigrating the purpose of these institutions, just asking if they were initiated by man or God?
I understand that it is difficult to admit that man has created his own rituals and called them "from God". We need to come to the truth and reality that rituals like Sunday School is a very recent man-made concept to “classroom-ize” that which Jesus and the Apostles purposely brought out of the classroom mentality of the Jews and the Greeks! Pastors and Preachers come from Luther's Protestant version of Sunday Mass. And steeples, bells, altars, Mission Boards, and structured Worship Services did not characterize Christianity in the First Century, showing us that the Apostles did not receive instruction from Jesus to establish them.
Instead we find these external symbols, along with weightier doctrines, to be the doctrines of men in the churches of men. I believe, as was written on a website called jesuslifetogether.com, that Jesus intended for His Church to be a church that is not bound by time and place, but “daily in public, and from house to house.” She’ll be “joined and knit together by every supporting ligament,” everyone members of one-another,” “confessing sins one to another,” “admonishing one another daily so that none are hardened by the deceitfulness of sin,” always loving and serving and “bearing one-another’s burdens” in joy and thanksgiving. And a few tears. Her corporate gatherings will only be the overflow of what is happening on the streets and in the homes of all of her people. “Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own.”
Does this describe The Church today? Or are Christians limited by the traditions established in their particular denominations and in their singular buildings? Are our churches "seeking first The Kingdom of God"? Or are we too pre-occupied with our own conceptions of what God wants?
Sadly, I think that we have chosen to disregard Jesus's commandments about the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. That was the purpose for which He was sent. Yes, our salvation is a by-product of the Kingdom, and we should earnestly seek it through faith in Jesus as our Savior. But how have we come to refuse the authority of His Word as spoken in Mark 16:15-18 ... And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.”
Our Lord's commandment couldn't be any clearer, yet have we heard this message presented as Biblical doctrine in our churches? Or are we too busy trying to justify man's doctrines, by either ignoring Scripture or re-interpreting it? Which do you think is better -- man's version of our Commission, or God's? Seems to me, that we have our proof in the sad state of our culture and the world. Where is the verifiable fruit of worshipping God in our own way?
The Prophet Isaiah declared that the Word of God would “not return void.” But we have seen that Jesus elaborated further and with powerful implications. Our Lord taught us that there was yet ONE thing that could make null and void the Word of God in your life: “Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that”. This a sobering thought and one that I hope every Christian takes to heart.