13th Sunday after Pentecost – 8/22/2021
Reading: Mark 7:1-13
Doctrine vs. Tradition: The Significance of Distinguishing Divine Teachings from Human Practices
When it comes to understanding and following the teachings of God, it is crucial to discern between divine doctrine and human traditions. The appointed Gospel reading for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost, taken from Mark 7:1-13, emphasizes the importance of aligning ourselves with God's word rather than the traditions of men. In the church, it is expected that the teachings of God and the people of God align perfectly. Any discrepancy between the two would be unjustifiable. Let us explore this concept further and delve into the significance of distinguishing divine doctrine from human teachings.
Distinguishing Divine Doctrine from Human Teaching
To distinguish between divine doctrine (God's teachings) and human teachings or traditions, we must carefully examine the disparities that exist. These disparities can be found in various areas, such as monogamy or polygamy, the origin of the earth and the universe (creation or evolution), and the legitimacy of just wars, among others. Additionally, there are more subtle differences, such as the appropriateness of sexual intimacy, the view on alcohol consumption, and the understanding of loving one's neighbor or oneself. Discerning these distinctions can be challenging, as human ideas and deceptive thoughts implanted by the devil often mimic or appear more reasonable, right, or pleasing than God's teachings. Therefore, diligently searching the Holy Scriptures becomes crucial, as they are the only reliable source of God's words.
The Dispute over Traditions in Jesus' Time: Challenging the Traditions of the Pharisees and Scribes
In our text from Mark 7:1-13, Jesus engages in a discussion with the Pharisees and Scribes, who confront Him regarding His disciples' failure to adhere to the elders' tradition of washing hands, food, utensils, and reclining couches before eating. The elders taught that everything had to be ceremonially cleansed through a process similar to baptism, which set them apart from the profane and worldly. The religious leaders believed that Jesus, as their leader, allowed His followers to violate these traditions, thus jeopardizing their souls. While their concerns may seem legitimate and godly, given the recognized spiritual authority of the elders, Jesus condemned them for their hypocrisy. He cited the prophet, Isaiah, accusing them of teaching as doctrines the commandments of men and abandoning the commandments of God to uphold their traditions.
The Danger of Nullifying God's Word
Jesus's condemnation of nullifying God's Word through human traditions was not limited to first-century Israel. It remains prevalent today, both in the world and within the Christian community. Numerous examples of nullification can be found, and they touch upon critical commandments. For instance, the widespread acceptance of abortion, considering it a woman's right, disregards the Fifth Commandment, "You shall not murder." Similarly, the normalization of cohabitation outside of marriage and the acceptance of same-sex unions as marriage within some churches abandon the Sixth Commandment, "You shall not commit adultery." These traditions elevate human opinions above God's direct commands, undermining His Word and promoting evil.
Evaluating Elders' Traditions and Men's Teachings: Discerning the Alignment with God's Word
While honoring elders' traditions and men's teachings have value, it is crucial to discern whether they align with God's Word or contradict it. Legitimate secular rulers and church leaders hold positions of authority appointed by God, deserving of obedience and honor. The apostle Paul recognized secular rulers as "ministers of God," and the church is called to obey and respect their authority. Likewise, God appoints apostles, prophets, pastors, and teachers for the equipping and building up of the church. However, when traditions or teachings deviate from God's clear instructions, they must be rejected to avoid nullifying God's Word in people's hearts and minds.
Avoiding Arbitrary Rejection of Traditions: Preserving What Aligns with God's Word
It is essential to note that rejecting all elders' traditions and men's teachings without discernment would be excessive. As Martin Luther once wisely said, "You don't throw the baby out with the dirty bathwater." In the case of elements within the liturgy that were misused, Luther argued against completely discarding the entire liturgy. Instead, he advocated for preserving and following those parts that align with God's Word and point worshipers to Christ. The crucial distinction lies in whether a teaching or tradition upholds or contradicts God's Word. If it supports God's teachings, it should be maintained, taught, and followed. However, when a tradition contradicts God's clear teaching, it must be discarded to avoid nullifying God's Word in people's hearts and minds.
The Power and Authority of God's Word
Unlike the words of men, the commands and words of God are absolute and unchanging, regardless of human acceptance or rejection. God's Word is powerful and transformative, regenerating hearts, creating faith, granting life to the dead, and saving sinners unto eternal life. It is living and active. The Word of God became flesh in Jesus Christ, who dwelt among us, suffered in our place, and secured forgiveness for all our transgressions. Unlike human traditions and words, God's Word reigns supreme for all eternity.
Embracing God's Word over Human Teachings
As we reflect on the legacy of the Reformation and the confession of Lutheranism, we affirm that the Word of the Lord endures forever. Our salvation solely depends on God's Word, which triumphs over the traditions and words of men. Distinguishing divine doctrine from human teachings holds paramount importance in a world where God's Word is often set aside. May God grant us discernment and steadfastness in His teachings, safeguarding us from nullifying His authoritative Word. Let us rejoice in God's forgiveness, which remains victorious, cleansing us of our scarlet sins and making us as white as snow