He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”– then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ “ (Matthew 15:3-9)
So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations– “Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle,” which all concern things which perish with the using–according to the commandments and doctrines of men? (Colossians 2:16-22)
Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it. (Deuteronomy 12:32)
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19, last chapter of the Bible)
It now the time, I believe – with so much manifestation of the traditions of men, and a great deal of deception running wild – to establish whether as Believers we wish to belong to a church that is destined to become the spotless bride of the Lord, or whether instead we are willing to become part and parcel of the world church that is being built on a syncretism of God’s holy word mixed with the traditions and teachings of men!
The verses quoted at the beginning warn sufficiently against building our faith and walk with the Lord on such traditions and teachings – even those put forward by devoted religious men and women – especially when these are found to nullify or contradict the teachings of the Word of God.
For those who would choose to go back in the practice of their faith to a Scriptural foundation, the following are the five essentials that formed the basis of the early apostolic church in Jerusalem.
There was definitely only ONE WAY to enter into God’s Kingdom and Salvation, and that was through Christ Jesus the Lord. He was, and He is, the only Cornerstone of the building called His Church.
These are His words:
“Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. I and My Father are one.” (John 10:7-10, 27-30)
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)
To underscore it all:
Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved. (Acts 4:12)
The first step, which every person individually must take in to ensure his/her entrance enter into His Kingdom and Salvation is Repentance from sins.
Hear how John the Baptist proclaimed this in preparation for the coming of the Lord:
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2)
These were Peter’s words on the day of Pentecost, in answer to those who asked what they needed to do in order to be saved:
“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)
In order to be saved, every individual has to be baptized, as also Peter admonished on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:38 above), and as the Apostles taught and practiced, as recorded throughout the book of Acts:
And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. (Acts 9:17-18)
And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. (Acts 16:30-33)
The new converts needed to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit so that they could be led by Him, just as after His baptism by John, the Lord Jesus could be led by the Holy Spirit:
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness. (Matthew 4:1)
And as it says in Romans 8:1-14:
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors–not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. (Romans 8:1-14)
Concerning those who had repented, and had been baptized, and so received the Holy Spirit in order that they could be led by Him in their daily lives, the following description of how they lived these lives should be an example to all true Believers:
And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation.” Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:40-47)
Thus four things stand out in this passage concerning the daily practice of the believers during the days of the Apostles:
- They continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine – and later read the teachings canonized in the New Testament.
- They came together for spiritual fellowship often around a meal.
- They broke bread in a Believer’s home where they ate their food (not just a piece of bread or wafer) with gladness.
- They practiced corporate prayer as part of their coming together.
This, then, describes how the Jewish believers – who were joined later by many believers from the nations – lived and practiced in ‘the church’ in Jerusalem. Seeing how slowly this Jewish-expressed faith became a Roman-oriented Christianity (also through the addition and incorporation of many traditions of men over the long centuries of the church’s existence) we can readily see the destructive and blinding power of these added traditions to the Scriptural purity of Christianity’s beginnings. It grew to the point where church theologians or scribes even readily admitted that these manmade traditions had the same authority as the Scriptures or words of the Lord.
It does not take much research to show how many of today’s accepted church traditions found their way into the system of church doctrine and practice much later, added as they were to the Apostolic teaching and practice of the early church.
The following is a list of traditions that found their way into what had begun as the pure and simple sharing of meals in Believers own homes, their fellowshipping and praying and praising God together would morph into the church that now claims to be the true representative of Peter and the early disciples.
Although many of these beliefs were practiced earlier than the dates given, they did not become binding on all Catholics until they were officially adopted by church councils and proclaimed by popes to be dogmas of the faith. (Some dates are approximate.)
1. Presbyter (or elders) were first called priests by Lucian…2nd century.
2. The veneration of angels and dead saints and the use of images…375 CE.
3. The Mass as a daily celebration was adopted…394 CE.
4. The beginning of the exaltation of Mary, and the first use of the term “Mother of God” by the Council of Ephesus…431 CE.
5. Priests began to dress different from the laity and to wear special clothes…500 CE.
6. The doctrine of purgatory was first established by Gregory the Great…593 CE.
7. Prayers began to be offered to Mary, dead saints, and angels…600 CE.
8. The first man was proclaimed “Pope” (Boniface III)…610 CE.
9. Veneration of the cross, images, and relics authorized…788 CE.
10. Holy water, mixed with a pinch of salt and blessed by a priest was authorized in…850 CE.
11. College of cardinals begun…927 CE.
12. Canonization of dead saints, first by Pope John XV…995 CE.
13. The Mass developed gradually as a sacrifice, attendance was made obligatory only in…11th century!
14. The celibacy of the priesthood was decreed by Pope Hildebrand, Boniface VII…1079 CE.
15. The rosary, or prayer beads copied from Hindus and Mohammedans) was introduced by Peter the Hermit…1090 CE.
16. The Inquisition of “Heretics” was instituted by the Council of Verona…1184 CE, and was legalized and promoted by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 CE.
17. The sale of Indulgences…1190 CE.
18. The seven sacraments defined by Peter Lombard…12th century.
19. The dogma of transubstantiation was decreed by Pope Innocent III …in 1215 CE!
20. Confession of sins to the priest at least once a year was instituted by Pope Innocent III in the Lateran Council…1215 CE.
21. The adoration of the wafer (host) decreed by Pope Honorius III …1220 CE.
22. The doctrine of purgatory proclaimed a dogma by the Council of Florence…1439 CE.
23. Tradition is declared of equal authority with the Bible by the Council of Trent…1545 CE!!!
24. The Apocryphal Books were added to the Bible by the Council of Trent…1546 CE.
25. The Immaculate Conception of Mary was proclaimed by Pope Pius IX in 1854 CE.
26. Pope Pius IX condemned all scientific discoveries not approved by the Roman Church…1864 CE.
27. Infallibility of the pope in matters of faith and morals proclaimed by the First Vatican Council…1870 CE.
28. Pius XI reaffirmed the doctrine that Mary is “The Mother of God” …1931 CE.
29. The dogma of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary was proclaimed by Pope Pius XII…1950 CE.
30. Mary proclaimed the Mother of the Church by Pope Paul VI…1965 CE.
(From “What did Vatican II really change?” Edited and compiled by Keith Green)
Reading the Gospels, we recognize that it was these fanatically held to traditions and teachings of the then Jewish scribes and sages that kept them from receiving the Lord and His Word:
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”– then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ” (Matthew 15:1-9)
The further away believers, or the church, moved from this daily practice of their faith around a real meal, often inside their own homes for fellowship and prayer, the more the church became, through the additions of teachings and traditions, a building and an institution – the the place outside the home and daily lives where Christians went to find their spiritual sustenance. Even the Lord’s Supper, which was meant to be a real meal sanctified for the purpose of remembering the Lord’s death, became a religious observance inside a church building with only one piece of bread or wafer to assist us in remembering His last supper!
It is surely not without significance, therefore, the risen Lord’s last recorded message to His church which seems to have made it and become rich and all sufficient. It is to this church, that is neither hot nor cold but lukewarm, that Jesus uses His stern words of warning, calling them to repent. And He tells them that He, Himself, is standing outside the door and knocking to come in, that He might sup with them to restore the love fellowship on which the true apostolic church was always based, as Paul expresses:
…that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings. (Philippians 3:10)
And as John writes:
Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that the Antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come, by which we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out that they might be made manifest, that none of them were of us. But you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you know all things. I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist who denies the Father and the Son. Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:18-23)
Dear friends, is it because we have somehow lost the intimacy with Jesus, our Lord, in our personal lives that we have strayed away in what, in the end, will see Him left outside the doors of our churches and homes, knocking in order to come in and sup with us?
Jan Willem van der Hoeven,