“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”
(Matthew 15:2 ESV)
Yesterday we briefly saw that a group of senior-level Pharisees had come from Jerusalem to Galilee to confront Jesus because, among other things, His disciples broke the tradition of the elders by not washing their hands when they ate. We all wash our hands before we eat for sanitary reasons. But that is not what these men were referring to.
They were referring to the elaborate, man-made (“tradition of the elders”) ceremonial washing that people were required to perform before eating. These men were not upset that Jesus’ disciples were breaking God’s law. They were upset because they were breaking the Pharisee’s laws.
Over time the Pharisees had created over six-hundred specific rules that they claimed must be kept in order to please God and go to heaven. This same thing happens today in many Christian-based churches. For example, the Catholic Church has what it calls Tradition (with an upper-case “T”). This is a set of man-made rules that have been exalted to the point where they are considered on-par with Scripture, if not above it.
Catholic Tradition has divided sins into two primary categories, venial and mortal sins (similar to misdemeanors and felonies). Venial sins are minor infractions which do not totally sever one’s relationship with God. They can be expunged through charity work. Mortal sin, on the other hand, allegedly severs one from God completely. Mortal sins can only be wiped away by going to confession.
There is actually a third category, called “grave” sins which are really bad mortal sins. One example of a grave sin in Catholic doctrine is missing mass without a valid reason (i.e. not being sick). If someone simply decides not to go to church, they have committed a grave sin and, Catholics claim, have “totally severed their relationship with God”.
There are literally hundreds of rules and regulations the Catholic Church has devised which it holds to be at least equal to God’s word. These rules and regulations are codified in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), which can be viewed on the Vatican’s official website. The rule about attending mass is CCC 1281. The official, and complicated, explanation of venial, mortal, and grave sins can be found in Part III, Article 8.
To be fair, Catholics aren’t the only ones with man-made rules. Protestant denominations also have rules (e.g. Baptist’s traditionally disprove of dancing), though they are not as specific or codified. Muslims, although they don’t worship the true God, have hadith which are uninspired, yet highly revered, man-made writings that “explain” the Koran.
Creating rules that people must follow in order to allegedly get right with God, whether created by the Pharisees, Catholics, or others, is sin. Such rules do not bring people into a stronger relationship with God. In fact, as Jesus will point out tomorrow, they actually harm people’s relationship with Him.
Whenever man adds his own rules to Scripture he ends up valuing his own additions more than Scripture itself and in so doing, raises man to a position above God. This is why we are warned not to do it [Deuteronomy 4:2; Revelation 22:18].
There is no other law than God’s law, which needs no additions, embellishment, or interpretation.
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