Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
July 19, 1956
NUMBER 11, PAGE 1,6a

Christian Unity: Opinions In Religion (IX.)

David Lipscomb

Everything that was introduced and perpetuated in the Jewish church based on the opinion or wisdom of men, passed under the name, tradition. These traditions were practices introduced into the service of God, based on human opinions, and he showed these all led men to turn away from the commandments of God. Among them were things first regarded as expedients, harmless in themselves. Others were practices growing out of efforts to aid and carry out the Divine order. Among these traditions was one of washing the hands before eating. (Matt. 15:1-10.) It is a harmless practice and doubtless had grown out of the law of God given Moses enforcing cleanliness and freedom from pollution, by contact with unclean persons or things. As a means of cleanliness it was a harmless, even commendable practice. As a religious service, it was a sin; a sin because not ordained by God. All service not ordained by God is sinful. Jesus doubtless taught his disciples not to observe it. The scribes and Pharisees ask him, (Matt. 15:2), "Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders, for they wash not their hands when they eat bread." He confronted them with the truth, that the tradition of the elders led them to transgress the law of God. He gave as an example, the law commanded children to honor their parents. They had nullified this by their tradition. He then declares, that the worship of those who teach the commandments of men — traditions received from the fathers — is vain. God is a jealous God. He permits no intermingling of the opinions of men with his service. The bringing into the service of God practices based on men's opinions, nullified the whole service of those rendering it. "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrine the commandments of men." Again, he denounces those who thus mingle the traditions of men with the service of God, as "hypocrites who draw near with the mouth, while the heart is far from me."

He says, "Ye hypocrites well did Esaias say of you, this people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoreth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me." This plainly as language can, says: First, those who pretend to worship him but introduce or practice the traditions and opinions of men as service or worship of Gods, are hypocrites. This charge is based on the truth clearly revealed that God will be worshiped and served only in his own ordinances and ways, and all pretense to worship in other ways, is hypocrisy.

Second: All such worship of God is vain. God allows no divided service. And the service resting on the authority of man is not only vain, but all the service of the man who thus commingles the opinions and devices of man with the ordinances of God, is vain. A service vitiated in one point, by man's devices, is vitiated as a whole.

Third. He says of the man who introduces traditions, opinions, ordinances and institutions resting on the authority or commandments of man, into the service of God, that man's "heart is far from me." It is not right in the sight of the Lord. The heart that is near to God, and that is good and loyal in his sight, walks humbly and trustingly in the appointments of God, refusing all inventions and devices added by man's wisdom. It shows an "evil heart of unbelief," it betrays a lack of confidence in God and his wisdom, and a superior confidence in the wisdom of man, to bring or accept human inventions as substitutes and devices for the service of God. This scripture plainly teaches this.

To further elucidate and enforce the truth, that all services in religion based upon the opinions, judgment and traditions of men, are sinful and lead those who introduce them and those who use them down to ruin, the Savior adds, "Every plant which my heavenly Father hath not planted, shall be rooted up." This must mean every practice, or service or institution brought into the service of God, that God himself did not appoint, is a plant so hurtful in its character and influence that it must be rooted up and destroyed. This is spoken directly with reference to the practice of washing hands before eating, as a religious service. As a practice to promote cleanliness, it was good. It seems to be in harmony with the laws of God, to avoid uncleanliness, and pollution from contact with unclean bodies, and doubtless grew out of the laws of God, promoting cleanliness, bodily and religiously, yet while harmless in itself, it was sin, to be condemned by the Savior, when made a part of service to him, because not ordained by God. It must be rooted up. The Lord Jesus Christ takes this harmless practice, that had been adopted into the service of God, on the opinion of some good men, no doubt, and that had been handed down, from generation to generation, until it had become very sacred to many pious hearts, and shows it is sinful and fatal in its results. He does this to teach the lesson for all people, for all time, that all services or institutions, based on the opinions and judgments of man, no matter how fitted these services to honor God, or how much in harmony with the Divine will, they may seem, are sinful in the sight of God, and must be destroyed. Man can serve God acceptably only in the ways appointed by God. Things based on the opinions of men necessarily fall under the head of commandments of men. Whatever in religious service comes under this head or rests on the authority of men, is sinful in such glaring hue that it vitiates the whole service offered the Master.

Another kindred scripture, "The word of God is the seed of the kingdom." That is, from the word of God, every act of service in the kingdom, must spring. A seed can produce no plant or fruit save that embodied in the seed. No act or service can belong to the kingdom of God unless it is found in the word of God. Every act not found in the word of God, comes from other than the word of God, from seed sown by an enemy while men slept, when God's servants were off guard. No practice can acceptably come into the church of God, that is not required in his word. This parable of the sower, forever excludes from the service of God all practices based on the opinion of men.

To the Colossians, he says, (Revision), "If ye died with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why as though living in the world do ye subject yourselves to ordinances after the precepts and doctrines of men, which things indeed have a show of wisdom in will-worship, and humility and severity of the body; but are not of any value against the indulgence of the flesh." This teaches that all service after the precepts and doctrines of men may have a show of will-worship and humility, but give no strength to restrain the passions of the flesh. All services, based on the precepts and doctrines, opinions and offensive to God, although it may have a great outward show of worship. It is a sin to follow ordinances, or services, based n the precepts and doctrines, opinions and teachings of men. It is not only wrong to bring them into the church, it is wrong to tolerate them. It is wrong to affiliate with them or to countenance those who bring them in. This is a matter of faith. Another lesson this scripture teaches is: No worship or service, no matter how devoted we may be in it, gives real spiritual strength to resist the impulses and desires of the flesh, save that worship directed by God. Only earnest and reverential service to God, in Christ Jesus, in God's own appointments, excluding all the opinions and traditions of men, can promote the growth and development of the true spiritual man, or can give strength to resist sin.

"For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh. That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit."

To walk after the Spirit is to do what Christ and the Holy Spirit commanded us to do, adding nothing thereto, taking nothing therefrom. Whenever a man introduces anything into the service of God, that is based on his opinions or upon the opinions of others, he places those opinions upon an exact footing with the word of God. The word of God directs what service shall be rendered to God and how it shall be done. Whenever service to God is based on human opinions, those who introduce and maintain that service give those opinions the same force and authority that the law of God possesses.

In the language of Alexander Campbell, "Any one who feels himself conscientiously compelled to utter his opinions, must regard them of permanent value — as equal to the Divine oracles." And whoever introduces into the service of God any service based on the authority of human opinions, does make that opinion equal to a command of God. He makes service based on human opinions, service to God. This is also sin, and when an act is introduced into, or observed in the service of God, conscious that it is based on the authority of men, the sin is a presumptuous one.

This teaching of the Savior, not only gives ground for, but absolutely requires a faith that opposes all institutions and practices in religion that rest on human authority. Man can acceptably worship God only in God's appointed ways. We learn these ways either from clear precept or from approved example. Then while it is true, that to introduce into the service of God, things based on human judgment is to make opinions of men the rule of the church, and to fill the church with fads, fancies and preferences of those who do not reverence the order of God as too sacred to be affected by human touch or human tradition, it is not true that to oppose the introduction of things based on opinion, is an act of opinion. To introduce things of this character is to force others to accept the opinions of those introducing them as a rule of faith, equal to the word of God, but to oppose the introducing them, is to comply with the demand of God, to keep his temple and service pure, and is a work of faith, and not an opinion, but a duty imposed by God.