Why Modern Churches Are Carnal
God’s Plan For A Scriptural New Testament Church
By J.B. Sparks

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Chapter 2

To set a precedent, which will help us in our study of the church, let's take a look at traditions in the church. First, let's see what Jesus had to say to the religious men of his day concerning traditions. Although many traditions are harmless, Jesus condemned the Pharisees for teaching traditions and commandments of men for doctrine of the Bible. "But in vain they do worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men". (Matt. 15:9) The Pharisees were teaching tradition and commandments of men as doctrine. Nobody argued with them about it, except Jesus. Most people accepted it at that time because they were the religious leaders and probably thought, "Well, that's the way it has always been done, and everybody does it that way."

Jesus rebuked the Pharisees over such things as washing hands (ceremonially) before eating, and not doing anything, (even good things) on the Sabbath day, and so on. It's all right to wash your hands before eating and to not do anything on the Sabbath, but they were teaching it as doctrine. That is what Jesus condemned. Matt 15:9 "But in vain they do worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men.", and also in Mark 7:8 "For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, [as] the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do." Jesus hated this and he condemned it as hypocrisy; because they made people believe these things were God's will, when he never did say in Scripture that they were. Many of these things were added as doctrine and nowhere found in Scripture (such as the washings). Others such as the Sabbath laws were twisted and taken out of context from the Scriptures. Both were being taught as God's doctrine, and so were "many other such like things" they did.

You may feel that there is no problem having tradition in the church. That's true. God is not against having traditional elements in the church, such as homecoming meetings, dressing up for Easter, men wearing ties, meeting at certain times, and so on, but He is against it if any tradition is taught as doctrine, or something that MUST be done to please God. You see the danger in teaching tradition and commandments of men, as doctrine is that it turns people away from the real truth. "Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, THAT TURN FROM THE TRUTH." Titus 1:13. So, when men teach that you must do or not do certain things, and they are not found in Scripture, then it will turn you from the truth.

Let me illustrate. God told Adam and Eve that they could eat of any tree in the garden except for one, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They sinned in that they disobeyed by eating of the forbidden tree. If Satan had not been successful with his first attempt, I believe I know what his "plan B" would have been. If he couldn't have gotten them to eat of the forbidden tree, he no doubt would have convinced them that certain of the other trees were not to be eaten of also. Eve could of said, "Well, Adam, I don't want to eat of this tree or that one over there either because they look a little like the forbidden tree. So, let's make it a rule that we won't eat of these certain other trees either." You see, this would also be disobedience as well, because God gave two commandments here, (1) any tree you may freely eat of, and (2) not to eat of the forbidden tree "And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat : But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it..." He said they could eat of any of the other trees, and if man makes it a commandment that you can't eat of one or more of the permissible ones, it will turn one from the truth. It would then be a commandment of man, because God said He didn't care as long as it wasn't the forbidden tree. Adam and Eve, if you don't want to eat of a certain of the allowable trees, that's fine. Don't eat of them. You have liberty to or not to, because God said "thou mayest", but when you say that you can't and then teach others that they shouldn't either, then you are breaking God's other command, thus you are making it a commandment of men, and it will turn you and others from the truth. Furthermore, as time goes on, little be little, this man-made commandment of not eating of certain of the allowable trees will belittle and take away from God's commandment of the forbidden tree. The forbidden tree will be mixed in and become just one of many trees that you can't eat of. (The force of the command will be watered down.) Many times, I have seen that those people that make up commands of do's and don'ts, that have no Scriptural basis, will sooner or later begin to break the real commands that are in Scripture. The Pharisees did this by teaching man-made commands such as the washings, and "many other such things you do", that had no Scriptural basis at all. For example, to avoid God's commandment of, thou shalt honor thy parents, they said "corban", which meant their money and time was dedicated to God, so they should be released from any responsibility to their parents. (Not Scriptural) Jesus said, Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. He said their commandment was canceling out God's commandment. So, do you see how man made commandments will turn one from the truth?

Be careful to understand that what God does not comment on in Scripture, we have liberty to decide for ourselves. For example, He doesn't say anywhere in the Bible that you cannot wear striped or polka dotted clothes. God doesn't care one way or another, or He would have told us to or not to. But, if you make it an issue that one is not right with God unless you do or don't, then it becomes a commandment of men and not of God. Thus, obeying or teaching such man-made commands will turn you and others from the truths of the Bible. You are no longer following God’s Word, but you will be wrapped up in following traditions. This is what Jesus hated and rebuked. Another example: What about a beard or mustache? Does God say in His word that a man should or should not wear a beard or mustache? He doesn't say either way, so evidently He doesn't care. So, if a man teaches otherwise, then he is making it a commandment of men, and it will turn people from the truth. If men in a certain church want to wear beards, then fine, wear them. It may be a custom or a tradition, but when somebody says that you should or should not wear a beard because God prefers it that way, then that is a commandment of men, because God never gave any such command in Scripture. So, obeying or teaching traditions and commandments of men (as doctrine) will confuse and hinder you in believing the real truth from the Word of God.

Why don't people just preach the Bible? There are plenty of commands in the Bible without us having to make up several of our own, and then trying to pass them off as God's will. Why would anyone want to teach tradition and commandments of men for doctrine? Why do they do it? Well, Jesus told the Pharisees why they were doing it. " [Ye] hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with [their] lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men". Matt. 15:7-9. Why do they teach commandments of men for doctrine? Look at the verse. It tells why; because "their heart is far from me (God)." Yes, if he teaches non-scriptural commands as doctrine, (as if they were God's commands), then his heart is far from the Lord. He does not love the Lord. Now, I didn't say that. Jesus did. In this verse, Jesus said that if anybody teaches commandments of men as doctrine, they are 1) hypocrites, 2) they worship God in vain, and 3) they do it because their hearts are far from God. However, on the other hand, Jesus said, "If ye love me, keep my commandments." John 14:15. Do you love Jesus? Well, he said if you do, then "keep my commandments". Keep the commandments of Jesus. Not the preacher's commandments, not my commandments, not your commandments, not the church's commandments, but His commandments. Keep the commandments of Jesus. How do you know if a man loves the Lord? Check and see what he teaches. If he loves the Lord, he will keep the commandments of Jesus, and will teach and practice that which is clearly backed up by Scriptural commands. However, if he does not love the Lord, he will teach traditions, man's commandments, and his opinions to make them appear as God's will. He may even twist a few Scriptures to make them appear from the Bible. If he teaches that God prefers you not to wear a beard, or that God would rather you dress up for church, and you have to do this or do that, and it is not from the Bible, then you better be careful. He better have Scripture to back up those kinds of statements, or he is admitting that his heart is far from the Lord. How dare anyone tell someone, especially a young Christian, to do or not to do something to please God, if he doesn't have any Scripture to show him that it is or isn't God's will. Now, let's face it, we just don't think it's very serious to follow this rule, but Jesus called these men who didn't, hypocrites, and said that their hearts were far from God, and that they worshipped him in vain. It's a whole lot more important than you might think. Traditions and commandments of men is what put the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross. So, don't tell me that it isn't all that important. The religion of that day is what drove the nails through the hands of the Son of God. Yes, in God's redemptive plan, I know that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world by going to the cross. It was your sins and my sins that put him on the cross. But, what were the specific sins that actually led Jesus to be crucified on that cross? They were the religious sins of that day that nailed him to the cross. Each nail that pierced the flesh of Jesus can describe each category of sin that put him on the cross. The first one, the commandments of men being taught as doctrine, drove the first nail through his hand. How? Jesus healed on the Sabbath day, didn't he? This infuriated the religious crowd of that day, because they had taught that this was not allowed. So, Jesus spoke out against these commandments of men being taught as doctrine. In John 5:18, it says, "therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, not only had he broken the Sabbath day, but also said that God was his father." Now, I believe the second nail driven through the other hand of Jesus represented traditions being taught as doctrine. Anytime Jesus spoke out or did something that broke up their religious traditions, the religious leaders got together, and they became so angry that they wanted to kill Jesus, and later they did, by nailing him to the cross. So, the teaching of traditions as doctrine drove the second nail through the hand of Jesus. Now, the third nail that was driven into Jesus was because of the sins of envy, jealousy, and hatred. In Mark 15:10, the Bible says, "Pilot knew that it was because of envy that the chief priests delivered Jesus to be crucified." So, religious envy, jealousy, and hatred drove that third nail into the flesh of Jesus. So, don't tell me that it's not all that important. Don't tell me that the teaching of traditions and commandments of men as doctrine is not all that important, that it's not all that bad. Yes it is! It's what nailed Jesus to the cross. Remember what Jesus told those religious phonies during his day. He came out speaking against the teaching of traditions and commandments of men as doctrine. He spoke against it, and it got him nail to the cross. Listen again what he said to them, "[Ye] hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying, This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with [their] lips; but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men". Matt. 15:7-9. And, in Mark 7:8, Jesus said, "For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men." Now, if you are guilty of teaching others that they should obey opinions and commandments of men as if they were God's will, what excuse do you have? I don't care how lightly you look at this, or how well you honor God with your lips. If you do this, you are either lost, or you are vastly backslidden, and you need to get right with God. However, if you are not guilty of this, and you indeed do love the Lord, then you will want to show others how to please the Lord and back it up with Scriptures, so that they may also love the Lord by keeping His commandments.

Most people think just like the people did during the time of the Pharisees that Jesus rebuked. (1) Everybody in our circles does it that way, and (2) It's been done that way down through history by those before us. So, it must be right. But, if the Bible teaches that we should do something or not do something in a certain way, then that is the way we ought to do it regardless of tradition or the way the majority does it. When men disagree with the Bible, God says in Romans 3:4 "yea, let God be true, but every man a liar." Believe the Word of God, not traditions and commandments of men. So, if God gives certain commands for churches, then we should obey Him, and do it that way, no matter if no one else does it or not. Furthermore, we should not be persuaded by those who say, "that's the way it was for the early church, but it cannot be done that way today in our modern society." No, if God designed it a certain way for the early church, then He still wants it that way today. It worked pretty good back then, and if we follow His plan, it will work today.

In light of this, friend, let me pause and ask you a personal question. Are you saved or just religious? There is a difference, you know. The Pharisees were very religious, but they were not saved. You can find religion all around the world, and you can even find religion in Christianity. These are professors and not possessors. "Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away". (2 Tim 3:5) Look what Jesus says to religious men who claim to be Christians, during their judgment in the last days. "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name, and in thy name have cast out devils, and in thy name done many wonderful works?" (You see, they appear to have been very religious, and thought they were doing it in his name) "And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me ye that work iniquity." Matt 7:22-23. (Notice, Jesus says that He never knew them. They never had been saved. Very religious, yes, but, never saved.) You say, "But, I am saved, and I know it." Great. Let me ask you another question, then. Are you leavened or unleavened? You are one or the other. You should be unleavened. "Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven , neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened [bread] of sincerity and truth". (1Cor 5:7-8). What is this leaven that we should not have? Look at Matt 16:6, "Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees." The disciples wondered what Jesus meant by this. He explains it in Luke 12:1 "...Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy". The Pharisees outwardly lived and taught according to God's Word, but they added lots of other things to it, such as traditions and commandments of men, and their hearts were far from God. Now, if it were not possible for us to be affected by the leavening of hypocrisy, then Jesus would not have told his disciples to beware of it. (Not that they would be lost, but that they would be affected and hindered by it). So, friend let me ask you again. Are you leavened or unleavened? Have you been affected by hypocrisy? Do you follow the traditions and commandments of men that are taught as doctrine? Jesus said if you do, then you are being leavened by hypocrisy. "Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened [bread] of sincerity and TRUTH". (1Cor 5:8). What truth? The Word of God. The Word of God is Truth. Believe it just like it is, pure and simple, the unleavened bread of God, and then live and practice it. When men add traditions or commandments of men to it, then they are leavening the Word of God. Are you feasting on the pure unleavened Bread of God, or are you leavened by all the things that are added to it? Are you living by the Word of God, or are you living by His Word mixed with traditions and commandments of men? "Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy". Luke 12:1. "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the TRADITION of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ". (Col.2:8). "Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not; which all are to perish with the using;) after the COMMANDMENTS AND DOCTRINES OF MEN? Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body;" (Col 2:20-23). Friend, are you unleavened, following the pure Word of God, or have you been leavened with hypocrisy?

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