May 22, 2022 The Doctrines of Men vs the Word of God

The Doctrines of Men vs. the Word of God

May 22, 2022




Scripture reading: Matthew 14:34-15:9.


After the Lord enables Peter to walk upon the water in the midst of the storm, they come to the other side of the lake. The text says that the people of that region brought to Jesus “all who were sick.” They brought them all! It goes on to say that as many as even touched even the fringe of his garment were made well! See the great power of our Lord! Just touching the edge of his clothes brought healing!


Let me ask this: has our Lord changed since he walked the earth? Has his compassion changed? Has his power diminished? Of course not. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). This means that our Lord still desires to heal and it means that his power to heal is still available.


Seek healing if you need it. Our text this morning says that all who came to him were healed. From other passages in the Bible we know that the Lord does not heal in every instance. For example, the apostle Paul was not healed of his malady, even though he asked the Lord three times about it (2 Cor. 12:7-10). Knowing that our Lord has both the desire to heal and the power to heal should motivate us to ask for our own healing as well as for the healing of others. We ask and we wait upon the Lord to heal.


In chapter 15 our Lord severely criticizes the Pharisees and scribes for placing the traditions of men above the word of God. Whenever the Lord rebukes the Pharisees and scribes we must pay attention because we are more like them than we realize. When we read about these religious leaders our first thought may be, “I’m glad I am not like them.” But, isn’t this the error of the Pharisee when he went into the temple to pray (Luke 18:10-14)? He saw a tax collector there and he thanked the Lord that he wasn’t like him. We are more like the Pharisees than we imagine! Therefore, when the Lord rebukes them, we need to take this warning for ourselves!


The tradition that had been established was that of washing hands before eating. Was that a good tradition? Of course it was. It helps prevent the spread of disease. But, the disciples of Jesus did not follow this practice. That is a fact. What is even more interesting is that Jesus defends their non-practice of it! The way he addresses this matter is by bringing up another tradition wherein it is more clear that the tradition violates God’s command.


The tradition was to give to God, by giving an offering to the temple treasury, that which could have been given to one’s parents.


Now, it was already written in God’s law that 10% was to be given to God first, before anything. Therefore, this tradition had to do with offerings to God above and beyond the ten percent.


An initial reaction to this tradition may be that it is good because it is putting God first, above one’s parents. But this is the problem with man-made doctrines: they seem good upon first consideration, but they end up contradicting the will of God. God’s great desire is for children, including adult children, to honor their parents all the days of their lives. This is good and acceptable in the eyes of the Lord.


Traditions are begun with the intent to help others follow God more faithfully. Yet, there are four great dangers in following traditions. Three are found here in our passage and the fourth is an observation that is evident to many and which can be seen in the parable of the temple-goers (Luke 18).


[1.] The foundational error of holding to traditions is in assuming that God’s word is insufficient to guide our lives. Why does every single Christian group have its own traditions? It is because they tacitly assume that God’s word is insufficient to guide our lives. If they truly believed that God’s word is adequate there would be no need to establish traditions. I do not mean that we cannot give counsel to others on the wisdom, or lack thereof, of following a certain course of action. Giving counsel and having mandated practices are two different things.


If we really believed that God’s word was sufficient then we would do away with man-made commands and traditions.


[2.] Second, traditions are spiritually deadly in that they eventually cause one to forsake a command of God in order to follow the tradition. Consider the tradition that the Lord reveals. The tradition to give God a gift rather than helping one’s parents resulted in a failure to honor one’s parents, a direct violation of the fifth commandment.


God loves us to love our parents. This teaching is directly applicable to us. Yes, we do need to place God first in our lives, including our giving for the work of the Lord upon earth. (We should still give to the Lord, through the church, our “firstfruits,” that is, before we pay our bills and use our money for other things.) But, this doesn’t mean we neglect our parents, our children, or our spouse. If your commitment to God causes you to not honor your family members then something is amiss. Put more simply, you have sufficient resources to honor God and your family.


I mentioned that every so-called Christian group has man-made doctrines. Consider the Roman Catholic Church. They promote two doctrines about Mary that are not found in Holy Scripture. One is the perpetual virginity of Mary. Jesus had brothers and sisters; thus, Mary could not have remained a virgin. The other doctrine is the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception teaches that Mary was born without sin. Yet, Mary calls God her Savior (Luke 1:47) and presented a sin offering for her sin (Luke 2:25; Lev. 12:8). Thus, the Scriptures intimate that she did indeed sin, as all persons do.


For those who believe these man-invented doctrines, they result in exalting Mary far above all other human beings. In fact, most Roman Catholics exalt her so highly that they worship her.[1] This is nothing less than idolatry and a violation of God’s command to worship God and God alone. We see then, that traditions eventually cause us to forsake a command of God.


[3.] Third, traditions are deadly because they cause our worship of God to be vain, meaning worthless! That almost seems to be too strong of a statement. Yet, this is what our Lord said!


In vain do they worship me,

teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ ” [2]


Whenever we teach or promote the commands of men it results in our worship being vain. God prefers not to have his pure revelation mixed in with man’s ideas. Worship the Lord in spirit and in reality. We exercise our human spirit when we worship and we seek to have our worship guided by the reality of God’s word.


You see, most traditions regulate outward behavior, but God is after our hearts.


We picked on Roman Catholics. Now its time to pick on Baptists. We have our traditions too. They are not as prevalent as they once were, but you will still find them around. At one time Baptists traditions forbade dancing, bathing suits, playing cards, and drinking alcohol. Only abstaining from alcohol seems to have remained.


I do not doubt that these traditions were begun to help others avoid temptation. Many traditions start that way. But again, these sorts of man-made rules only regulate outward behavior. Why was dancing forbidden at one time? Ostensibly, because dancing can be a source of arousing one’s passion for the opposite sex. It is obvious that dancing, in itself, is not a sin. King David danced before the Lord. Dancing was part of the worship of the Lord (Ex. 15:20; I Sam 18:6; 21:11; 29:5; Psalm 149:3). Rather than regulating the outward behavior of dancing, the child of God should have sufficient discernment to know what dances are wholesome and which ones are seductive and thus avoid the latter.


Bathing suits were ostensibly forbidden because they showed too much. While the Scriptures do teach us to be modest, the problem that we face is that what constitutes modesty differs from one individual to another. We don’t need someone else mandating what their view of modesty is upon another person. (Parent/child relationships, obviously, being the exception.)



Dress codes in church are in this same category. One pastor shared the story of a woman who had just become a Christian and was so accustomed to dressing in mini-skirts and similar attire that she was coming to church dressed like that. This really raised the eyebrows of some of the women there (and probably made the eyes wider of some of the men). Some women approached the pastor and suggested that he either preach on the subject or counsel this young lady. The pastor, having been through a similar experience years earlier, where he saw the woman who was in a similar situation get offended and leave the church, offered wise advice. He said, “She is a babe in Christ. Give her time. The Spirit will work upon her conscience in his good timing. Let’s allow a few months. If we do not see any change in her attire, I will consider your suggestion for counsel.” Sure enough, without anyone saying anything to this young lady, after a few weeks her dresses became a little longer. Then, after another two months, even more conservative. Eventually, without anyone saying a word, she was dressed in very appropriate attire!


Because drunkenness is a sin, some people’s solution is to forbid all alcohol. They may even deem it a sin to drink any alcohol at all. Of course, this makes Jesus a sinner twice over since he both drank wine and made wine for others to drink. For those who have a weakness for overconsumption, it may actually be wise to avoid all alcohol. But we don’t need one person’s weakness to regulate the behavior of the entire church.


Thus, these traditions only regulate outward behavior and do nothing to transform the heart. They actually rob a person of the freedom we have in Christ (Gal 5:1, 13). You are free in Christ! You are not free to sin, but you are free to enjoy life without the traditions of men!


[4.] Last, traditions are deadly because they deceive us into thinking that we are more spiritual than others. They beget pride. Let’s review the account of the two men who went into the temple to pray:


He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” [3]


Observe how Luke introduces this brief parable. The parable is meant to awaken those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” Very few present-day disciples would ever say that they trusted in their own righteousness. First, it sounds so self-exalting. But also because both our Lord and the apostle Paul spoke about this matter so often that today’s disciples are wary of such a claim. Yet, is it not true that we can believe something without verbalizing it? We can believe something without articulating it. Of course, this is true! We are all wary of claiming that we feel righteous but we can, nevertheless, think it. This is exactly what happens when we embrace traditions. Those who hold to traditions will look down upon those who do not. I have seen this many times over the years.


It doesn’t matter what the tradition is. It could be a dress code at church. It could be the style of music that is acceptable in worship (just recently, a pastor was telling me with disdain about another church that “uses drums in worship.”). It could be any tradition.


Holding closely to traditions begets pride!


So, we have seen that our Lord strongly condemned man-made rules when it comes to serving the Lord.


  • Holding to traditions undermines the sufficiency of Scripture as our guide in how to live for the Lord. There exists a tacit assumption that the Scriptures are inadequate to guide our lives…”let me add some rules to help the saints live more faithfully.”
  • The closer we hold on to man-made directives, we eventually will disobey a command of God.
  • As we hold up our tradition, our worship becomes empty (vain).
  • As we see ourselves within a tradition and others outside of it, we experience pride.


What is the solution to this problem? The solution is to truly believe in the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. Sola Scriptura is a Latin phrase which means “Scripture Alone” and is meant to communicate the truth that the Bible alone is our final authority for life and practice. The strange thing is this: all Evangelicals affirm Sola Scriptura, but when confronted with traditions they will, at the same time, deny it. Many of our traditions are so familiar and feel “so right” that, despite the Scriptures being silent on many subjects, we are compelled to demand certain behaviors from others.


What will happen if we give up traditions? And, what does it even mean to give up a tradition? Answering the second question first, to give up a tradition does not necessarily mean that you must give up a practice that you find comfortable, whether it is abstaining from alcohol, dressing conservatively and modestly in church, or being selective about the music and movies that you listen to. It does mean that you don’t hold expectations that others live by your personal standards. Pastors and elders are particularly susceptible to this kind of expectation. They like to invent rules for others to follow that are not in the Bible. In their minds, they think that their rules will help the members live more faithfully. But, we have already seen the danger in this as taught by our Lord.


So, to give up a tradition means two things: it means both that we have no expectations of others to conform to our standards and it means that, if they do not, we do not think less of them.


Paul’s inspired words to the Romans are applicable here:


4 Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. [4]


The more we receive one another, the more we love one another. And this will be one of the results of giving up a tradition! We will experience more love for our fellow travelers in the faith!


I wish to repeat that: the more we receive one another the more we love one another.


The more we experience the oneness that is a reality among all true disciples, then the greater the blessing will be upon us.


This week, and from now on, trust in God’s revelation and not in man-made rules. Experience the freedom that is found in Christ! As you experience freedom you will also find the enjoyment of Christ!





[1] Roman Catholic adherents will deny that they worship Mary, but their actions speak louder than words. They pray to her. They bow down to statues of her. They believe she is an intermediary between God and man. These actions are nothing less than worship.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 15:9). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 18:9–14). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ro 14:4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.