In the fifteenth chapter of Matthew, Jesus Christ is confronted by the scribes and Pharisees who asked him this question:
Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? (Matthew 15:2)
The Jews, at the time of Christ, carried forward many traditions which had been developed to augment their worship of God. There were rules regarding cleanliness, rules regarding acceptable activities on the Sabbath, rules regarding travel. All of which were a vain attempt to ‘improve’ on the core principle of their religion. Today, many of these practices survive in the rabbinic halakhah.
Bruce McConkie characterized it this way:
Rabbinical ordinances and interpretations were added to the Mosaic law by scribes and teachers over the years. These traditions were actually and formally deemed to be more important and have greater binding force than the law itself. Among them as supposed guards against ceremonial uncleanness, were the ritualistic washings which Jesus and His disciples had ignored. (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, page 366)
Christ responded with His own question to the scribes and Pharisees:
Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? (Matthew 15:3)
The example Christ used in His response was based on one of the laws of Moses:
4 For God commanded, saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.
5 But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me;
6 And honour not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.
7 Ye hypocrites, well did Esaias prophesy of you, saying,
8 This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.
9 But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men
10 And he called the multitude, and said unto them, Hear, and understand:
11 Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man; but that which cometh out of the mouth, this defileth a man. (Matthew 15:4-11)
Verse five was difficult to understand until I did some research. This same event was captured in Mark, chapter 7 where the equivalent verse states
11 But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free.
12 And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother;
13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.(Mark 7:11-13)
Corban is derived from the word related to the temple treasury. The idea originally was that the son could avoid providing support for his parents, which was inherently part of the commandment to honor your father and mother, by pledging all of his wealth to God. Once this was done, the son no longer was deemed to have any responsibility regarding his parents support. By the meridian of time, this had simply become a vow that could be made and the son was then free of the need to meet the commandment.
As Christ indicated in verse thirteen above, there were many other ‘traditions’ that were inserted by man into the practice of a believer. It is interesting to note the a number of the accusations launched by the scribes and Pharisees were based on the apparent violation of these ‘traditions.’ such as appropriate activities for the Sabbath and others.
The scribes and Pharisees sought to accuse Christ of violating the law and found themselves charged with supplanting the commandments of God with the doctrines of men. Those who defended these traditions – the doctrines of men – lost the opportunity to participate in the gospel as delivered by Christ. They were found to be hard hearted and lovers of their position and power, they were not receptive of the message brought to them by the Son of God.
As history dictates, the gentiles did not fare significantly better. As the Holy Roman church began to assert its position, a similar set of traditions began to dominate the lives of the pious. Here is how Bruce McConkie described the situation with the early church:
To the pure and simple doctrines of Christ, the scribes and priests of early Christianity added such things as: selling indulgences, which freed the wicked from past sins and authorized them to commit future crimes without divine penalty; forgiving sins (supposedly) through repeated and perfunctory confessions; praying departed persons out of purgatory; burning candles for the dead; praying to Mary and other so-called saints, rather than to the Lord; worshiping of images; turning of the sacramental emblems into the literal flesh and blood of Jesus (transubstantiation); laying up a reservoir of good works in heaven which the so-called Church can sell to those who need them; forbidding priests and other church official to marry; doing penance to gain forgiveness of sins; adorning houses of worship with costly materials; wearing of expensive robes and costumes by priests and other church officers; using elaborate ministerial titles; augmenting the Church treasury by gambling; and so forth.
All these, and many other like traditions, are counted of more importance by some than the law of God as originally given by the Master. Indeed, the so-called Christian Church today is founded in large part on the traditions of the “elders’ rather than on the revelations from heaven. (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, page 367)
Many of the simple and pure aspects of the gospel as delivered by the Savior and the apostles were replaced by the traditions and doctrines of men. The following is an example from the life of Martin Luther;
He at first gave himself up to all the observances which the Church enjoined for the expiation of sin. One day, wishing to obtain an indulgence promised by the pope to all who should ascend on their knees what is called Pilate’s Staircase, the Saxon monk was humbly creeping up those steps, which he was told had been miraculously transported from Jerusalem to Rome. While he was performing this meritorious act, he though he heard a voice of thunder crying from the bottom of his heart, as at Wittenberg and Bologna, “The just shall live by faith.” These words twice before struck him like the voice of an angel from God. They now resounded unceasingly and powerfully within him. He rose in amazement from the steps up which he was dragging his body; he shuddered at himself; he was ashamed of seeing to what a depth superstition had plunged him. therefore he fled far from the scene of his folly. (The Life and Times of Martin Luther, pp 54-55)
Would we today believe that by climbing a series of steps on our knees, we would be able to free someone from Purgatory? Acts such as those prescribed for the Jews as well as those that found their way into the church established after the original apostles carried the gospel to the gentiles represent the doctrines of men mingled with scripture.
The Jews of the birthright had the opportunity to accept the gospel of Christ and, through the covenant, receive the blessings of the Kingdom of God. In their rejection, the gospel was then taken to the gentiles. These too had the opportunity to build the kingdom. As described in the Book of Mormon, we can see that “they have taken away from the gospel of the Lamb many parts which are plain and precious; and also many covenants of the Lord have they taken away.” (1 Nephi 13:26) These ‘plain and precious’ parts were supplanted by the doctrines of men. Practices which could easily lead the practitioner to focus on the ritual rather than the message.
The stage is set for the restoration of the gospel. As characterized by Nephi, those parts, plain and precious, will once again be made available.
For, behold, saith the Lamb: I will manifest myself unto thy seed, that they shall write many things which I shall minister unto them, which shall be plain and precious; and after thy seed shall be destroyed, and dwindle in unbelief, and also the seed of thy brethren, behold, these things shall be hid up, to come forth unto the Gentiles, by the gift and power of the Lamb. (1 Nephi 13:35)
As a result of the restoration, we, the Gentiles, now have a book which contains the ‘fulness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.’ What should we consider as the fulness of the gospel? Should we believe that it is incomplete in any way? Should it be the bellwether regarding the doctrines by which we should govern spiritual lives? I believe this is the case. I have long held a testimony of the Book of Mormon as the mechanism that the Lord utilized to announce His doctrine. This testimony was not drilled into me by repetition, I had a singular profound experience that left me with a knowledge that the book was God-breathed.
This now brings me to the core question of this post. I have attempted to outline the circumstance under which both the Jews, or the house of Israel, and also early Christianity lost their way and adopted the traditions and doctrines of men instead of the doctrine of Christ. It can happen gradually, as imperfect men attempt to improve on the word of God.
Are we, today, as keepers of the fulness of the gospel, susceptible to the same shift from the pure doctrine of Christ into the quagmire represented by the doctrines of men? Are the doctrines held by the so-called Church of Jesus Christ still after these nearly 200 years still in perfect alignment with the doctrine of God?
To answer these questions, we should first clearly define the doctrine of Christ. Secondly, we should examine our own traditions and doctrines to determine that the two are in alignment.
Following His identification of the twelve disciples in His visit to the Nephites, the Lord set forward His doctrine:
35 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and I bear record of it from the Father; and whoso believeth in me believeth in the Father also; and unto him will the Father bear record of me, for he will visit him with fire and with the Holy Ghost.
36 And thus will the Father bear record of me, and the Holy Ghost will bear record unto him of the Father and me; for the Father, and I, and the Holy Ghost are one.
37 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and become as a little child, and be baptized in my name, or ye can in nowise receive these things.
38 And again I say unto you, ye must repent, and be baptized in my name, and become as a little child, or ye can in nowise inherit the kingdom of God.
39 Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against them.
40 And whoso shall declare more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock; but he buildeth upon a sandy foundation, and the gates of hell stand open to receive such when the floods come and the winds beat upon them. (3 Nephi 11:35-40)
If I were to attempt to place this in my own words, the doctrine of Christ is that those who believe in Christ will be visited by fire and the Holy Ghost. To receive this, we must repent and be baptized. We must become as little children, humble and teachable. Anyone who says that the doctrine of Christ is “more or less” than this and establishes a different doctrine is of evil.
Should the doctrine of the church that bears His name be different than the doctrine defined by Christ in these verses? The answer should be a resounding No!
Are there rituals and activities that are promoted as the doctrine of the church that do not align with the doctrine of Christ? I would suggest that we each individually and collectively as followers of Christ should assess our actions to determine if they are aligned with the doctrine of Christ or if they are manufactured by men. Have we allowed our traditions become the doctrine of the church?
Ask any active member of the LDS church what is required of them and you will probably get a list such as:
- Pay tithing
- Accept callings in the church
- Do your home and visiting teaching
- Attend your meetings
- Hold Family Home Evening
I could carry the list on for many pages. This is the Mormon version of halakhah. The list of guidelines that a good Mormon must follow. I am sure that obedience to the list will give us, today, the same satisfaction, pride, and arrogance demonstrated by the scribes and Pharisees.
I will say it again. Hark, all ye who claim to be saints. Are these traditions in alignment with the doctrine of Christ? I respond with a resounding “NO.” Just as with the scribes and Pharisees at the time of the mortal ministry of Christ, just as it was with the gentiles in the Holy Roman Church, the acts and actions that should be spawned by our acceptance and implementation of the doctrine of Christ have replaced it. Once we believe that the list of traditions we have come to live by as ‘the gospel,’ we are no better than the Jews in the meridian of time. And we will face the same fate. It is very sad to consider that people who hold to the pure doctrine of Christ are considered apostate, just as Christ was condemned by the religious rulers of his time.
Even in this enlightened age of the restored gospel, we are susceptible to being “tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine?” (Eph 4:14) Should plural marriage be a requirement to hold high office in the church, as it was at the time of Brigham Young, or be an offence worthy of excommunication, as it is today? Tossed to and fro… We need to identify the traditions of men in our own worldview and strip them away. We need to gauge our process along the strait and narrow path by the doctrine of Christ, no more, no less.
I implore you to search the words of Christ, to seek knowledge regarding the doctrine of Christ as contained in the restored scriptures. Look in your heart and determine if your personal halakhah is a stumbling block to employing the real doctrine of Christ in your life.
What think ye?