Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Keeping Traditions vs. Keeping God's Commandments

The pharisees in Christ's day were unable to accept or see Christ for who he was.  They missed recognizing Jesus as the Son of God.  And yet, to many, the Pharisees were considered some of the most devout.  Why didn't they recognize their savior?  What was it that blinded them?

An important part of the answer can be found in an account given in Mark 7.  In this account, the pharisees were offended and found fault with the disciples of Christ because they ate with unwashed hands:

Mark 7 
1.   THEN came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem.
2.   And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault.
3.   For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. 
4.   And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brasen vessels, and of tables. 
5.   Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? 
6.   He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me
7.   Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men
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. 
9.   And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.

Verse 9 gets to the heart of the matter.  One of the major impediments for the pharisees, that which blinded them from recognizing their Savior, and that which kept their hearts far from God, was their insistence on keeping the traditions.  They were unable to distinguish that which had been truly given by God and that which had been added or altered by men.  Other characteristics of the pharisees that kept them from seeing the truth can be found in this article - Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees.

This is a common situation among those who profess to follow God.  It appears to occur in every generation.  When God the Father and Christ first appeared to Joseph Smith, he asked them which church he should join.  He was told to join none of them.  Why?

Joseph Smith--History 1 
19.   I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: "they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof."

Each time there is a new dispensation of the gospel - truth is restored.  But then time and tradition begin to erode away that which was received.   The scriptures warn over and over that men should not add to or take away from that which has been given - and yet, that is what happens each time.  Whether it be the Doctrine of Christ (3 Nephi 11:31-40), the church of God (D&C 10:67-69), or even constitutional law (D&C 98:5-7); each of these scriptures warn anything more or less than what came directly from God is not of God; and yet, there are numerous examples of men adding to and taking away, innovating on the word of God, and thus eroding and corrupting that which was at first given in purity directly from God.
Section 93 
36.   The glory of God is intelligence, or, in other words, light and truth. 
37.   Light and truth forsake that evil one. 
38.   Every spirit of man was innocent in the beginning; and God having redeemed man from the fall, men became again, in their infant state, innocent before God. 
39.   And that wicked one cometh and taketh away light and truth, through disobedience, from the children of men, and because of the tradition of their fathers.

So is this saying that all of our traditions are wrong or bad?  Is this implying that we should toss aside all the traditions we have inherited?  Not at all.  The problem comes when we replace truth with tradition or when we fail to receive the commandments of God or refuse to receive truth because it contradicts our traditions.  Tradition is an impediment when we confuse the commandments of men thinking that they are from God when they are not.  It is a failure to distinguish between that which we have inherited which is nothing more than tradition but which has been taught as doctrine.

Holding on to Traditions

It is surprising when one considers the amount of control traditions have had on keeping people trapped in false paradigms throughout history.  It is also instructive to realize that while it is easy to look at the traditions of others and feel like we can so easily see their false traditions that they are holding on to as part of their culture, or religion, or heritage - we are almost completely oblivious to our own incorrect traditions that may be keeping us in unbelief.  The LDS people may look at the Catholics and wonder how they can't see what to them are corrupted traditions that have happened over time. (sprinkling for baptism, praying to saints, paying money for forgiveness of sins) or they look at the ancient Israelites and perceive that the Rabbis made hundreds of changes or additions to the law.  And yet, at they same time; if they consider their current situation and their history; they feel certain that their traditions have remained unsullied and pure - or that not only have they been preserved - but that they have been clarified and improved as their people gained more knowledge and understanding.  Doubtless, this is the common belief of adherents in any system that has been corrupted with time.  It is the very insistence on clinging to false traditions that in many cases have caused people to denounce true prophets as false prophets1, to cast out true believers among them, or to even shout "crucify him".

This is what Joseph Smith had to say about the difficulty of getting people to let go of their false traditions:

“I have tried for a number of years to get the minds of the Saints prepared to receive the things of God; but we frequently see some of them, after suffering all they have for the work of God, will fly to pieces like glass as soon as anything comes that is contrary to their traditions: they cannot stand the fire at all. How many will be able to abide a celestial law, and go through and receive their exaltation, I am unable to say, as many are called, but few are chosen."

Scriptures vs. Oral Tradition and Other Books

The pharisees had been taught to measure all truth and all that they saw using many elements which had been added through oral tradition and other books that added to that which had been given by God.  Because the pharisees did not distinguish between that which had come from God and that which had been added by men - they then measured that which came to them from Jesus Christ using the wrong standard.  In many cases, not only had incorrect traditions been added, but they had become more highly regarded than the scripture itself.  The word of the Rabbi took precedence over the written word of God.  One of the best presentations I have seen on this phenomena was in a presentation called "The Hebrew Yeshua vs. The Greek Jesus"

Does the LDS church have an equivalent to what happened with the Jewish people?  Do they have an oral tradition that is passed down that is outside the scriptures?  Do they have a book of rules, like the Jews did, that is treated as more authoritative than scripture?

Quick Quiz:  Which of these are the commandments or the word of God and can be found in the scriptures and which ones are commandments of men or religious tradition?

  • Sacrament should be passed to the presiding authority first
  • Members should stand when the prophet or a general authority enters the room
  • Those officiating in ordinances such as the sacrament should wear white shirts and ties
  • The sacrament should be taken with the right hand
  • Apostles should enter and leave rooms in order of seniority and sit in order of seniority
  • Home teaching
  • Visiting teaching
  • Family Home Evening
  • Sunday dress for attending church
  • kneeling when the prayer for sacrament is given
  • The prophet cannot lead the church astray
  • To be worthy to enter God's temple requires paying tithing
  • To be worthy to enter God's temple requires living the word of wisdom
  • The word of wisdom is a commandment of God
  • Follow the prophet
  • The gospel and the church are the same thing
  • That which is said in General Conference is the same as scripture
  • There is no priesthood authority outside of the church
  • If you leave the church, all of your ordinances and covenants with God are canceled
  • Tithing is 10% of your gross income
  • Tithes are not for the poor, but for building up the church, taking care of the poor is the purpose of fast offerings
  • Members should meet with their bishop annually in tithing settlement to make an accounting of their tithes 
  • The church was setup as a hierarchy of authority:  The first presidency preside in authority over the quorum of the twelve, who preside in authority over the seventy, who preside in authority over the stakes of Zion
Answer:  Kneeling for the sacrament prayer is both in the Book of Mormon and the D&C (Moroni 4:2, D&C 20:76).  You can also find verses that discuss tithes being for the poor, the widow, and the fatherless (Gen. 14:38 JST, Deuteronomy 26:12).  You may have difficulty finding the other ones.

Now review that list again.  Have you ever felt guilty for not living up to any of the items on the list?  If God didn't command it - does it make sense to feel guilty about it?  Did the Jewish people in Christ's day feel guilty about laws they had been taught that weren't from God?  Do you think that makes sense?  Does being a leader in a church give authority to make commandments or can commandments only come from God?

One explanation would be that leaders have received revelation on these things outside the scriptures or policies that are published by church leaders are the same as revelation.  Or maybe this is just good advice and we ought to follow it because the leader is a prophet of God.

Not being commanded in all things is a true principle (D&C 56:26-28).  However, this does not give any man the right to make rules for how people should live their lives above and beyond what God has given.  God wants us to do much good on our own without being commanded, that includes without being commanded by the arm of flesh.

What about the scripture that says whether by the voice of my servants or my voice, it is the same? (D&C 1:38)  Doesn't this mean that whatever the leaders say can be considered equal to the word of God?  Rock Waterman did a great job answering and clarifying this point here.

What about continuing revelation?  Maybe all of the changes fall under the category of continuing revelation.  Whenever Joseph Smith received revelations, he wrote them down as he received them, presented them to the church, and then once the church received them as revelations, they were added to the scriptural canon and published as revelation from God to the church.  If you examine most of the revelations in the D&C, you will find that they are given in the voice of the Lord.  Based on this, we could also expect that any continuing revelations coming from the Lord would be in His voice.  

Harold B. Lee taught:  

"The only one authorized to bring forth any new doctrine is the President of the Church, who, when he does, will declare it as revelation from God, and it will be so accepted by the Council of the Twelve and sustained by the body of the Church."2
There are six recorded instances of this happening in the LDS Church:

  • April 6, 1830: When the church was organized, the Bible and Book of Mormon were unanimously accepted as scripture.
  • August 17, 1835: Select revelations from Joseph Smith were unanimously accepted as scripture. These were later printed in the Doctrine and Covenants.
  • October 10, 1880: The Pearl of Great Price was unanimously accepted as scripture. Also at that time, other revelations in the Doctrine and Covenants – which had not been accepted as scripture in 1835 because they were received after that date – were unanimously accepted as scripture.
  • October 6, 1890: Official Declaration 1 was accepted unanimously as scripture. It later began to be published in the Doctrine and Covenants.
  • April 3, 1976: Two visions (one received by Joseph Smith and the other by Joseph F. Smith) were accepted as scripture and added to the Pearl of Great Price. (The two visions were later moved to the Doctrine and Covenants as sections 137 and 138.)
  • September 30, 1978:  Official Declaration 2 was accepted unanimously as scripture. It immediately was added to the Doctrine and Covenants.

So how can we tell the difference?  How can we distinguish between that which is from men and that which is from God?  Becoming familiar with the scriptures is a very big part of this.   Another key is given in D&C 46.

Section 46

7.   But ye are commanded in all things to ask of God, who giveth liberally; and that which the Spirit testifies unto you even so I would that ye should do in all holiness of heart, walking uprightly before me, considering the end of your salvation, doing all things with prayer and thanksgiving, that ye may not be seduced by evil spirits, or doctrines of devils, or the commandments of men; for some are of men, and others of devils.

God wants us to rely on him - not on other men.  The promise in James 1:5 is that if any lack wisdom, they can ask of God and God will answer - we just need to believe.  Each of us has a choice, trust in man or learn to trust and depend on God.  

D&C 45
56 And at that day, when I shall come in my glory, shall the parable be fulfilled which I spake concerning the ten virgins.
57 For they that are wise and have received the truth, and have taken the Holy Spirit for their guide, and have not been deceived—verily I say unto you, they shall not be hewn down and cast into the fire, but shall abide the day.

Preserving the Restoration

Joseph Smith was a prophet of God.  God used Joseph to restore much of what had been lost in previous generations.  Many truths that had been lost in previous generations were restored through the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine & Covenants, and the Pearl of Great Price.  Another messenger has been sent.  The message:  return back to that which was given from God through Joseph Smith.  The message can be found in the book "Preserving the Restoration".   Will you receive the message?  Will you recognize the Lord's voice in the message and the call to repentance?  Or, will you reject this book immediately because of your traditions?  Here in great clarity, you can find a message given inviting all those who accept Joseph as a prophet of God to return back to the wonderful and delicious truths of the restoration and the gospel of Jesus Christ.


1 “The world always mistook false prophets for true ones, and those that were sent of God, they considered to be false prophets, and hence they killed, stoned, punished and imprisoned the true prophets, and these had to hide themselves ‘in deserts and dens, and caves of the earth,’ and though the most honorable men of the earth, they banished them from their society as vagabonds, whilst they cherished, honored and supported knaves, vagabonds, hypocrites, impostors, and the basest of men” (Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 206)

Harold B. Lee, The First Area General Conference for Germany, Austria, Holland, Italy, Switzerland, France, Belgium, and Spain of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, held in Munich Germany, August 24–26, 1973