Before we launch into the matter at hand, we will need to provide some definitions. What is Truth? What is tradition?
In the economy of God, Truth is NOT primarily a concept or a belief system or a personal, social, national or global resolution. TRUTH in the kingdom of God is a Person. Among several scriptures that could confirm this, let’s check John 14:6 and 18:37-38 below.
What is Truth?
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6
“…Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice. Pilate saith unto him, What is truth? And when he had said this, he went out again unto the Jews, and saith unto them, I find in him no fault at all.” John 18:37-38
While this is not meant to be an exhaustive discussion, we will like to note that the scriptures above sufficiently proofs that Jesus is the Truth. When Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?”, Jesus didn’t answer him a word, but we note that Pilate said, “I find in him no fault at all” That is, Truth is not about intellectual debates and theological polemics but about LIFE. (“For the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power.” 1 Cor. 4:20).
Truth does not consist in concepts and differing views of established concepts in God’s Word (…not in word…); Truth consists of supremacy of LIFE over death and LIGHT over darkness (…but in power.). LIFE and LIGHT are expressions of power. Yes, the entire scriptures are an articulation of aspects of divine Truth, yet no singular scriptural truth or numbers of truth (but incomplete) can make up the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). It takes all to have Truth and they are complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10, 4:12).
This is the reason why we don’t begin with a particular truth, rather we begin with a particular person – CHRIST. This in itself is an insurance to preserve us from entering into errors of understanding and interpreting the Scriptures.
What about tradition?
“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. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 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. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” Mark 7:6-9
We want to attempt to define tradition. In Mark 7, the Pharisees and certain scribes (experts in the Law) saw the disciples eating with unwashed hands and they accosted Jesus, demanding why the disciples were not following the traditions of elders. Now, first thing is, this doesn’t look like a bad tradition. To wash your hand before you eat is no longer a rule to enforce in most civilizations.
But, look at how Jesus responded to their query. ” And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” (verse 9). How clear can God’s Word be? Any attempt to keep a tradition, even a good one, can become an affront to God because there is an equal and opposite rejection of God’s instructions always involved. Please keep this statement always together to avoid misunderstanding.
Therefore, tradition represents man’s mind (at its best) and Truth (God’s Word) represents God’s unchanging mind. What then is tradition? It is anything that seeks to replace God’s mind with man’s accepted opinion. Hence, it is not the actual things done that are the real issue, it is the spirit or principle behind them. A good deed that is not from the mind of God is a thief of divine glory that seeks to usurp God’s place in man, in the church and the world as a whole.
This is the secret work of the adversary among many brothers and sisters in Christendom (regardless of their sincerity). Not knowing that we can’t primarily obey men and (be found to) obey God at the same time. (Please note that this is a spiritual principle and those who think the thrust is to disobey all man’s instructions have missed the point altogether).
But once we obey God, we may be found to obey men in areas where man benefits from such obedience. Remember that once Joseph obeyed God, concerning Portiphar’s wife, he was also obeying Portiphar in a sense (Genesis 39:9). Which means the order is to do things Godward first and that which is done will determine what can be done manward, and not the other way around. This is how Truth triumphs over traditions.
How Truth deteriorates to traditions
Please note with me the first reaction of those learned men to Christ and His disciples. In that Mark 7 we read earlier, it says, “And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault.” There are three things here:
1. A preoccupation with the differences of others in devotion, liturgy and doctrine.
2. A specialization in identifying the faults of others (persons, groups, denominations).
3. A predisposition to always look for fault (what others are doing wrong that you may be doing right).
From verses 3-5, these bible scholars were busy pointing out their own goodness before the LORD and contrasting it with the disciples “error”. They even asked the LORD why these other people (the disciples) were not like them. This is the very thing the LORD loathes. To use what you are doing right as an instrument of persecution against others who, according to you, are wrong. That is self-righteousness. “…and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags…” Isaiah 64:6 (Luke 18:9-14)
The point is Truth is Christ and Christ is Truth. Whenever we apply the Word of God outwardly first, rather than inwardly, we are beginning to negotiate our exchange of Truth with tradition. Christ Jesus is the builder of His Church (Matthew 16:18). He is the One at work in all those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).
What preserves the Truth in its pristine, unadulterated state is its continuous relevance in my own life. The way it will work out in my life is not necessarily a pattern that others must follow.
When we begin to think that how we experience the Truth is the compulsory way others must experience it then we are declining into traditions. Therefore, traditions can be expressions of truth restricted to a particular person’s (or groups of persons) experience of that truth.
The problem with this is, “this cannot produce genuine disciples of Jesus Christ because the version of Truth they came to know is the particular way the LORD chose to work in another person’s life, not the way the LORD wanted to work in them. A genuine disciple of Christ is not a loyalist to another man neither is he under the spell of another man’s devotion and spirituality (2 Cor. 11:2-3). A genuine disciple of Christ is first and foremost loyal to the LORD, out of which he/she can choose to follow others who have gone farther in their following of the LORD (1 Cor. 11:1). You will see that this has no emphasis on any particular doctrine (which always divides God’s people), the only emphasis is the LORD Christ Himself.
The Goal of Truth
Please read 2 Timothy 3:15-17, Matthew 5:48, Genesis 17:1
The goal of every aspect of divine Truth is to lead to the increase of Christ in human experience. A truth on its own can always be hijacked by the flesh and used to serve the intentions and desires of the carnal nature. For example, Jesus (the sum of all truths=the TRUTH) healed a man of blindness on the Sabbath in John 9 and the scholars of the law will not have it. A glorious work done by the LORD did not bother them because they won’t let go of the “bypassing” of the Sabbath.
They would rather have the man return to his blind state to preserve their own limited human understanding of the law than to seek the LORD to close the gap of their ignorance. This is how traditions have grown so powerful among different groups of Christians in the world, both in history and our contemporary times. Every time we see a divine work that defies our theology, we are quick to criticize it, rather than humble ourselves to receive the light that the LORD would have given to update our usually limited understanding. Please note, it is not God’s Word that needs any updating; it is man (you and me) that always need to be updated as to the direction, dimension and implications of His Word in the human experience and the world situation.
Clearly, you will see that God’s Word is not for arguments, it is for experience. It is not for the head, even though it can’t bypass the head, it is for the heart. Timothy knew the scriptures from his youth yet the result we note with him is wisdom not mere intelligence. While intelligence speaks of mental capacity to retain the information, wisdom is the “movement” of information to transformation. As we see in Genesis 17:1 and Matthew 5:48, although there are specific truths we are exposed to per time, they are always a means of gaining further experiential intimacy with the LORD and progressively becoming like Him in all things.
How Truth is kept from deterioration
1 Corinthians 13:10, Luke 6:40
“For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” 1 Corinthians 13:9-10
Knowledge of the truth as well as the preaching (teaching, exposition) of the truth is not always in the full measure of Christ, it is a part. And we must be humble enough to admit that. We must never allow the different parts to constitute a problem to us, particularly when we see a different expressions of an aspect of truth we have known (but we are not quite familiar with). “But when that which is perfect is come…” So, what is perfect? It is Christ. “The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master.” (Luke 6:40). If being like the Master is to be perfect, then Christ is the definition of perfection.
“…then that which is in part shall be done away.”
What is in part?
1. A singular aspect of truth compared to the fullness of TRUTH
2. Traditions that have influenced the interpretation of God’s Word in the light of the full, unmixed revelation of Christ.
3. Shadows that temporarily expressed the TRUTH until the Substance came.
4. Intellectual knowledge of truths dropped for the livingness of TRUTH in verifiable human experience (2 Cor. 3:6).
This is LIFE replacing death. This is SPIRIT taking over from the letter.
Therefore, we must recognize the privilege we have now compared to many saints of old. We have the whole 66 books of Scriptures now, and rather than starting from where Adam missed it in Genesis 3 and where Israel started in Exodus 19 & 20, walking our ways through the knowledge of good and evil that kills, the weakness of the law that restrains the general outbreak of evil in world, and the limitations of traditions before entering into the New Covenant in Acts 2; we could simply start with the end from our “beginnings”. And in fact, that is what we are offered in this dispensation. “Therefore if any man be in Christ…” (2 Cor. 5:17)
Right now, we could go straight to Christ, not needing again to fix the pieces of the puzzle of “the law and the prophets” and wait a whole life time to eventually realize that the picture it comes to is Christ. It is both my privilege and yours to gain Christ first and then through our devotion to and wholehearted following of Christ, we can come to know the different pieces of the puzzle – the different aspects of Truth – that leads to the increase of Christ and our enjoyment of Him in our everyday experience.
“O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him.” Psalm 34:8
Disclaimer: Using a quote or picture that mostly or fully represents what we have in mind does not imply agreement with or approval of a person’s general philosophy of life.