Binding Where God Hasn’t (Part 1)
One of the worst realities about churches of Christ has become brethren, despite being well-intentioned, binding upon one another on matters and in places where God hasn’t. This, however, is nothing new, but ancient. In Matthew 15:1–10 (cf. Mark 7:1–7), the scribes and Pharisees essentially accused Jesus and His disciples of being “unsound” because they failed to follow the traditions of the elders which, in this case, entailed washing one’s hands before eating. We’ll not at all suggest that this is a bad practice, but rather one that is sanitary. Nevertheless, they did not do it for sanitary purposes, but for purposes of ritual cleanliness lest they are defiled. Even still, if that was their belief, there is nothing inherently wrong with washing one’s hands before eating. What made the matter wrong was that they bound it upon their fellow Jews as tests of orthodoxy when it was, in fact, a tradition. Furthermore, they allowed this and other such traditions to become so important that they subverted God’s law for the sake of their traditions. This, according to Jesus, was wrong.
Later in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus urged His disciples to do what the scribes and Pharisees taught because of the authority they yielded (Matthew 23:1–3). Was Christ contradicting Himself? After all, He often opposed their teachings but was then telling people to heed them. No. Because they sat in “Moses’ seat” (Matthew 23:2), they had authority in matters of Mosaic Law. Since they correctly taught Moses’ Law, people were to have listened to them and not so much their traditions.
In churches of Christ, I’d urge that we do the same. Do as much as the Lord God commands we do, but not hold ourselves bound to the traditions that even we in churches of Christ have. You may wonder what traditions we have, but I’d urge that we focus, rather, on what Scripture itself enjoins. Many of our brethren in attempts to better lead us and the church to greater righteousness and piety opine on many matters in our own day from the Scriptures. However, on many of these, while they may be well reasoned, we are only able to infer and deduce from Scripture what God might have us do in such occasions where we tend to be specific. Some examples might be best identified by the pamphlets and tracts published, and they usually begin with, “What the Bible says about …” or “The Truth About …” These are brethren’s best efforts to lead us to greater piety, but in reality, the Bible actually says nothing about attending proms, gambling, dancing, piercings, tobacco, Sunday and Wednesday evening services, and so on.
Before you burn me at the stake, I will suggest that there are plenty of passages that we can infer and deduce from on such issues, but ultimately, many issues are matters of liberty. If the Bible directly said do or don’t do on such issues, we would be obliged to obey. In the absence of explicit commands, we’re left to infer and deduce from Scripture such principles, but we must be careful lest our inferences and deductions become as good as Scripture.