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Second Quarter 2014 (April–June)
COMMENTARY ON CHRIST AND HIS LAW
Week 3: April 12–18
COMMENTARY ON CHRIST AND RELIGIOUS TRADITION
Following is a combined commentary on the material included in the Bible Study Guide with references as necessary to the supplemental passages included in the E. G. White Notes for the Sabbath School Lessons.
This week’s lesson investigates the religious traditions upon which the scribes and Pharisees based many of their teachings. The rabbis who originally penned these traditions greatly respected the Scriptures and had no intention for these traditions to be elevated to the status of God’s Word. However, some of their zealous disciples confused the method with the message and in doing so shifted the focus from God’s written revelation to human tradition. [Standard Edition Quarterly, Page 22]
This week's lesson is a trip through history. The author is to be commended for making the trip so interesting.
There is no denying the power of tradition. We see and experience tradition everywhere – at home, at work, in sports, in government. The author uses this reality to explain tradition in Jesus' day and the uses or criticisms he made of it.
However, several statements made throughout the lesson demonstrate that the author is subject to the power of Seventh-day Adventist tradition. These statements must be challenged.
Please know that I am challenging Adventist tradition in an Adventist study guide. I would be doing the same thing if I was responding to a Baptist, Methodist or any other denomination's study guide. In fact, I regularly challenge my own traditions, and I am challenged by others with whom and for whom I do ministry.
Rather than responding to each day's lesson I will list statements I believe point out traditional Adventist thinking. You may not agree with my list, considering it too long or too short. That's good. My goal is to help you think about the power of tradition in your life, not to convince you to change your traditions.
I'd like you to ask yourself questions like these:
If these questions and/or their answers make you uncomfortable, then open your Bible and a good concordance and begin to study for yourself. One of the Spirit's most valuable works in your life is to reveal the meaning of scripture to you, so ask him to do so. Take your time. Don't beat yourself up for not knowing something. No one, except God, knows everything.
It is crucial that you not open up Adventist sources. They represent the church's thinking on these issues. By definition, Adventist sources are tradition.
It is equally crucial that you not take my word for any of this. If you do, then you will have accepted my tradition.
Actually, any “understanding” you have of Biblical themes that you received from someone other than the Holy Spirit is tradition.
Truth is true because it is truth, not because someone says it is true. The way truth becomes yours is by experimentation. For example, 2 + 2 = 4 because 2 + 2 = 4, not because your teacher told you so. You took the teacher's word for it (tradition) until you actually picked up two crayons, and then picked up two more crayons, and then counted the total crayons. At that point, and not a moment before, 2 + 2 = 4 became truth for you. It was always true, but it wasn't true for you until your own brain learned it.
In the same way, Biblical truth is true because it is Biblical truth. Tradition, that is, anything you learn from someone else, simply is. It can be good or bad. What makes Biblical tradition good is that you prove to yourself, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, that a particular piece of it is true to the Bible itself. What makes Biblical tradition bad is that you prove to yourself, again by the Spirit, that a particular piece of it does not align with the Biblical narrative.
The tragedy for so many Christians is that they have never put their traditions to the test. They have never questioned what they've been taught. This is not necessarily a reflection on the teacher, though it can be. Most of the time this is a sign of humanity's general laziness – “Just tell me what to think about the Bible so I can spend my time on something more interesting.”
So, I invite you to pay close attention to the author's excellent history lesson, and then ask yourself if you actually know your own beliefs or if you merely are parroting someone else's beliefs.
Adventist Traditions Assumed or Made Visible Throughout the Lesson
This is an excellent question and worthwhile exercise.
However, there is a built-in assumption (tradition): “...to live more faithfully and obediently to the law.” All of Adventism is based on this tradition. The Law (particularly the Ten Commandments) is Adventism's sole focus. The denomination's name bears this out. “Seventh-Day” explicitly declares to the world that you are law keepers.
In fact, the church claims to be the only true law-keeping church in existence in the present day. This drives its belief that it is true spiritual Israel, the remnant. In fact, in order to be saved a person must keep the seventh-day Sabbath.
Adventist beliefs underlying this simple phrase (“to the law”):
These are the most directly related Adventist beliefs, but all 28 of them are based on the assumption that only those who keep the 10 Commandments can be saved.
The problem with this tradition is that the Bible does not support it. I invite you to spend some time looking up passages (a good concordance is invaluable to this exercise) regarding the Old and New Covenants, the purpose of Law, what Jesus accomplished on the cross, at his resurrection and within us at Pentecost. This will not be a five minute exercise. Take your time. Ask the Spirit to do two things. First, ask him to reveal the meaning of the passages to you. Second, ask him to expose your own traditions.
How does this true paragraph relate to Adventist tradition? I assume no one will bring pork chops to potluck. I assume none of you smoke at church.
Do I disagree with the lifestyle choices you make by avoiding pork and not smoking? Of course not!
The issue is why you avoid pork and why you don't smoke.
There is more than enough scientific proof that smoking is bad. This truth can and should be your truth without the pain of experimentation.
There is little scientific proof that eating pork is bad, unless you are eating the undercooked meat of diseased pigs. What science exists has more to do with eating meat in moderation than not eating meat at all. Some meats are higher in the “bad stuff” (cholesterol, etc.).
So, where does Adventism get its tradition regarding what to eat? Mostly from Ellen White – several testimonies, the compilation of things in Counsels on Diet and Foods, etc. – explaining the portions of the Mosaic Covenant she believed still apply.
Did you also know she said that people who eat meat will not be translated alive to heaven? It's not that they're lost, but that they must die first and be resurrected as a result of the flesh food they've eaten. (I invite you to look this up in your handy Index to the Writings of Ellen White. It's also on line and available as an optional collection for the Logos Bible software program.)
Adventist beliefs underlying what to eat:
Have you ever wondered why, with the Law being so important to Adventists, they pick and choose which ones to keep? This lesson freely admits to the 613 laws that were part of the Mosaic Covenant.
Why is pork more important than restitution for cattle that was stolen or killed? Why don't Adventists keep the laws regarding menstruation? Why don't Adventists pay restitution to the aggrieved party for the abortions they perform?
Even assuming that Jesus fulfilled only the Ceremonial Law (that is, the sacrificial system), why don't they say more about keeping all the other laws?
This cherry-picking which laws apply and which laws don't is a hallmark of man-made traditions taking precedence over the Bible. One either keeps the law, or one doesn't. It is binary.
Note the last sentence: “...a passionate realization that we need Jesus as our Substitute and Example.”
How could this be an issue? It depends on how you define “example”. Was Jesus an example to us of how to walk in perfect dependence on his Father? Was Jesus an example to us of how to keep the Law?
The Bible teaches an affirmative answer to the first question. Adventism teaches an affirmative answer to the second.
Adventist beliefs underlying Jesus as our example:
The answer to Jesus being our example is not always obvious, but if you study the beliefs listed you will get the picture intended. Here is some help (but don't take my word for it):
You've got to ask how it is that so much of the Adventist belief system is law based. For them, if you keep the Law, then you are following Christ's example. It's as simple as that.
Where did this teaching come from? See #18, The Gift of Prophecy.
I find it fascinating that every week's lesson ends with the Further Study section, where the student is encouraged to read what Mrs. White has to say regarding the subject at hand. This is proof that the Seventh-day Adventist church relies on her to add the exclamation point to every study.
In practice, nothing in Adventism is true until Ellen White says it is true.
In practice, Belief #18, The Gift of Prophecy, is the central belief of Adventism. All other beliefs are subordinate to this one.
Therefore, in practice, Adventism is a prime example of this week's lesson. Just as Jesus had to deal with Jewish tradition in his day, so must he deal with Adventist tradition in our day.
The average Jewish person in Jesus' day admired and respected the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes and rabbis. But Jesus knew that their admiration was completely misplaced. His harshest words were reserved for the Jewish leadership, because Jewish leadership was crushing the average person into the dust.
The same is true today in Adventism (and other denominations). The average member admires and respects their leaders, but the average member is blind to the danger inherent to that trust. Adventist leadership knows there are serious theological questions regarding the denomination's beliefs. Adventist theologians also understand these questions. In fact, many Adventist theologians and ministers have asked these questions. But everyone in leadership and in the professional clergy continues to assert the church's beliefs, primarily because they have bowed to Belief #18.
Jesus is more than able to free someone from this bondage. He is completely sufficient to your needs. He is incapable of being threatened by Adventist belief, or by any other belief system. He is God. He is life. He is forgiveness. His word, the Bible, stands without need to be proven by any human. The Bible is true because it is Truth.
I pray that you will allow the Holy Spirit to sweep away your traditions, replacing them with the moment-by-moment assurance that is yours in Christ.