Religion: Outside or Inside Out?
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
The debate we are about to analyze is little known, yet extremely important. This clash between Jesus and Pharisees was two opposing world views going toe to toe, two religious schools of thought at war over how to be right with God.
In outside religion, rules are all that matter in Christian living. For instance, a lady in our church recently told me that even when she did not serve God, and doubted His existence, she continued to tithe. Conduct was all that counted.
Inside-out religion emphasizes an inward, ongoing, interactive relationship with God resulting in outward holiness. In this lifestyle, Bible reading, prayer, meditation, and other inward spiritual disciplines are valued and practiced.
Outside religion vs. inside-out religion. The two views cannot be combined or reconciled. They are mutually exclusive. Choosing either one annuls the other.
Thus a question, what criteria should we use to analyze our individual walk before God? Is the standard primarily an outside, or an inside-out, way of living?
Matt. 15:1-2 (Holman) Then Pharisees and Scribes came from Jerusalem to Jesus and asked, “Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they don’t wash their hands when they eat!”
After feeding 5000, and healing multitudes, Jesus will be universally loved. Right? Wrong! Pontificating religious leaders, jealously roused to action by His success, came to examine Jesus for heresy, to find something to accuse Him of.
These leaders were from Jerusalem, capital of Israel, site of the temple, the headquarters of Judaism. Their snobbery refused to see a King in lowly Galilean skin, in non-Pharisee robes. Their smugness could have been softened if they had shown even a smidgen of love. A rebuke wrapped in love is easier to swallow.
The Pharisees behaved as if they were the final arbiters of right and wrong, ultimate judges of character. To them, all hinged on rules and they made the rules.
They asked an in-your-face, loaded question, one they felt was incontestable due to the disciples’ undeniable conduct. The 12 had obviously violated tradition.
The Jews had God’s written law, the Old Testament, but also had a vast repository of manmade oral laws. Decisions and rulings rendered by religious leaders established precedents and became authoritative for the future. These past judgments were passed down from generation to generation as binding traditions.
Tradition is not good or bad. Its merit or demerit is determined by how we use it. If it is seen only as a guide to let us consider how others have lived, thereby helping us learn from their example, all is well. But this view is hard to maintain, for two reasons. One, traditions easily become to us as important as the Bible.
The Pharisees had certainly adopted this mind set. They used nit-picking rules to build what they called a hedge around the law. This was to protect it from being violated, to keep people from even getting close to breaking God’s law.
Unfortunately, their flood of rules, rather than being a hedge protecting the law, became a wall hiding it. This did not bother the Pharisees. They felt their rules were all the people needed to know, because only their regulations taught what the law really meant, and how it was intended to be applied in everyday life.
Two, people have a natural tendency to force their interpretations on others. Jesus came to liberate us from painful, burdensome, multitudinous man-made rules. Traditional religionists gave Him grief, and still plague us. Pharisaism is alive and well. People still want their interpretations viewed as ultimate law.
People who seek to do this are saying Scripture is not enough. Christians believe the Bible is adequate, unfailing, sufficient for all matters concerning belief and behavior. This is what we are referring to when we call the Bible infallible.
Humans, beginning with Adam, always seem determined to try to improve on God’s words. Even the Bible is often considered inadequate. Adding man-made rules to the Bible is like painting a diamond. It makes it worse, not better.
Remember, our words are not God’s words. Don’t place ultimate authority on our ideas, or condemn those who disagree with our Bible interpretations. The Pharisees made this mistake, elevating their tradition to equality with Scripture.
Washing hands before eating did not deal with hygiene. The ancients knew nothing about germs. The custom was a tradition, a way of saying the person wanted to be clean before God. Washing hands made a statement. “If ceremonial uncleanness, known or unknown to me, has defiled me, I want it removed.”
The custom was a good idea begun with good intentions, but since the Bible did not require it, no one had a right to force someone else to do it. Therefore, the Pharisees were wrong. The 12 did not sin when they did not wash hands at meals.
The Pharisees had no way of knowing they were opening an argument that would continue to this day. Every generation faces its own version of this debate.
Believers often have to cast off manmade rules handed down to them by forebears. Otherwise, regulations become like barnacles on a ship, bogging down its forward progress. Each generation has to rediscover and return to original pure teachings of Scripture, and apply them for themselves in their own cultural setting.
I had to do this. I was led to believe playing cards and shooting pool would lead to a life of gambling, prostitution, and drunkenness. Now my sweet mother plays cards and our church has a pool table in it. I was told selling merchandise in church was a sin. Now we do it all the time. Second even has its own Bookstore.
I asked our staff to list activities they were told as a child were sin, but now believe are not sin. They listed owning a TV, going to movies, drums in worship, men not wearing a suit and tie on Sunday morning, ladies wearing pants to church, make-up, dangling earrings, running in church, dancing (especially slow dancing), pool halls, missing church on Wednesday night, a modern translation of the Bible.
One said he was taught to burn all secular CDs. His family did this one night after a revival team suggested it. One lady said she was taught it was a sin to wear any jewelry, including a wedding ring. She said this deeply embarrassed her when she was pregnant. She said she hid her left hand as much as possible.
(During this sermon, church members text-messaged me their answers.) They said dancing, watching Archie Bunker, Rock n Roll, clapping in church, getting a tattoo, having saxophones in church, drinking coffee or tea. One who was raised General Baptist said she felt it was a sin to become a Southern Baptist.
Even in our day, 2000 years after Jesus, we still have “hedges” aplenty, efforts to protect the Holy Word of God, as if the Bible needs human protection. Spurgeon said the Bible is like a lion. Set it free; it will take care of itself.
Paul said, “If anyone isn’t willing to work, he should not eat” (2 TH 3:10b). This is God’s law. To protect what we call “The Protestant work ethic,” we have added safeguards–no gambling, no casinos, no lottery, no cards, no dice, no pool hall, no playing pool, and no contact with people who do.
The Bible says, “Don’t get drunk with wine” (EP 5:18a). Being drunk is a sin. Always. To avoid drunkenness, we become teetotalers, avoid restaurants that serve alcohol, avoid stores that sell it, and avoid contact with people who do.
God commanded, “Remember to dedicate the Sabbath Day” (EX 20:8). The principle of setting one day a week aside for worship and rest is valid. To fulfill this duty, we are taught to attend church at least once or twice on Sunday, no fun, no ball games, no eating out, no shopping, no TV, no contact with people who do.
Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (MT 5:28). Lust is sin. To avoid it, we say no dancing, no R-movies, no PG-movies, no movies, no swim suits, no ankles visible, no sleeveless blouses, no open-toe shoes, no contact with people who do.
When making these lists, we need to draw two separate lines, and always carefully distinguish between the two. The primary line, the one we use to specify obvious, straightforward Bible commands, is authoritative. It has no give to it.
The secondary line, the one we draw to determine limits on our own interpretations, is open to give-and-take. We have a duty to draw secondary lines, to apply Scripture for ourselves, but no right to force this line on others.
Trust the Bible. It infallibly guides our beliefs and behavior. Apply it to situations in our own life, but do not try to coerce our interpretations on others.