"Why do thy disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat bread. But he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God by your tradition?" (Matt.15:2,3)
Am I more fearful of transgressing the tradition of the elders or the commandments of God? Evidently, from what Jesus said, the former is a distinct possibility. These scribes and Pharisees were more concerned with adhering to a man-made standard than obeying a Divine law of God (v. 4-6). Individuals whose spiritual lives reflect these kinds of priorities worship in vain, according to verse nine, because they rank the commandments of men in the same category as doctrine. It's not what we consume that defiles us, but, rather, what is already there. Those things that have been allowed to remain, fester, and spew forth (v.17,18). You'll find some of these listed in verse nineteen. So, what is worse, questionable hygiene or bad thoughts?
Our older son once told me of a conversation he had with a Christian lady who was concerned about a practice of many conscientious Christians that is frowned upon by some more strict individuals (and churches) in the Body of Christ. At one point, Andrew said to the dear lady, as kindly as he could, "Of course, you realize the Bible doesn't teach against this." "Oh, yes," was her reply, "I know; but don't you think God holds us today to a higher standard?" Such reasoning would be comical were it not so sad. His answer to her was, "No, I don't think God holds us to a higher standard than His Word."
And there's the problem. When our standards are esteemed to be equal with God's, we have succumbed to rank humanism. The truth is, the hand-washing spoken of by the Pharisees had become a part of their religious ritual. If we're not careful, practices and abstinences that may be healthy, practical, and beneficial can become incorporated into Biblical principles. And when man-made standards are elevated to the level of God's law, God's law is lowered to the level of man-made standards. I think I’ll say that again: When man-made standards are elevated to the level of God's law, God's law is lowered to the level of man-made standards.
This brings me back to my original question. Am I more fearful of transgressing the tradition of the elders or the commandments of God? Are you?
Externals are often used to prop-up a weak inner life.