The Ancient Paths
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.” — 2 Thessalonians 2:15
Right Traditions: Today, in the modern church, the word tradition has almost become a dirty word. There are valid points of where tradition should not be accepted, such as non-doctrinal sound teachings and heresies that are anti-Christ. But for the most part, we should embrace the true traditions of the Word of God and reject those that are not of Christ. Martin Luther was a champion reformer in this way. Luther rejected the heretical Roman Catholic teachings and false traditions of that time. But Martin Luther was not a destroyer of Christian traditions, but rather a restorer of right traditions founded in the Word of God. We need churches today that recognize the traditions of the old ways and hold strong to the truth in Him. But sadly, sometimes this is not the case. Throughout history, the church has always tread into dangerous grounds when its leaders feel the incessant need for “newness” or “freshening up of the Gospel”. This type of thinking and teaching leads to false doctrines and even cults. Churches who are always seeking a fresh type of message tend to begin to accept what is wrong and condemn what is right. You don’t have to look far to notice how some mainstream churches, even today, have followed this dangerous path.
Early Church: The need to form new ideas or new beliefs isn’t something that has just begun. In the early church, all the Apostles regularly fought this expansion of ungodly teachings. Here are a few scriptures that serve as a warning: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” — 2 Timothy 4:3-4. “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.” — Acts 20:28-30. “But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.” — 2 Peter 2:1. The message from the Apostles of old is the same we need for today — Don’t get snared into false teachings and things that deny the truth of the Word of God.
Man’s Interpretation: Mankind has always had a rebellious nature and a need to put a spin on who God is. Sometimes mankind feels God’s Word isn’t enough or should be more empathetic or “more inclusive” or less strict. Whatever the reason, man feels as if he can create a better self-serving version of God. For example, look at the book of Exodus where God leads the Israelite nation out of slavery and bondage through miraculous signs and wonders. The Israelites witnessed God’s signs through the plagues, the Nile turning to blood, the death of the firstborns, the Red Sea parting as an escape and the destruction of the Egyptian army. Through all of this the nation of Israel was saved...so what did the Israelites do in the aftermath? We pick up the story when Moses went up to the Holy Mountain to seek God, “Now when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mountain, the people assembled about Aaron and said to him, “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him.” Aaron said to them, “Tear off the gold rings which are in the ears of your wives, your sons, and your daughters, and bring them to me.” Then all the people tore off the gold rings which were in their ears and brought them to Aaron. He took this from their hand, and fashioned it with a graving tool and made it into a molten calf; and they said, “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you up from the land of Egypt.” Now when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD.” So the next day they rose early and offered burnt offerings, and brought peace offerings; and the people sat down to eat and to drink, and rose up to play.” — Exodus 32:1-6. This example shows how quickly people can forget the truth and create for themselves their own version of God in order to satisfy their desires. This type of action is repeated over and over throughout history in the church. Perhaps not as dramatically, and sometimes more slowly or barely even perceptible, but still, it happens. Man’s interpretation of God seeks power, control, acceptance of evil and fortune from the masses. The truth of God seeks your heart.
Extreme Situations: Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism is a perfect case study of twisted beliefs and man’s spin on God. Joseph, from a young age, was given to dabbling in magic stones (seer stones) and divination. Equally as impactful in Joseph’s youth was his encounters with the Second Great Awakening (the early 1800’s). The Second Great Awakening was a powerful move of God where whole towns came unto Christ. But, much like the Israelites of old, Joseph Smith having witnessed a great move of God chose to create for himself his own version of God. Practices and beliefs like polygamy, proxy baptism of the dead, additional scriptures penned by Joseph Smith (The Book of Mormon), the belief that humans can become Gods, and many others that run counter to any teaching of the Bible became normalized to those who followed Joseph Smith. Additionally, at the sight of any opposition to his power Smith’s response was violence. Read this quote from Joseph Smith and judge for yourself his motivations. “...If the people will let us alone, we will preach the gospel in peace. But if they come on us to molest us, we will establish our religion by the sword. We will trample down our enemies and make it one gore of blood from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean. I will be to this generation a second Mohammed, whose motto in treating for peace was “the Qur'an or the Sword.” So shall it eventually be with us—“Joseph Smith or the Sword!” This quote and many others like it from Joseph Smith are shocking. Most people would think — who would ever follow this man? But the answer to that, believe it or not, is millions. The point of displaying this short summary of Joseph Smith’s life is to show that no culture or country is immune to rises of belief systems that corrupt the Word of God and denies who He is. It’s easy for some to say, “I would never get caught up in something like this.” And you’re probably right, but the enemy is devious and doesn’t come in the obvious ways. Did you know this is the first year in American history where “No religious belief or Atheist” is the dominant belief system in the USA? According to the General Social Survey, the number of Americans who have no religion has increased 266% over the past three decades and now account for 23.1% of the population, just barely edging out Catholics and Evangelicals as the nation’s dominant faith. Mainline Protestant churches have suffered the greatest collapse, declining 62.5% since 1982 and now comprising just 10.8% of the U.S. population. How is this happening? In our opinion, as many churches attempt to become more like the world and give a “more modern take on the Gospel”, people who attend these churches naturally become more worldly, and thus, eventually embrace the religion of nothing. Dangerous times for sure.
The Old Ways: “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, Where the good way is, and walk in it; And you will find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’” — Jeremiah 6:16. The cautionary note of falling away is one that is echoed from the Prophets, Jesus, the Apostles and the men of the Bible. They all warned against the fast and easy path, but how can one recognize the wolves? You must be versed in the Word of God and know the scriptures for yourself. Study to show thyself approved. The more knowledge you attain, the faster you’ll identify what is correct according to the Word of God. Hold fast to the old ways and forget not the Lord your God. Be not high minded or puffed up in pride, but walk humbly with Him. Speak the truth and never abandon the ancient paths.
Tim and Will