Majoring on the Minors

 by David Crank

From Volume 6 Issue 1 of Unless the Lord ... Magazine

Tradition vs. Commands

Some scribes and Pharisees approached Jesus with a question. They asked why His disciples were not following the tradition of the elders, in washing their hands before they ate. The Pharisees and scribes had seen some of Jesusí disciples eat without first washing.

Jesus answers their question with a question. He questions why they transgress against the commandments of God for the sake of their traditions. He also quotes from Isaiah saying that they honor God with their lips, but their hearts are far from God and that they teach as doctrines the precepts of men. Jesus also points out a prominent example of this, their tradition of Corban, by which a man dedicates all he has to God and thus avoids providing any help to his parents Ė thus invalidating several key commands of Moses (Honor your father and mother) and (He who speaks evil of father or mother is to be put to death). (Matt 15:1-9 & Mark 7:1-13)

We should note from this example that the practice of washing hands before eating is NOT a bad tradition, just unnecessary and not a direct command from God. We know today that there are health advantages to a thorough hand washing. It was a practice that made sense, offered benefits, and there was no apparent reason to not wash other than the inconvenience of a little time and water. We also find no record of Jesus specifically encouraging his disciples not to wash, but neither do we hear Him ever telling them they should wash.

The Pharisees were very concerned about a tradition being broken, whereas Jesus was not. Jesus was concerned that the Pharisees were breaking Godís law and using their traditions as an excuse. Jesus also found fault with their teaching of the traditions of men, as though they were doctrines, on the same level as Godís law.

 

Neglecting the Weightier

In Matthew 23:23-24, Jesus speaks again of the faults of the scribes and Pharisees. He accuses them of being concerned with the most minor details of the Law while neglecting the weightier Ė things like justice and mercy and faithfulness. However, Jesus did not say that they only need be concerned with the weighty things, but that they should not have neglected any part of the Law. Jesus further characterized them as "straining out a gnat while swallowing a camel." What a picture that gives! They are so careful of the very tiniest requirement while completely ignoring huge ones!

We too can fall into this trap. We can become very picky in focusing our attention so heavily on the "lesser" things as to completely forget about the "greater" ones. We can also begin judging our Christian brethren on the basis of our favorite "lesser" commands.

Some things are very important in themselves. Other things derive their importance from the extent to which they help us with the truly important things - they are not the important things themselves!

 

Pharisees and the Sabbath

Jesus and the Pharisees also had a difference over the keeping of the Jewish Sabbath. The basic principle and requirements for keeping the Sabbath was spelled out in the Ten Commandments. Other portions of the Law of Moses provide some limited guidance on how this command is to be applied. However, these were not sufficient to answer every question about keeping the Sabbath. There could be differences of opinion and also rationalizations by those who did not have a heart to keep the commandment. So the Jewish Rabbis and Pharisees added many new detailed requirements and took on a role of "policing" compliance with their Sabbath rules.

These rules tended to be very inflexible and were sometimes applied in ways contrary to Godís other commands. Keeping the Sabbath was interpreted as forbidding even acts of mercy and healing. Rather than seeing that the Sabbath was made for man, they would sacrifice men for the sake of the Sabbath. No flexibility was permitted for even the necessities of life (for others that is Ė they secretly broke their own rules when they became too inconvenient).

 

Todayís "Traditions"

These errors did not vanish with the sect of the Pharisees. As men, we are similarly prone to creating our own "doctrines" and exalting them to the same level, or even above Godís commands. In modern terms, we might call this "majoring on the minors." It means placing undue importance on matters of truly lesser importance, and paying too little attention to the truly important things.

Havenít you seen examples of this? Just look around at various churches in your community and you are likely to see at least a little of this. Here is a church that is doing something good and useful and following a good biblical example, yet it appears to be neglecting something far more critical and important in Godís view.

All of us tend to develop certain habits and practices that we believe to be good, whether as individuals, families, or churches. The problem arises when we forget the source of these practices and judge others for not doing things precisely our way. We may even give our rules priority over Godís - without even realizing what we are doing!

It is often useful and profitable to share our good ideas, helpful habits, and decisions we have made with the purpose of better keeping Godís commands and living to please Him. Yet we need to remember that our good ideas are not the same as commands from God. Others may have different ideas that are as good or better than ours. Our ideas are imperfect and do not apply universally like Godís commands do.

 

Do We Do This?

Sometimes we may make too big a deal about things that are merely the ideas and suggestions of men. Does that mean we should just discard all that is not directly and specifically commanded us in the Bible? Of course not! It is our responsibility to live so as to please God and to apply what the Bible teaches to all the circumstances of our lives. Our applications will not always be perfect. At times we will err in both directions Ė going beyond what we should and at other times not going far enough.

We cannot just decide to ignore some Biblical command or instruction on the basis that it is of lesser importance than some other commands. Jesus warned against those who would annul even the least commandments (Matt 5:19), and while condemning the Pharisees for ignoring the greater commands, also made it clear that they were not free to ignore the lesser ones either (Matt 23:23).

However, we are warned to be careful to judge what matters are truly of the greatest importance, and also to be careful what we teach and how we teach it. Are we just teaching the doctrines of men, doctrines that are not truly supported by scripture? And are we teaching the suggestions of men (however good they may be), as if they were doctrines of God to be followed as if they were scripture?

 

Balance & Examining a Few Key Issues

There are a good many issues that are frequently spoken on, written about, and discussed in the Christian home schooling community (this magazine included). How does the teaching on these matters measure up to this standard? Are we at risk of becoming unbalanced in what and how we teach? Letís examine of few of these in detail.

 

Home Births

Does the Bible anywhere command women to give birth at home? Or to specifically use midwives instead of doctors to assist with birth? No! (As previously discussed in Volume 4 Issue 1 "Why Encourage Home Births"). Nor are there any Biblical principles or examples that would argue for home births being more pleasing to God than hospital births. Then what is the point?

Our encouragement of home births should be merely as one means to help with a more significant issue in our current culture. God commanded that we be fruitful and multiply, and throughout scripture large families are encouraged. Yet in our present culture, only small families are encouraged and many of the normal medical practices surrounding birth often work against larger families.

There are many unnecessary cesarean sections performed, adding risks to childbirth and often creating medical complications after a number of such births Ė complications which may make further childbirth unsafe. Many women have very bad birth experiences in hospitals due to excessive intervention in the birth process and unnecessary and potentially harmful restrictions during labor.

Home births are clearly not for everyone. With some births extraordinary medical measures are the only solution for protecting both the mother and child. However, if most births were handled differently, the way most midwife assisted home births are, I would expect far fewer instances of Christian families limited in size due to medical issues and of mothers so fearful of another bad birth experience as to dread having another child. There might also be less children permanently handicapped as a result of less unnecessary intervention.

Home births are not a "big" thing and are certainly not more "spiritual" than hospital births. They are just a helpful tool for many in dealing with what we believe to be some poor practices of our present time. For some of us, the home birth option has made a world of difference in our families Ė for others they may be little if any benefit.

 

Courtship / Betrothal

This is a relatively "new" teaching that somewhat harkens back to the practices of earlier periods as well as to biblical practices. Compared to our typical modern dating practices, I strongly support courtship as being much wiser and more biblical. However, most of the guidance for courtship does not come from direct biblical commands. Biblical principles and patterns are called upon for guidance, as well as biblical wisdom from the Proverbs. Yet the guidance developed from these sources is necessarily somewhat subjective and there are a variety of slightly differing views. These things are not spelled out in detailed biblical commands.

We need to put things into proper perspective. A detailed approach to courtship is little more than a tradition of men, which attempts to draw upon biblical principles. In itself, courtship is a relatively "minor" thing. The truly MAJOR things presented in Scripture in this regard are: (1) avoiding fornication, and (2) forming lasting godly marriages that result in the raising of godly children.

Modern dating practices have a terrible track record in relation to these biblical priorities, as well as others. Even among Christian youth there is much fornication, emotional hurts from broken relationships, and damaged relationships within the body of Christ. There are also many unwise marriage decisions (including believers marrying unbelievers), strained in-law relationships, and struggling marriages.

A further side effect is that many young people are so absorbed with dating and the quest for a mate, that they are greatly distracted from Godís purposes for their lives during their late teens and perhaps a good part of their twenties.

Courtship is of real value when it serves to better achieve these more significant ends (a wise and godly marriage decision & avoiding fornication). If a given courtship approach produces no better results on the whole than dating, then what good is it?

I believe courtship/betrothal practices generally do produce a much better outcome than dating. However, parentsí success in this regard is not so much based on whether their children perfectly followed a certain courtship/betrothal teaching, but whether they made wise and godly marriage choices while also avoiding impurity before marriage. Perhaps your children failed to follow 100% of the pertinent biblical principles, but then neither did a good many of the godly people whose lives we read of in the scriptures.

It is no sin to ignore courtship guidelines written by men. A godly marriage can result in many different ways, without one ever hearing the word "courtship." So letís remember that it is not so much the tradition of courtship that matters, as the goal for which it is designed.

 

Home Schooling

How does home schooling measure up to this standard? Some Christians believe that home schooling is a biblical mandate required of every Christian parent. I would not go that far, but I am myself a very strong believer in home schooling. I cannot imagine a circumstance in which I would consider placing one of my children in a public school Ė even if I were widowed and left alone to teach and care for them while also working to support them. Though I would have much less of a problem with a truly good Christian private school, I still could not imagine considering that approach, as I believe home schooling to be so much superior.

Nevertheless, I find no clear biblical command that we must home school our children. Are parents responsible to teach their children the Bible and to raise them in the "nurture and admonition of the Lord?" (Deut 6:6-7 ; Eph 6:4) Most certainly! Though this can be done more easily with home schooling, it can also be achieved otherwise. If it were truly Godís requirement that only parents teach their children everything, then we could not make use of music teachers, video courses, home school co-op courses, colleges, etc.

Christian parents do have a biblical obligation to directly teach their children about the Lord and the contents of the Bible (Deut 6:6-7 and a few other passages in the same book are very explicit that parents teach these things, though others may do so in addition to the parents). Parents also bear the overall responsibility for raising their children for the Lord, thus we must be very concerned about the influences of others and what they may be teaching our children. This should particularly be a matter of concern with the public schools, from which the God of the Bible has been excluded from both the textbooks and the classroom discussion. Then there is also the issue of a non-biblical (perhaps better called anti-biblical) world view and some teachers purposefully influencing children to reject Godís Word and to embrace anti-Christian philosophies.

So we can see the rationale for arguing that public schooling should not be an option for the children of a Christian. Nevertheless, I am not aware of any biblical command that would directly prohibit our children being taught by unbelievers. (However, we could cite Psalms and Proverbs arguing that it would be unwise: "The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God." (Ps 53:1) "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the holy is understanding." (Prov 9:10) "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed." (Prov 13:20) "Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful." (Ps 1:1)(KJV)).

Certainly there is a risk in placing our children under the regular instruction of possibly godless teachers and in the company of foolish peers. However, the level of risk varies somewhat with the individual child and the particular school. There are still some public schools where many of the teachers are Christians. Though their hands are largely tied in terms of what they are permitted to say and the textbooks they can use, yet many still take some risks in order to testify of Christ and speak contrary to some false teachings in the textbooks.

However much I may believe that home schooling is best, I cannot truly say it is one of the "major" things of the Christian life. The "major" thing directly supported by scripture in this regard, is to raise our children to follow the Lord (Eph 6:4; Gen 18:19; Deut 4:9-10; 6:7,20; 11:19; Josh 24:15; Ps 78:4-8, etc. ). Home schooling qualifies as a very effective tool with which to do so, particularly in a time and place with the public schools controlled by non-Christian influences. Yet the truly main thing is how effective we are in leading our children to follow the Lord.

Will the home schooling parent, whose children all turn away from the Lord, receive more praise from God for a job well-done than the public schooling parent whose children are all walking closely with the Lord? I donít think so! (Though we must remember that parental efforts do not always guarantee outcome. Some children stray from following the Lord though little reason can be seen for faulting the parents, and some non-Christian parents end up with all their children following the Lord!)

Home schooling does not guarantee success in raising godly children. The success rate of home schooling parents appears to be much greater than that of public and private schooling parents, but still - no guarantee! Home schooling offers a great opportunity. It puts the parents in control of what and how their children are taught and greatly reduces possible bad influences from peers, teachers, text-books, etc. Home schooling also helps keep parents from shirking their child raising responsibilities. Schools make it easier for parents to abdicate nearly all responsibility for instruction to the school. So home schooling offers great potential, but it is still what you make of it!

I have seen a number of examples of Christian parents who have done quite well in raising their children for the Lord, even while sending them to the public schools. Now, I admit, they have been a small percentage Ė perhaps less than 5% - of those I have observed. I expect the public schools were not a great help to them in raising godly children, yet they achieved the objective nonetheless! In spite of all the obstacles, some parents have done well in leading their children into a close walk with Christ, giving them a Christian world view, and protecting them from all manner of sin and corruption that was all around them.

Would such parents have done even better if they had home schooled? Potentially yes, simply from having more time with their children and less opposing influences to overcome. Some of these godly grown children themselves conclude that they would have done better had they been home schooled. Though they have ended up at a good place, they sometimes remember areas where they gave into temptation or were for a time misled, perhaps without even their parentsí knowledge, that might have been avoided.

Would I recommend home schooling for everyone? Almost everyone. Admittedly it is much harder for some to achieve than others. Single parents face large challenges finding a way to home school while also supporting the family. There are others who face unusual health issues themselves, or with someone else whom they must care for Ė again potentially making it very difficult to devote time to home schooling.

Then there are parents who donít become convicted about home schooling until one of their children is within a year or two of finishing school. At that point is it really best to completely change directions? In many cases, probably not. I also know of instances where a home schooling parent runs into an educational problem that they canít seem to overcome, and they decide to try another schooling option to find a solution (or sometimes even just to escape from the problem Ė trying to pass the problem to someone else). Sometimes this proves to be a serious mistake, at other times it does appear to work.

As wise parents we should realize what powerful tools schools are for conforming children to a standard. So if we choose to send our children to schools, we should be prepared to work to counteract the standards we disagree with, realizing how much of our childrenís time they will be under the schoolís influence.

 

Conclusion

 

Majoring on the minors is a potential trap for all of us. We are really good at missing the big picture while focusing in on a few smaller details. We must fight against this tendency! We need to regularly ask ourselves what things are truly most important Ė and support our answers with scripture.

We should be particularly careful with our brothers and sisters in Christ. We donít want them to turn one of our good "traditions" into a law to apply to all Christians. Nor do we want to be guilty of judging our brethren for not following our ways, which may be very good and used to godly benefit, but are still not truly Godís requirement. Letís look for agreement on the major commands stated in scripture, willingly share how we have chosen to live in light of these commands, while allowing our brethren to choose different approaches to these same goals.

The guidelines, practices and traditions we live by may not be the very best for everyone else. Others may have found even better ways, or our circumstances may be different enough that different approaches are best for each of our families. Now I am NOT advocating relativism. There is but one correct interpretation of scripture. Where the differences come is in the practical applications of biblical truths to our given situations. May we always retain the perspective to differentiate between Godís requirement and the often good, but differing, suggestions of men.

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