In December 1998, NASA launched the $328 million Mars Climate Orbiter, an important precursor of the mission to land a spacecraft on Mars. When the satellite arrived in September 1999, instead of settling into an orbit around the planet, it immediately plunged into the atmosphere and disintegrated.
An investigation determined cause of the disaster, which would be hilarious if not for the huge amount of time and money involved in the project: NASA’s computers were using SI units of pound-seconds, while Lockheed’s satellite was calibrated for metric units of newton-seconds. Whoops!
Communication between two people depends on using the same standard. “The speedometer said 100” means something very different if the cop is talking miles per hour and the driver is thinking kilometers per hour. “The forecast says 30” calls for very different clothing if the weatherman is talking Fahrenheit and the listener is thinking Celsius.
Religious practices are no different. If we are come to an understanding of God’s expectations for our lives, we must first settle on a single standard of measure. Let me go ahead and give you the conclusion before we start—the word of Jesus Christ (Matt. 28:18-20, John 12:48, Eph. 1:23, Heb. 1:1-3), as revealed through the apostles and prophets (2 Cor. 5:20, John 16:13) and quickly written down in the New Testament (Eph. 3:1-5, Jude 3), is the one and only true standard for us today.
Here are seven standards that people appeal to as reasons for their religious practices, but which often greatly diverge from truth.
How many times have we heard it said?, “So many people can’t be wrong.” But Jesus points out in Matthew 7:13-14 that the way is broad which leads to destruction, and the way is narrow which leads to life. Many walk the first, few the latter.
Just because everybody is using God’s name as a curse word doesn’t make it OK with God. Just because it seems like everybody is moving in with their boyfriend or girlfriend doesn’t make it OK with God. Only a small percentage of people escaped God’s wrath in Noah’s day, Lot’s day, Joshua’s day, Jeremiah’s day. One person, standing with God, is a majority.
Just because my conscience tells me something is OK, does not make it right. Paul followed his conscience, even while killing Christians (Acts 9:1-2, 23:1)! Now, the conscience is a complicated subject, and under most circumstances it is a good idea to pay attention to it—especially when one is a student of Scripture. But, just because one can drift off to sleep with a clean conscience does not mean that his soul is safe with Jesus (1 Cor. 4:4).
How often have we heard it said?, “My God is a loving God; I don’t think He condemns homosexuality.” The issue is not what image of God I create in my own mind; the issue is what God reveals about Himself. “There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). Just because it feels right doesn’t make it right.
One hopes that preachers usually get it right. But the plurality of doctrines being preached about important things like baptism, worship, faith, etc., suggests that preachers often get it wrong. In Galatians 1:6-9, Paul points out that just because a preacher says it—not even if an angel says it—doesn’t mean God approves of it.
Many traditions are lovely and deserve to be perpetuated. But some contradict the revealed word of God (Matt. 15:6-9). No matter how long a tradition has been going on, no matter how ancient the denomination or beautiful the building in which it is being carried out, tradition does not carry the weight of authority. Ask Josiah (2 Chron. 35:16-19). Let each generation be courageous enough to compare its practices to God’s word.
Hopefully, mom and dad will be steering me on the right path. But if there is a conflict, I must always prefer God’s word to my family (Matt. 10:34-39).
The Law of Moses
People appeal to the old Law to justify things like infant baptism, instrumental music, keeping the Sabbath, a separate priesthood, etc. This can be confusing, because the Law is, after all, part of the Bible! But, God made it clear that Jesus fulfilled the old Law with the gospel, and that Christians are not bound under it (Heb. 8:6-13, Gal. 3:24-25, Mark 7:19, etc).
You must be willing to let the New Covenant of Jesus Christ be your only standard of faith and practice. Any question of religion can be measured correctly by the yardstick of Jesus’ revealed word. —John Guzzetta