Creating and Perpetuating Traditions of Men as the Word of God Promotes Abuse
Let the prophet who has a dream tell the dream, but let him who has my word speak my word faithfully. What has straw in common with wheat? declares the LORD. Is not my word like fire, declares the LORD, and like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces? Therefore, behold, I am against the prophets, declares the LORD, who steal my words from one another. Behold, I am against the prophets, declares the LORD, who use their tongues and declare, ‘declares the LORD.’ (Jeremiah 23:28-31)
The prophets steal words from one another. That is what was going on in Jeremiah’s day and it is what is happening commonly in our day. And the result? Abusers and the wicked are encouraged to remain in the churches, continuing on in their evil, not being exposed or called to repentance.
What is this “stealing of words?” Notice that the Lord says specifically that these false preachers “steal MY words from one another.” I think what He means is not that they are at all preaching His Word but in fact are claiming that what they are preaching is His Word. They say, “the Lord declares” as they preach what they have taken from another one of their kind.
I conclude that this is exactly what Jesus was talking about:
But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” (Matthew 15:5-9)
The commandments of men being taught as the doctrine of God! There it is. The prophets in Jeremiah’s day were listening to and maybe even reading up on what this prophet and that prophet said, grabbing onto the parts they really liked, and perpetuated that teaching on the people, stamping on the label “so declares the Lord.” The stole words from one another. They did not get their word from the Lord.
And that is exactly what is happening far and wide today in Christendom.
“Have you read so and so’s new book? Wow! Look at what he says here about marriage and divorce!” Hey, here’s another one that’s really cool! You just gotta get this in your library!” And as the preachers today devour a steady diet of this stuff, often written by “Christian celebrities,” the traditions of men replace the Word of God in the pulpit. The preachers steal words from one another, rather than obtaining them from the Holy Scriptures. Trite, pithy statements coined by the wordsmiths become common currency in the pulpits. The people, hearing these things presented in an authoritative, “holy” manner each Sunday, assume they must be God’s Word.
“How can you say, ‘We are wise, and the law of the LORD is with us’? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes has made it into a lie. (Jeremiah 8:8)
And the wicked love it so. Why? Because the traditions of man do not possess the power of God. Straw is being fed to the people, not wheat. The fire and the hammering of God’s true Word are extinguished and softened so that the wicked no longer feel the heat or the blow. The abuser remains unmolested. The wicked thrive in “church.” And God’s people languish.
I did not make a conscious decision to stop reading so many books as I used to. But it has happened. To some degree every pastor is a lover of books, and that is a good thing. But if I immerse myself in the writings of men, and especially if I immerse myself in the writings of the current day’s popular authors in Christendom, a very real danger looms. The tendency, even an unconscious tendency, to preach man’s word and present it as God’s Word, is almost a certainty. And as most of us know from sad and painful experience, when a pastor starts quoting his favorite authors with regularity in his sermons, his sermons become the straw that not only fail to feed God’s people, they can begin to lead the people into enslavement and bondage. “John Piper says…..Douglas Wilson concludes….the new War Room movie teaches….” — understand? The preachers steal “God’s Word” from one another rather than declaring the Word of the Lord.