A brother in Singapore hears some persons urge that we should “follow the old paths” and resist changes in the church. He asks what Scripture says that and in what context. “Is there an ‘old path’ for us Christians today?”
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“Ask for the old paths and walk therein” is a quotation from the King James Version of Jeremiah 6:16. By saying that, the prophet was calling the people of Judah back from idolatry and immorality to the Law of Moses as given at Sinai. He was challenging them to return from a disregard and neglect of their relationship with God to a hearty love for him and commitment to do his will.
In the early years of this century, certain preachers and religious debaters commonly quoted this verse when urging their people to maintain biblical doctrines and practices despite pressures from the world, the flesh and the devil. So long as the particular doctrine or practice under consideration was truly grounded firmly in the Word of God, that was not a bad application of this Old Testament passage — although it was certainly a secondary usage beyond the prophet’s original intention.
But preachers also used the verse very carelessly at times, when they simply wished to defend the religious or ecclesiastical status quo. Then they misused Jeremiah’s words to protect human traditions — something Jesus himself often taught against — especially when those traditions were elevated to the level of God’s Word and when living by them meant behaving toward people in a destructive and unloving manner. Whenever people use Scripture to prove they are more righteous than others, they are misusing the Bible and likely are wrong about their favorite doctrines as well.
At the very least, any person who argues for or against something based on “the old paths” needs to be very sure that what he or she wishes to preserve or perpetuate is fully 1900 years old (back to the New Testament or the Bible) and does not simply go back to the 1950’s when they were growing up and forming their own opinions. Those paths are not nearly “old” enough to justify using this verse in their defense! If we truly go back to the Bible, we will preach Jesus and his finished work of salvation, not some particular church, plan, pattern or system of doctrine to which Jesus Christ is at best peripheral and at worst totally irrelevant.