Tuesday, November 27, 2012

On Tradition: Part One

It has become a byword in many independent, evangelical, and charismatic churches... something to avoid at all cost...an unholy word that should find no place to rest in our postmodern Christian landscape...in fact the absence of it has become our litmus test for being relevant, original and even "apostolic".

The word...TRADITION....

Meanwhile, in the western church's fight for relevance amongst a cacophony of other options, she has become more irrelevant than ever.  A generation of youth are screaming for stability, while their gen-xer parents are still trying to find themselves.  American evangelicalism, with its lack of passion and power, deflated by the recent election results, is beginning to wake up to the fact that something is missing.  When drawing crowds becomes more important than discipleship so that we can pay the mortgage on a building that is rarely used, when "trunk or treat" becomes the great harvest, when pagan egg hunts become the highlight of the Easter season, and when inflatables, fire trucks, and cotton candy become our main means of evangelism, something is amiss! 

We long to be rooted.  We want to be grounded.  We need to identify with something greater than our little selves, our little church, and our little denomination.  However, we are often ignorant of our spiritual roots system, and too narrow-minded to look at Church history through any other lens than the protestant reformation.   Our "personal" relationship with Jesus Christ has become too personal!  We have our personal interpretations of Scripture, we have have our personal convictions, we have our own personal way of worship,  and our personal pet doctrines.  Our faith has become so personal that we rarely feel the need to share it with others, because....it's personal.

Our personal, individualized, and isolated faith has made us evangelicals orphans, runaways.  We pride ourselves on independence and being self-made men and women. With so few connections to our apostolic fathers, the historic creeds and councils of the early church, and an absence of liturgy, we have in essence divorced ourselves from our ancestors, those early patriots of the faith who listened to the Word and the Spirit; who wrote treaties in defense of the faith, who established patterns of worship for new covenant believers, who battled heresies, who established the canon of Scripture, who did not parlay with politics, and who often signed their own death warrant by the way they worshipped!  

We cannot forget where we came from or we will not know where we are headed.  We cannot forsake the foundations of our faith because one of the dioceses of the conciliar church decided to go it alone in 1054!  It is because we have forgotten the family, that we evangelicals decided to start our own without the blessing and the heritage of our spiritual parentage.  In doing so we unknowingly joined ourselves into the the gang of independence, politics, and rebellion; then we labeled it Christian, forgetting that the kingdom to which we belong is ruled by a sovereign. 

Thus, anything ancient, orderly, or liturgical tends to either offend our protestant sensibilities or remind us of the dogmatic errors of the Roman Church and how right we were to distance ourselves from anything of that flavor.  And so we discard 1500 years of our family tradition, occasionally wandering our way back to Acts chapter 2 so that we can remind ourselves how far off track we have gotten instead of how far we have come! 

We forget that the early Church was an infant church, a fledgling minority of Jews and Gentiles who met in homes, caves and grave yards.  It was a church constantly battling heresy, false teachings, paganism, and immorality.  It was a Church that had nothing more to go on than the Holy Spirit, the Old Testament and the testimony of 12 men.  Please don't get me wrong here!  I am in no way discrediting the purity and example of the early Church as described in the book of Acts!  However, I recognize that it was a foundation that was to be built upon by the Church universal through the work and leadership of the Holy Spirit over the next 2,000 years.

In John 16:12 Jesus said to his disciples, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.  However, when He, the Spirit of Truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth..."  In other words, even the apostles could not bear all that the Lord Jesus Christ had planned to do in and through His Church, but that the Holy Spirit would lead and guide Christ's body into all truth. 

The Apostolic Tradition, the Apostle's Creed, the Didache, numerous epistles, and conciliar documents produced by the early church fathers during the first five centuries provided the church with an apostolic "prescription" for orderly worship, moral conduct, church organization, liturgy, communion, baptism, catechism, fasting, and church life (in short orthopraxy, or right practice).  These traditions were handed down to the Church from the Apostles of Jesus Christ and subsequently to their successors, the Bishops; who being overseers of the early church and guardians of the one true faith, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Old Testament patterns of worship, and ecumenical councils, established not only a universal (catholic) faith with common practice, but an orthodox one as well. 

The great success of the Protestant Church is that it recovered the apostolic doctrine that had long been smothered in Roman dogma and papal supremacy (not realizing that the conciliar faith still existed in the East). However, in its haste to be rid of all things Roman, the Reformers mistakenly threw out the apostolic traditions and decided that right belief (orthodoxy) would be a sufficient replacement for right practice (orthopraxy).  Much to the reformer's chagrin and to our misfortune, right doctrine alone does not unify or even reform the church, (especially when it is left to so many discontented and disconnected personalities to interpret and apply it to church life, discipline, and worship) rather it creates an environment for division, schism, and war.  Right doctrine must be married to right practice or the Church of Jesus Christ will continue to splinter and divide. 

Then how does that happen?

The Church, that is, the whole body of Christ, must return not only to right doctrine, but to right practice.  She must humble herself and return to the foundations of our faith as outlined by our fathers.  We must dig up the "graves" of the apostolic fathers and re-search the wisdom of the early creeds and councils! We must rediscover the great traditions discarded by the Reformers and reintroduce the early forms of worship, evangelism, and discipleship! We must learn to love the liturgy and reexamine the reality of Holy Communion! We must embrace biblical and historical church government! And we must look carefully to find the churches that have continued in the traditions for over 2,000 years so that we can learn from their wisdom, and some how can get it back to good...

"Stand ye at the crossroads, and see, ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls." ~Jeremiah 6:16

To be continued...

In the Lion, In the Lamb,

Fr. Mark



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