Monday, January 14, 2013

On Tradition: Part Two

In our last post, we discussed how the Protestant Church essentially divorced itself from the traditions of the ancient Church by throwing anything that resembled the Roman Catholic Church away, and by doing so, also discarded many of the rich, historical, mystical, and meaningful worship patterns established by the early church.  As a result of the abuses and errors promulgated by the Roman Church from 1200-1500 A.D., we can understand the reasoning, and perhaps even the felt need for the reformers to throw out the proverbial "dirty bathwater." However, the splintery, factions, divisions and violence that erupted as a result of the reformation are still being imitated by her evangelical children.

We spoke of how most protestant, evangelical, independent, and/or charismatic believers today recoil at any hint of ancient tradition because it has been programmed in us to associate it with Roman Catholicism.  We balk, "Tradition is man-made!" or counter traditional arguments with statements like, "Jesus was against traditions." or "All that religious stuff came in after Constantine and made Christianity into an institution."  My friends, if you will take the time to journey with us, you may be surprised by the truth you encounter,with a careful examination of the Scripture and historical reference.

In Matthew 15:3-9, Jesus gives His famous rebuke of the Pharisees and their traditions, when he exposes their hypocrisy saying, "Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.  Hypocrites!"  And in Colossians 2:8  the apostle Paul rails against those false teachers who, "cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of this world, and not according to Christ." Many armchair theologians use these passages as justification to demonize tradition.  Yet these same folks who hold to the sanctity of sola scriptura fail to realize that there are other passages in Scripture that admonish believers to hold fast to tradition!  Let's take a closer look. 

Tradition in its most elementary form, simply means things that are handed down or passed along.  Therefore, we can deduce by the authority of the Scripture that there must be two kinds of tradition: the traditions of men, and the traditions of God.  In II Thessalonians 2:15, Paul states quite plainly, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle."  And later in chapter 3 verse 6, he reiterates his command, "But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he has received from us." 

The Greek word paradosis that Jesus condemns in connection to its Pharisaical hypocrisy in Matthew 15:6 is the very same word that the apostle Paul uses in II Thessalonians to instruct believers in proper worship.  So do we have a scriptural contradiction?  No, we simply have a different context which validates both.  Jesus was condemning the traditions of men derived from "the basic principles of this world."; he was not condemning tradition.  God Himself understands the importance of custom and tradition for He not only wrote it into the DNA of humanity, He wrote it into the prescribed patterns of worship for the people of Israel. 
Armed with the simplest of Old Testament surveys, anyone can deduce the patterns and prescriptions for worship that Yahweh required for His people which included daily sacrifices, monthly offerings, and annual feasts to be celebrated at very specific times, in very specific ways, and in a very specific place.  These set patterns of worship and remembrance cannot be underestimated in their value of keeping the Jewish faith intact for thousands of years.  Jesus himself was a man of tradition, in that He was a regular attender at the synagogue.  Luke 4:16 states, "As was His custom, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read."  And in Acts 20:16 we are told that Paul was in a hurry to get back to Jerusalem for the Day of Pentecost!"

So how do we delineate the traditions of men from the traditions of God?  Some may say, "Well, if it's in the Bible, then it's a tradition of God, if it's not then its a tradition of men." Not so fast.  Most Christians fail to realize that the present cannon of Scripture that protestants enjoy today was not officially finalized until the 16th and 17th centuries!  However, it is important to note that the tradition of the Church up until that time had in mind by the fifth century the books in the New Testament that were considered to be Scripture. 

This leads us to an interesting question.  Was the practice of the church prior to the16th century based upon the traditions of men?  And if so, then what makes the official canonization of Scripture the tradition of God since it too was formed by man? 

The point I'm trying to make here is that we have to move beyond our Catholiphobia if we want to return to the purity and unity of the early church.  We must begin again to embrace the fullness of apostolic tradition and seek connectedness to the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church that has existed since the day of Pentecost.  We must examine ancient church traditions in the writings of the early church fathers, the councils they attended, and the creeds that they fashioned.  It would also do us well to explore the Hebrew roots of our worship as they developed in a New Covenant context within the first five centuries of the Church, and apply these findings to our worship in the 21st century if we truly desire to be orthodox and orthoprax in our faith.  We need not cower from tradition in these days, for tradition may prove to be the very prescription for division that so ails the Church in the West, and could very well provide an anchor for our faith in the turbulent times ahead.  Let us therefore reach back beyond the Reformation, beyond the Roman schism, and find the treasures of the first conciliar and unified church. 

To be continued...

In the Lion, In the Lamb,

Fr. Mark


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