Saturday, March 30, 2013

On Tradition: Part Three

Tradition is giving your ancestors a vote.

~G.K. Chesterton

As we conclude our discussion On Tradition, it might do us well to refer back to part one and part two so that we don't get lost in the questions that have already been addressed in the previous posts.  With that said, let us dive right into the matter of Holy Tradition. 

As stated in the previous post, I wish to remind you that the only way to combat the traditions of men, is to apply the traditions of God.  But how do we do this? And how do we determine if a tradition is of God?  Most Protestant Evangelicals will answer with the simple assumption that if it's in the Bible, then it's God's tradition, and if it's not, then it's man's tradition.  Although sincere, this statement cannot fully safeguard the church from heresy and doctrines of demons that so often deceive the faithful.

For example, the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses also believe that the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God, yet most Evangelical Christians would label them as cults, and rightly so.  History has taught us, that the written Word or logos, alone, is insufficient as a defense for correct doctrine and theology because Scripture can be wrongly interpreted by anyone who can read.

So what prevents those who hold to the strict adherence of sola scriptura from mishandling the word of God?  Does a theological degree from a seminary or Bible institute give a particular individual or denomination the corner on Biblical truth?  If so, then what of the hundreds and thousands of well educated ministers and theological professors who preach and teach false doctrines to their flocks and pupils in our churches and universities while using the Scripture to back up their claims?  How else do you think that universalism, liberation theology, the homosexual agenda, reductionism, and other demonic philosophies have crept into the church?  Do not be so naive to think that these preachers and teachers do not use the Bible (in their own twisted interpretations) to convince others that their teachings are sanctioned by God! 

This does not even take into consideration the millions of Christians who have left the church to find their own way in the wilderness of independent denominations, stand-alone Bible churches, and home fellowships. Although these expressions of faith may be genuine and well meaning, they often lack Biblical and Historical integrity in their doctrine, government, and pattern of worship. The potential for relational wounds, isolation, exclusivity, and deception that can result from this sort of Lone Ranger approach to Christianity is staggering, all the while its adherents claiming the Bible as their sole source for guidance.  Sincere as it may be, this Lone Ranger Christianity lacks faith because it seems to suggest for the past 2,000 years, the Holy Spirit has failed to lead His Church into all truth; it lacks fortitude and discipline because it is too lazy to research and study the beginnings of the Church outside of her recorded history in Acts; it lacks humility because it may be confronted with the fact that there actually has been an ongoing faithful and apostolic church that continues to exist today that may be quite different from their perceived notions on what church should be like; and it lacks courage because to discover something that has been in existence under its nose this whole time might cause it to consider what it has never had, though it has been always been available.

So what then?  If Scripture in and of itself cannot be the safeguard of apostolic doctrine, then by what measure has the Lord Jesus Christ left to safeguard His Church from the ever encroaching gates of hell?  The truth of God can be identified or categorized in two distinct, yet interrelated and in fact, symbiotic traditions: The written tradition (Scripture) as we have discussed above, and the oral tradition which was handed down to the Church from the apostles.  When combined and used in a symbiotic relationship, ever led by the Holy Spirit,  a three-fold cord, that cannot easily be broken emerges as the guardian of orthodoxy and a trustworthy method for determining the difference between the traditions of men and the traditions of God.  Allow me to explain.

In Acts 2:42, the Bible says that the early disciples "continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers."  So we know that the earliest Christian church in Jerusalem was meeting regularly to break bread, to fellowship, and to sit under the teachings of the Apostles' doctrine.  Therefore, we must conclude, that the worship and practice of the early church was based upon the doctrine of the Apostles, since they had been with Jesus who had "...opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures." Now let's build upon this precept with another precept from Scripture.   Jude 3 affirms the delivery of the apostolic message to the saints when he reminds them "...to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints."  We must ask ourselves then, who delivered this faith to the saints once and for all?  As we just read in Acts 2:42, it was the apostles who delivered to the saints the faith that should be earnestly contended for and defended against "ungodly men who creep in unnoticed, who turn the grace of God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ."  It was Jesus Christ Himself that gave the apostles the authority and the Great Commission to "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you..." 

Hopefully by now, it is clear that the traditions of God were not only handed down to the apostles, but they were also safeguarded by them as well.  Now, let us refer back to an earlier Scripture that we discussed in Part II.  In II Thessalonians 2:15, the Apostle Paul states, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle."  It is clear here, that there are two distinct types of Holy Tradition as mentioned above.  There is the tradition that was written in the form of an epistle (or letter) and there was the tradition handed down orally, as stated "by word".  By this passage and others that we will soon discover, it is clear that not all of that which was considered a Holy and apostolic tradition of God was written down.  For example, Philippians 4:9 states, "The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the peace of God will be with you."  Furthermore, in 1 Corinthians 11:34, when giving the church instruction on celebrating the Eucharist, Paul states, "If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, lest you come together for judgment.  And the rest I will set in order when I come."  It cannot be any clearer that Paul was unable to communicate everything in written form, thus, he said that the rest of what was needed for correct belief and practice would have to be communicated in person, by word, and by example. 

These Scriptures teach us that the written word alone, was insufficient, in that it could not fully communicate that which was necessary for correct doctrine and worship (as we stated above that anyone who can read can offer their own interpretation of Scripture).  In other words, the Scripture (or epistle) itself had to be interpreted correctly and safeguarded from heresy and deceptive doctrines by the apostolic witness, or later, by Bishops of the church who received the Apostolic succession.  This line of Bishops, were given the responsibility of not only safeguarding the Apostolic oral and written tradition, but also passing it down to future generations.  This was accomplished by the Apostolic succession of Bishops and their conciliar church counsels and creeds.  One might retort, but the early church was full of heretics, and I would reply that it was only because of the Bishops' conciliar approach to interpreting and defending the truth of the Apostolic teachings, that heresy was even identified and recorded in history.  In other words, to know and define what was heresy, one must first have known what was orthodox!  And this they knew because of the Holy tradition passed down to the Apostles by Jesus Christ Himself, and further transmitted to the apostolic fathers and their successive bishops, all of this mind you, was established prior to the cannons of Scripture. 

In this method and in a conciliar approach, the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith was passed down to the church in an unbroken chain until 1054 when the Roman bishop decided to assert himself over his fellow eastern bishops and claim supremacy over the Church.  This move by the Roman Catholic church was unprecedented, representing the first major break from the apostolic tradition.  Its consequences continue to reverberate in her Western children and have resulted in much schism, division, and splintering since.    Most Protestants now look at the ancient church through the lens of the Roman Catholic Church and rightly interpret many of her "late traditions" (which have no root in the apostolic tradition) as extra Biblical and sometimes down right heretical.  However, the decisions of the Roman church to break from its conciliar and apostolic tradition, do not give us as individuals and denominations license to become the interpreters of Biblical truth.  We must look past the 1,000 year lens of Roman Catholic heritage in the West, into the ancient and conciliar faith to find the true doctrines and patterns of worship established by the apostles and early fathers of the Church.  We must remember that the early church was self correcting because of its apostolic visits, epistles, and its conciliar nature modeled by the apostles in Jerusalem and continued by their successive and ordained bishops.   We must also be careful to remember that although much of the apostolic tradition is not directly recorded in Scripture, it is always consistent with Scripture, and is also available in a plethora of ancient texts with impressive manuscript authority.

Therefore, in summary, we conclude that God is the source of all Holy tradition, and that He has dispensed this tradition primarily through the life of His Son Jesus Christ, the doctrines of the apostles, and the leading of the conciliar church by His Holy Spirit.  The Church, which according to 1 Timothy 3:15 is "...the pillar and support of the truth.", has had and continues to have the responsibility of safeguarding the truth of God and enforcing His traditions.  Bishop Kallistos of Diokliea says, "If it is the Church that tells us what is Scripture, equally it is the Church who tells us how Scripture is to be understood".  Therefore, if we trusted the Church to show us what the Scriptures are, should we not also have trusted the Church in her understanding of worship and practice as embodied in her traditions, creeds, and councils? 

 
Quod ubique, quod semper, quod ab omnibus creditum est.
 


In the Lion, In the Lamb,


Mark





 

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