description

quod pro nobis traditum est

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

More thoughts on Tradition

Growing up as a Lutheran and not knowing much about the word I often heard complaints against "tradition." Traditions were apparently un-Scriptural and even anti-Scriptural. Years later, as a pastor with some time involved in attempting to transmit the faith to people, I come to a different understanding of the word.

In one sense, even those who claim to be anti-traditional in Christianity follow repeated beliefs and practices in line with their understanding of the faith. These simply may be different traditional beliefs and practices than those held and practiced by historic Christianity. Some "traditions" may be "newer" or "different" but they are no less "traditions." And they are almost never any more or less "Scriptural" than other traditions held by Christianity throughout the ages.

In a religious free society the tradition of anti-traditionalism has been so successful (anything "new" is equated with anything "good" whatever its source or end) that even those things that are firmly based in Scripture and the greater Tradition of the Church, even those traditions arising out of and passing on the very words of the Lord Himself, are revised or rejected. This means the simple act of teaching the Christian faith from one generation to the next within the Church often comes under attack. We are seeing other factors at work. Anti-traditionalism within Christianity is closely related to secularism. Christianity (Scripture, ministry, liturgy, etc.) gets "re-defined" in view of cultural expectations.

In view of Tradition in the Church being easily misunderstood two other questions arise. For example, today we hear of a re-awakening to Tradition but this re-awakening may only go as far back as the 1960s or 1970s. In other words, this period is seen as the moment to define all others. Although I am of Lutheran background I do not hold to the Reformation as the moment to define all others. This is because the Reformation did not come out of a vacuum. Nor does Church history begin then. There is a triumphalist tendency to relativize our understanding of all history in light of the Reformation. Even the Reformation has fallen victim to the Enlightenment and even whatever the 1960s and 1970s mean. Many of today's protestants are oblivious of the Reformation, much less the Early Church and the Middle Ages. We have come across a truly existential faith(?). An over-reaction the other way puts the whole faith in a Reformation box.

Although I am an heir of the Reformation I hold to a catholic view of the Tradition, that is, in view of the whole. Tradition is a good thing. There is an Early Church. There are the Middle Ages. Hebrew, Greek, Latin are good languages even if they are not my own. Because of its antiquity, Tradition is more than the ethnic backgrounds of my church body. Tradition is more than any historical period. Rather than being an obstacle to the faith the Scriptural Tradition is the connection to the faith, the continuity of the Church and her future. Looking back through Tradition the testimony of a multitude of witnesses is opened up to all who follow in the train of the crucified and risen Lord, who makes all things new through His own work of salvation, He, the Beginning and the End.

No comments: