Recently a personal friend started questioning the whole idea of “Church Tradition”, or as the Orthodox call it, “Holy Tradition“. The gist of my friend’s point was this:
…the problem with the whole ‘ancient church – Orthodox’ thing is the you guys are stuck… stuck in ritual, and mindless traditions – not relevant – not in tune with the times…. Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day you guys are caught up in all this petty little stuff, and traditions are suffocating you…” or so his polemic went.
I listened patiently, biting my tongue, and chose as one should always choose, not to respond back too quickly. But in calmness tempered with a dose of humility – here’s what I thought: My friend who was challenging and questioning Orthodox Holy Tradition was himself a Lutheran… a Lutheran of all things! Who, unbeknownst to him, also hails from and carries along the so-called ‘unnecessary baggage’ of tradition. Even the most ‘relevant’ and cool Lutheran churches today have ‘tradition’, whether real or implied or ignored as they cast aside their clergy robes for suits and ties (or should I say, baggy jeans and untucked shirts) and instead of “A Mighty Fortress” they sing “Our God is an Awesome God” in an awkward way as it is foreign to their ‘tradition’. In short, everyone comes from someplace. Roots and Ritual are what make us human, tradition is what gives us essence and identity, it helps us center ourselves in knowing who we are and where we are from. “Don’t think tradition matters?” Imagine if the Michigan Wolverine football team issued a press release tomorrow saying, ” U of M will no longer be wearing Maize and Blue, and we’ll no longer be sporting our famous winged helmets… next year we wear olive-green with plain light red helmets.” Or what if Notre Dame painted the Golden Dome, copper, or blue, orange or even silver…? Or if their team wore anything other than “24 carat Gold” spray painted helmets on Saturday. It’s not going to happen, because tradition helps us remain rooted and stable in a world gone crazy with change.
In the end, everyone has ‘tradition’ when it comes to ‘church’, and yes, even the ‘non-denominational’ mega-plex churches are born from someplace or someone, with something that uniquely identifies them – like ritual – cool pre service announcements, 3 worship songs, a 40 minute monologue, a slow emotional song and then dismissal – week after week after week – i.e. tradition …so the real question is this:
Which tradition will you embrace?
Lutherans follow tradition to Luther
Presbyterians follow tradition to John Knox
Wesleyans follow tradition to John Wesley – the Reformed to John Calvin – The Anglicans to Henry the VIIIth-
And what about modern evangelicals the so-called ‘non-denominationalists? They trace their roots and DNA to Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, Max Lucado, Andy Stanley, Craig Groeschel… etc. and whoever else is the new pastor of popularity at the moment.
In short, everyone comes from someplace. So we either create new traditions, first, by doing our own thing. Or second by following others who create new things and start new traditions… or third, we remain true to the One Holy Tradition, to the apostolic tradition handed down generation by generation over 2,000 years from Christ to the apostles, to the Post-Apostolic fathers, to the Apostolic fathers…. to the unbroken Church throughout the world – to us. One long unbroken and continuous witness of the Faith; for Holy Tradition is neither dead, nor lifeless, nor static or stagnant… (true, people often are, but never the Church) it is alive, living, breathing as the Holy Spirit works in and through the Church in every age with the same changeless Nicene Creed, Doctrine, Liturgy, prayers, song, faith, practice…. That’s what tradition is: the living work of the Holy Spirit in every age in and with the Church – changeless in a world filled with constant change. As the Bible says, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism… one God and Father of us all.” One.
No popularity contests govern to see who’s the best, right, most relevant, youngest, best-looking, most ‘in-touch’ with society’. For the church has been and always will be counter-cultural just as Jesus’ was, and the church will always be a stumbling block and a scandal to those perishing, but to those who believe it becomes the wellspring of life. We receive the heritage and practice of faith from our ancestors, we carry that light without change, without alteration, we live it, and then we pass it on to our children… and the beautiful story goes on…
My friend wanted to disparage ‘tradition;’ but in the end he only exposed his own tradition… a tradition of mocking Tradition – because he doesn’t know what it is, or why it’s so important. To live without tradition is to be ‘born’ without conception and birth – it’s simply not possible.
The question is not whether Tradition exists and guides us, the question is which one will you embrace? Which one will guide you?
One more final thought: “Do you know what happens when people reject Holy Tradition?”
They create their OWN…
Number of Christian Denominations… “Flavors” available today (Source: Global Mission International Bulletin of Missionary Research 2011)
2011 42,000…. and counting
No thanks. As for me and my house we embrace The Church, and Her Holy Tradition which is ageless, timeless, changeless, and has fed and nourished the souls of billions of saints, martyrs and faithful for twenty centuries…. and will until Christ comes again.
He who marries the spirit of the age, will always find himself divorced, alone – abandoned yet again for a younger, different, more relevant lover…
For another post on this topic read Peter Gabriel, Coffee, and Worship?