I can almost hear Zero Mostel singing, as he defined the role of Tevye the milkman in Fiddler on the Roof. One of the themes of this great, if overly sentimental play, is that tradition can provide stability in an uncertain and dangerous world — until it interferes with what your heart tells you to do.
Well, that’s what tradition does — provide stability. In our faith, the Reformation put paid to the conceit that human-inspired traditions may take the place of Christ’s eternal and unchanging message. This is a heresy that seems to have started as early as the first century, as we have Paul admonishing the church at Colosse in his letter (Colossians, Chapter 2):
8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9 For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10 and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority.
Now, one man’s tradition may be another’s heresy, and how we interpret Scripture is itself subject to controversy. And, before we Protestants get too haughty and discard all sorts of babies with the traditional holy bath water, we need to examine anything that seems to be in place in our own faith tradition simply because it is a tradition.
Tradition is in the eye of the beholder, it seems. My take is that the least departure from the written word of Scripture is best. Before all of you sola scriptura folks, myself included, start nodding furiously, consider how much we have departed from the literal word in things such as, oh, to pick an easy one, killing those who commit adultery:
Leviticus 20:10 If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death.
An explanation for such commands, directly from God, mind you, is that the “death” is a spiritual death. A separation from God and His people. Harsh enough.
Our tradition, of course, now tells us that the cross of Christ provides for the salvation of sinners who believe, confess Him as Lord, and repent of their sins. At least some of us. So, the Christian “tradition” is to relieve the sinner from immediate execution, and let him await judgment from the Lord at the end.
But our “new” tradition is really not new. It is simply the continuation of using Scripture as our ultimate authority. John tells us, at the end of Revelation, that the Book is sealed (Revelation 22:18). While I’ve often wondered about this, I accept it.
At least that’s my tradition — least departure from the written Word is best. What’s yours?
| technorati tag | Christianity|