On the Cultivation of Christian Tradition

We affirm the importance of traditions that we have inherited from the saints of the entire church age

“One of the enduring characteristics of the Reformation, particularly among those of those Protestants not identified with the magisterial Reformation, is a deep distrust of tradition. In an oft-noted irony, this has lead to many churches having an unexamined and hardened tradition of anti-traditionalism. Such a mindset runs counter to the teaching of the New Testament, for there we find repeated emphasis on the central responsibility of receiving and passing down, unaltered, the tradition.”

 

This is a series to further explain the articles of “A Conservative Christian Declaration.”

We affirm the importance of beginning our pursuit of sound worship and holy living within the bounds of traditions that we have inherited from the saints of the entire church age (2 Tim 2:2, Phil 3:17). Many of these believers, even the ones with whom we would have significant theological disagreements, have had a clearer understanding of what it is to love God rightly than we do. We affirm the value of learning from the culture that developed around and in response to the growth of Christianity.

We deny the chronological snobbery that ignores the past, the naïve longing for some past golden age, and the postmodern inclination to cherry­pick elements of historic Christian practice to suit personal taste. We deny that this pursuit is racist. We further deny that Christendom represents pure and unmixed Christianity.

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One of the enduring characteristics of the Reformation, particularly among those of those Protestants not identified with the magisterial Reformation, is a deep distrust of tradition. In an oft-noted irony, this has lead to many churches having an unexamined and hardened tradition of anti-traditionalism. Such a mindset runs counter to the teaching of the New Testament, for there we find repeated emphasis on the central responsibility of receiving and passing down, unaltered, the tradition. So, for instance, Paul’s commendation to the Corinthians: “Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you” (1 Corinthians 11:2). Or again: “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

And such respect for tradition cannot be reduced to mere doctrinal fidelity, as important as that is. Consider Philippians 4:9: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.” It is evident here that what Christians are to practice are not merely the teachings of Paul, but an entire pattern of life and piety. Therefore, we have not conserved Christianity if we merely conserve the doctrine. The tradition is not merely doctrinal. In the Corinthians passage noted above, Paul’s (perhaps ironic?) statement about their allegiance to the tradition includes, for instance, the practice of head coverings and the observance of the Table.

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