Tradition

Theology Thursday - Rome on Scripture and Tradition

Here, in this excerpt from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we see the official Roman Catholic position on the relationship between scripture and tradition:1

The apostolic tradition in the apostolic preaching

76 In keeping with the Lord’s command, the Gospel was handed on in two ways: (1) orally “by the apostles who handed on, by the spoken word of their preaching, by the example they gave, by the institutions they established, what they themselves had received—whether from the lips of Christ, from his way of life and his works, or whether they had learned it at the prompting of the Holy Spirit”; and (2) in writing “by those apostles and other men associated with the apostles who, under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit, com mitted the message of salvation to writing.”

The Apostolic tradition in apostolic succession

77 “In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them ‘their own position of teaching authority.’” Indeed, “the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.”

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By What Authority?

Reprinted with permission from As I See It. AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at dkutilek@juno.com.

The question of “tradition” in the New Testament

The Bible declares its own Divine inspiration through the superintending work of the Holy Spirit over the authors:

Knowing this first that no prophetic utterance in Scripture comes from the [prophet’s] own motivation. For the prophetic utterance never came from human will, but while they were being carried along by the Holy Spirit, men spoke from God. (2 Pet. 1:20, 21; all translations are my own)

All Scripture is God-breathed. (2 Tim. 3:16a)

It likewise affirms its absolute truthfulness and freedom from factual error, Psalm 19:9b (among several places):

The fear of Yahweh is pure, standing for ever;

The judgments of Yahweh are true; they are completely just.

Furthermore, the Bible teaches its own all-sufficiency in matters of theological and spiritual truth, in short, its finality as the authoritative source of doctrinal beliefs and Christian practices. This is clearly the proper inference, the reasonable corollary of its Divine inspiration, as Paul plainly affirms:

All Scripture [literally, writing] is God-breathed, and [therefore] useful for doctrinal instruction, for conviction, for correction, for training in righteous conduct, so that the man of God may be completely equipped for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17)

Or, to restate it: the inspired Scriptures are an all-sufficient source for proper beliefs and conduct for every Christian. In short, they lack nothing necessary to becoming a Christian (“They are able to make you wise regarding salvation through faith in Messiah Jesus,” 2 Tim. 3:15) and growing to full Christian maturity. It might be said that they have “100% of the necessary daily requirements of all spiritual nutrients, vitamins and minerals.” They are, in a word, complete, and therefore the final and exclusive authoritative source of what Christians are supposed to believe and do. None other is necessary, or available.

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Tradition Suspicion

Rightly viewing tradition

The religious scene of South Africa is populated by mainline Protestant churches, some of whom place great emphasis on tradition. However, in many of these churches, the gospel itself is all but invisible, an assumed but unseen foundation of the house. The problem is, most of those in the house have never clearly heard or understood the gospel, and the same might be said for many of the religious professionals who teach there.

Once a person comes under the sound of the true gospel and believes it, he is struck by the sad irony of having attended a church for decades in which the gospel itself was never proclaimed. Inevitably, this new-found knowledge of biblical truth tends to produce a desire to distance himself from anything and everything connected with the former church, including any allegiance to tradition. Since such churches often rely on and turn to their traditions, the new Christian concludes that tradition must be part of the problem that caused the gospel itself to go into eclipse in such churches.

The truth is, tradition is indeed a double-edged sword. When tradition preserves the truth, it is a reliable record that comes to a newer generation without that generation having to re-invent the wheel. When tradition preserves untruths, it becomes the guardian of a lie that will not die. It is an accomplice to deception, using its antiquity to give credibility to its spurious beliefs and practices.

In reaction to gospel-eviscerated traditionalism, it is possible to identify tradition itself as the problem. This would be a mistake. If a particular museum keeps something worthless, this does not negate the value of museums. Clearly, what matters is what tradition preserves. A gospel-eviscerated tradition is a bad one. A gospel-centered tradition is a good one.

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On the Merits of Mere Traditions

Note: This article was originally posted December 21, 2005.

Traditions get picked on occasionally by Bible-believing people. I have done some of that picking myself and don’t regret it. Traditions are, after all, things handed down and honored by time, repetition, and the sharing of them by groups of people, and they are not necessarily rooted in any authoritative expression of the will of God.

But attitudes toward tradition tend to be polarized in an unedifying way. We have our unabashed tradition defenders and our unabashed tradition bashers. Those in the former group have rarely met a tradition they didn’t love, and those in the latter group feel quite the opposite. But perhaps both groups are missing something. Maybe the best course is to side with the tradition defenders in presuming traditions innocent until proven guilty but also to side with the bashers in aggressively putting traditions on trial.

Good reasons exist for believing that a mere tradition that is understood to be just that, can be a powerful force for good. Equally evident is the fact that those who run madly in the opposite direction of anything that looks or sounds old are doing themselves a great disservice.

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