Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tradition

See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit,
according to human tradition...and not according to Christ.

Gerald McDermott on why not all Christian traditions are "human traditions":
.... Paul commended the Corinthians for “maintain[ing] the traditions even as I delivered them to you” (1 Cor. 11:2). He urged the Thessalonians to “stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter” (2 Thess. 2:15). He told Timothy to pass on the tradition the young leader learned from him, and to teach others to do the same (2 Tim. 2:2). And when Paul quoted Jesus’ saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), he was affirming an oral tradition never recorded in the Gospels. ....

The early church recognized it needed tradition when it faced the heresy of Gnosticism. Gnostic teachers claimed that both the God of the Old Testament and physical matter are evil, and that salvation comes through knowledge, not through the life and death of Jesus Christ. Their picture of God and salvation radically opposed the apostles’ preaching. The early theologian Irenaeus countered that the apostles passed down not only certain writings but also a way of reading those texts. And only by following that way of interpreting biblical texts could one hold to orthodoxy.

In its later battles to understand the Godhead, the early church finally established a Trinitarian tradition: God is one divine being in three persons. The word Trinity and the now-classic phrase “three persons in one God” are not in the Bible. But nearly all Christians, evangelicals included, believe the Holy Spirit guided the early church through those debates to reach this consensus. Leaders in the debate reminded their hearers that Jesus promised there were some things that the apostles were not able to bear at the time, but that would be revealed later, as the Spirit guided them and their successors “into all the truth” (John 16:12–13). This understanding of the Godhead used nonbiblical words to express biblical concepts, and has guided all Christians ever since.

But what about the Protestant doctrine of sola scriptura? Didn’t Martin Luther, who taught this doctrine most famously, say that Scripture alone is our authority, that human traditions should never supplant the Bible?

Actually, Luther taught that Christians needed the right tradition in order to interpret the Bible. .... [more]