On the Cultivation of Christian Tradition

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

“One of the recognizable characteristics of those Protestants who were not identified with the magisterial Reformation, is a distrust of tradition. In an oft-noted irony, this has led to many churches upholding an unexamined and hardened tradition of anti-traditionalism. The New Testament, however, repeats an 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 isolate and select elements of historic Christian practice to suit personal taste. We further deny that Christendom represents pure and unmixed Christianity.

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One of the recognizable characteristics of those Protestants who were not identified with the magisterial Reformation, is a distrust of tradition. In an oft-noted irony, this has led to many churches upholding an unexamined and hardened tradition of anti-traditionalism. The New Testament, however, repeats an emphasis on the central responsibility of receiving and passing down, unaltered, the tradition. For example, Paul commended the Corinthians: “because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you” (1 Cor. 11:2). He also exhorted the Thessalonians, “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 Thess. 2:15).

This respect for tradition cannot be reduced to mere doctrinal fidelity, as important as that is. Aspects of the tradition go beyond theology to practice and attitude, as in 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.” Christians are responsible to practice, not merely the teachings of Paul, but an entire pattern of life and piety.

Consequently, conserving Christianity entails more than conserving doctrinal propositions. The tradition is not merely doctrinal. In the context of his statement to the Corinthians, Paul’s references to the tradition include the practice of head coverings and the observance of the Table, among other things.

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