twitching and itching and feeling generally irksome about tradition

Unlike a great many Protestants of evangelical conviction, the above feelings about tradition (originally in my post on Sarum Vespers) are not negative re tradition.  Rather, I find myself coming into contact with such things as:

I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you. (1 Cor. 11:2 NASB)


So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us. (2 Thess. 2:15 NASB)

And then Christopher A. Hall, discussing St. Irenaeus of Lyon, says:

Apostolic succession . . . focuses primarily on the role of the bishop as one who faithfully preserves and passes on the teaching of the apostles, who in turn are authoritative interpreters of Christ himself.

The church, in Irenaeus’s thinking, is an inherently conservative institution.  For Irenaeus, it is not the job of the church to innovate or to create new doctrines out of whole cloth.  Whatever the church chooses to say must find its roots in apostolic sources.  If the source of a bishop’s teaching, for example, cannot be traced to apostolic teaching, that bishop’s instruction must remain suspect. (Learning Theology with the Church Fathers, p. 230)

In the above-mentioned book, Hall looks at the Church through the writings of Sts. Irenaeus, Cyprian, and Augustine.  What he finds in the Fathers is, essentially, tradition.  We are bound by tradition, by the tradition handed down to us from the apostles and through the bishops, the guardians of theology.  To make statements counter to that tradition is to abandon the apostolic teaching and, therefore the Church.  To separate ourselves from the ecclesial body of the Church because we find it an impure mixture of heresy and orthodoxy, sinners and saints, is to harm the body of Christ.

Furthermore (say I), it is tradition that gave us the Scriptures.  Both the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament were gathered together (by the leading of the Holy Spirit) through the organic process of God’s people using them in worship, in devotion, in preaching, etc.  They knew, and came to this consensus about the New Testament independently, that there was a special anointing on these books.  They passed on what had come before to those who followed.

That is what tradition is, quite literally.  The handing over.

And when I look at the fractured state not only of Protestantism as a whole but even at the Anglican Communion, I see where the abandonment of tradition has led us.  Any single person’s view of Scripture is as valid as that of the community as a whole.  Whole blocks of tradition are considered unnecessary.  We have taken a minimalist view of doctrine and worship and whittled everything down to a certain set of things that must be believed and done for something to be Christian.

This produces “evangelicals” in Anglican Churches promoting hideous, painful 1960’s Baptist-style worship that eschews the beauty of the Anglican tradition in favour of something more “relevant” that is only drawing them into irrelevance.  It produces “liberals” who not only meddle with my hymns but also cut out the Nicene Creed, deny the Virgin Birth, and undermine the authority of Scripture.  It creates endless liturgical innovation with which no one is ever comfortable because nothing is ever the same — we must keep modifying the words of the liturgies to rule out any scent of heresy or papism.  It also ensures that people who have been doing un-Anglican things with the Host and the saints for a very long time will never be challenged on the fact that the 39 Articles are, in fact, opposed to their Romish ways.

Anglicanism cut itself off from the root of Tradition at some point in the last 500 years.  Is it any surprise that we are now spiralling out of control?


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