This is the original draft of the chapter on tradition from Understanding Orthodoxy
6 Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from every brother who walks irresponsibly and not according to the tradition received from us. (HCSB)
Sacred tradition or holy tradition is a theological term used in some Christian traditions, primarily those claiming apostolic succession such as the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian, Catholic and Anglican traditions, to refer to the foundation of the doctrinal and spiritual authority of the Christian Church and of the scriptures. (Wikipedia)
Tradition is another tough word for protestants. We were taught from very early on that the bible alone is our guide, but when a child asks, “Why do we do that?” we have a chance to pass on our traditions. Whether you’re Baptist, Methodist, or Orthodox you have traditions you hand down to the next generation.
Honestly, I did not understand how much of all churches is tradition, and how they fight to keep those traditions. We all want to be right, and it just so happens that a new continent was being discovered around the same time the Reformation was taking place in Europe. This new continent became the place where everyone who wanted to have their own church would run to. The problem was, they all wanted to be right then, and still do 500 years later as the United States.
Sola Scriptura was the foundation of the reformation. Luther made sure that everyone could interpret the bible as he or she saw fit. But who was right? If anyone could interpret the bible, who should we listen to? The fact is both Luther and Calvin went back to the early church fathers to make sure their interpretation was correct.1 They didn’t try to interpret the bible outside the traditional interpretation of the early church. If the two men given the most credit for the reformation went back to the Church Fathers, why should anyone of us do differently?
This was one of the biggest questions I had. If we all want to get back to the original church, why are we looking at ourselves for answers? The early church fathers had to be the source of what the church taught and thought.
The problem is that as soon as someone interprets the bible apart from the church they create a new tradition. When a person comes to a conclusion that their interpretation of the bible is right they set up a new church with new traditions based on what they have discovered. They set up their traditions about how church should be. I attended a church whose tradition dated back only to the 1880’s. Our beliefs were a mix of Weinbrennarian, Nazarene, and Wesleyan, in the Holiness tradition overall. I’m sure if you are protestant you can find where the tradition of your church beliefs come from.
I go back to a sentiment expressed in the first chapter. Jesus is the head of the church but he left men in charge. After I actually started reading what the bible said, and read a little of the second century Church fathers I understood that Holy Tradition is not something set up against the bible but to compliment it.
We are scared of tradition because we don’t trust men. The rise of the enlightenment and reformation are paralleled because they both distrusted what people said. They both wanted to tear down traditions essentially throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater, let’s look again at what Paul said;
(2 Thessalonians 2:15) Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, either by our message or by our letter.
(Colossians 2:8) Be careful that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit based on human tradition, based on the elemental forces of the world, and not based on Christ.
There are two traditions mentioned. One, given by God through the Apostles and the people they teach. And, one given by men full of deceit. A lot of what was taught at the beginning of the church was tradition. Remember, the bible didn’t exist in the form we have today until the late 4th century. Until the schism of 1052, the traditions of the church were upheld in Ecumenical Councils of the whole church.
Holy tradition includes the bible, the lives and teachings of the saints, the liturgy, and the Icons we have in churches and homes. It also includes the way churches are run, the setup of the hierarchy, the clothes the priests wear and the way they put them on. It is not something that someone has just thought up. It is the teaching of the church through the Holy Spirit. Each generation is given the tradition from the last. Neither adding to or subtracting from and always focusing on Christ.