Sunday, July 09, 2006

Tradition and Scripture

The question came up (in Bible class this morning) about the role of tradition. A few thoughts about tradition.

1. The sense I get (from my extremely limited, and open to correction reading) of the early Fathers is that tradition primarily centers around the Mass.

2. By the Mass, I'm thinking of a whole array of factors: the liturgy (including, of course, the Supper, Baptism, and confession and absolution), the creeds, hymnody, preaching, the lectionary, iconography (including, of course, crucifixes) and the church year.

3. None of these exist alone, and they're all tied together. All of them are things given to us, and as such, are not -- without strong evidence of error from the scriptures -- open to our changing them.

4. I think that many pastors become bored, and project this boredom on to the congregation, which sometimes leads to liturgical innovations. Many of those innovations are without any historical precedence, and are often just silly.

5. The liturgy stems from Christ's command ("this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me": I Cor. 11.25) and as such is not open to change. Period.

6. The creeds are statements given by church Fathers, ecumenical councils, and were done in periods of utmost gravity in the church. Tampering with them (and this includes writing "creative paraphrases") is a travesty.

7. The use of orthodox hymns is an essential aspect of orthodox worship. Without extremely strong reasons for variation, hymns should only be those in an approved hymn collection.

8. The lectionary is ancient, and it's there for good reason. The ancient church could just as well have permitted preachers to pick pericopes. They did not. Neither should we. Use what you are given.

9. Churches which don't use icons and crucifixes are going to use something in a worship space. Those who don't use icons are telling us something about the worship. Usually, I suspect, it's a saying that we no longer believe (see Hebrews 12.1) that we are surrounded by the saints. If we think we are isolated Christians, we will think that we can do whatever we want, since they are -- so we think -- no longer with us in worship.

10. The church year is likewise ancient, and there for good reason. It is a way of understanding the gospel. When we toy with the church year, we're telling something about how we now believe. This includes "special" Sundays (e.g., "Seminary Sunday") and plain sillinesses such as celebrating or commemorating, say, Christmas in the summer.

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