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My tradition!


Let me add my voice to those welcoming the change in tones following Chalcedon’s post on how we might comport ourselves here. I’m aware of my own tendency to disputatiousness, and that I’ve been known to say a sharp word or two, but let me try to respond in kind to Chalcedon’s comments about the importance of tradition.

I’ve had a life-long interest in the writings of the early Christians. I’ve not found it a common trait among my fellow-Evangelicals (to use C’s terminology), but I’d contend that it is there, even if some of them don’t even know it. It comes in where it does for us in the Bible. One of the things you’ll find amongst us is not only a deep love of the Bible, but a living engagement with it – my own shelves are stacked with Bible commentaries, and that’s not an uncommon thing to find. When I preach, or when other elders preach, we don’t simply rely on improvising about something we saw on telly last night. We spend time in prayer, and in study, and we go back through our commentaries as we work up a theme. These commentaries, in turn, take what they say from their predecessors, and so on back in time. I don’t say they all go back to the Fathers, but I do say two things: that they are part of that same living spirit, and that their influence on us is livelier than I think that of the Fathers is on some of those who cite them.

Put shortly, we’re well aware of the problem which Chalcedon mentions, but we also look at Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans, and we see that ‘tradition’ did not keep them together. There’s even an argument to the effect that ‘tradition’ keeps them apart.

Now, I will say some things are essential, and they are so because they hep us understand Holy Scripture. So, the Trinity. The word is not used, but ‘Father, Son and Holy Spirit’ are, and Trinity is what makes sense of them. C quite rightly says that authority is the key here. I say that in the end the authority we reply on is the Spirit in us. If I could discern in the Roman or Anglican Churches what they claim, then I’d be in one of them; similarly for those in those Churches looking at Baptists. Surely in the end we are where we are because of a choice we make? We make that choice in prayer and for a reason, but we make it.

Now then, where I differ from Bosco, is I’m not in the business of claiming I know who’s saved. That seems to me unwise. As C says, those saints in Corinth and Galatia got it hot from Paul, and I’ve always hoped they heeded his good counsel and stopped doing those things they ought not to have been doing, but I’d not be presuming anything. The Good Lord will make these decisions, and I’ll abide with Him – not, mind, that I’ve any choice.

So yes, tradition matters, but there are different interpretations of ancient tradition, even among those who give it great weight. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter – it does. But it means for many of us that we can find it a drag on our spiritual development. I’m as fond of church architecture as any man, but I’ll worship the Lord wherever I can. What I won’t do, it to withdraw the hand of friendship to a brother or sister who says they believe in Christ.