I posted on Tradition and the Holy Scriptures the other day. It stayed on my mind, partly because of the encounter with the three little Baptist girls on my front steps Wednesday afternoon before church. (Parenthetically, why on earth would parents allow young girls go up to strangers’ houses to “evangelize”? I was nice, but lots of people wouldn’t have been. Anyway.) It really underscored the problem of ditching Tradition.
If you have a Bible, taken completely out of context (and let’s face it: in a Baptist church, it’s pretty significantly out of context), then you can make it mean whatever you want it to mean. Now, a lot of the time, you may get it right. After all, some things in the Bible are fairly straightforward. But there are a lot of pitfalls in looking at a verse and saying “it means this“. Doesn’t Satan have an interest in you getting it wrong? About two thousand years worth of holy people have written sermons and commentaries on the Scriptures. Are we saying we automatically know better than they do because we’ve come later? C.S. Lewis coined the term “chronological snobbery” to describe this fallacy of thinking that things that came before are automatically inferior to anything in the present.
When speaking specifically of the Holy Scriptures, I tend to hear “but the Bible is the inspired word of God”. Yes, but who wrote the Bible? It wasn’t finally codified until the Council of Carthage accepted it in 397. The answer is the Church wrote the Bible. As Father Benedict notes, “Fr. Thomas Hopko very usefully divides the Apostolic Tradition into seven elements. These include Bible, worship, councils, writings of the fathers, lives of the saints, canon law, and the arts.” Also that we “have to point out that none of these elements of Tradition is to be taken out of the larger context of the Apostolic Tradition. They are all organically linked, and when we take one of those elements away from the others, it always leads to trouble and misunderstanding. Each of these elements comes alive in the life of the Church.”
Throughout history, people have left the Church, taking some things with them, leaving some things behind and injecting some things of their own. Taa daa, a new church. Then people would leave that church, the same process happening all over again, and, taa daa, another new church. This went on and on and is (unsurprisingly) still going on today. If you look at that graphically, you get something like this (and this is very simplified):
That whole process of take some, leave some, add some is really irresistible. It’s even more so today when we are surrounded by such slogans as “have it your way”. People have gotten so accustomed to thinking they are entitled to have every aspect of their lives custom-made that it has extended to churches.
Rod Dreher sums it up nicely:
You have to start by realizing that Tradition has a claim on you, and your life, that you should submit to it, and that no, you can’t just make stuff up as you go along, and create the world anew every morning, as befits your whim. See what Me Church says, and do the opposite.
As Fr. Alexander Fecanin has said: “It’s a banquet, not a buffet.”