Christians Ought to Hold on to Tradition
It’s difficult to articulate why Christians ought to hold to tradition. Often, I’m misunderstood as defending traditionalism. I don’t mean that we ought to defend tradition for tradition’s sake. Rather, I wish to communicate a kind of guardedness against sudden change as well as a sense of worth for the tried and true. In a very real sense, that is what it means to be a conservative Christian. Conservatives guard what’s true and valuable about established orthodoxy and practice.
There is a battle that rages in the United States. Some misappropriate this battle as Democrat vs Republican or conservative vs liberal. Although there are ways that these descriptions paint a picture of both sides, they aren’t completely accurate. It would serve us better to describe the divide as progressivism vs tradition because party affiliation confuses the truth. Both D’s and R’s can be progressive.
The same is true in the Church. There are so-called liberal or progressive Christians and also self-proclaimed conservatives. But even in the Church, these descriptions fall short in their analogy of what’s happening. It’s really a battle between progressivism and tradition.
Let me explain.
Progressives follow an ideology.
The ideology is simple, tradition is bad.
I realize that sounds simplistic, but it is just that. Progressivism, by definition, is an ideology opposed to tradition. In other words, to be progressive is to move away from tradition. It is the idea or proposition that we must always move forward in both our understanding and practice. According to progressivism, it is morally good to do so.
Likewise, the ideology of progressivism understands any attempt to conserve tradition as morally wrong. Progressives make fun of the statement, “we’ve always done it this way” as if it is an illegitimate concern. That progressive rhetorical apologetic has become cliché as a sarcastic rebuke of traditional Christians.
Ideological thinking has added to the ever-increasing polarization in the United States. Tradition must be destroyed, according to progressives. If they can’t change the minds of people who hang on to their Bible and their guns, then they belittle them by making fun of them or calling them bigots.
Making all things new?
Progressivism is an abstraction. Traditional beliefs and practices are immoral because they aren’t new!
That’s why worship music isn’t merely replaced, hymns are also revitalized with “better” melodies. It’s also why liturgy is disguised by constantly changing the order of the service. Finally, preaching itself has suffered the cuts of a thousand progressives because it must always be tweaked to the itching ears of those who want to hear something new.
“Let’s be clear”, said the Progressive
Progressive Christians don’t necessarily want to throw the gospel out per se, but they want it to sound new, be relevant, and be tolerant of new ideologies and abstract concepts relegating following Christ to a proposition rather than a long established way of life.
But if following Christ is merely an abstract idea, then it doesn’t needs must go to Bristol, Birmingham, or Burlington. It isn’t lived, it’s concieved.
Tradition is a way of life
But tradition is just that, a long established way of life that includes beliefs and practices that have stood the test of time.
Time has a way of weeding out bad beliefs and unbiblical practices. The church that measures all things against the rule of God (canon) will reform its practices to measure up to it. The same is true of its beliefs, of course. Biblical Christians understand that if our beliefs or practices do not measure up to God’s standard, we must change.
That change is tangible though. Because tradition is a way of life, the way we live must represent what we believe. Manners, customs, and social practices of virtue (or a lack thereof) all mirror what a culture believes to be true. If it’s real (tradition), it’s practiced. If it’s abstract, it’s not.
The pursuit of an abstraction
What makes progressivism an ideology is the fact that they pursue an abstraction. This is evidenced by the usual necessary consequence when the ideologue finally strikes the realization that Scripture itself doesn’t measure up to the idea. When that happens, the measuring device, God’s Word, must be changed. If that can’t be accomplished consistently, and it never can be, it must be abandoned.
Ideologues aren’t only interested in changing tradition. Those who practice tradition must be changed, either by dilution or coercion. You see, ideas have consequences and bad ideas have bad ones.
May I present the presentists?
That’s why so-called same-sex marriage was never about equality. It was always about assimilation. #metoo isn’t about equal pay and sexual harrassmant, it’s about coercing traditional people to shut up. Monuments must disappear. Gun rights must be revoked. Freedom of speech is measured against the cultural godlen calf of egalitarianism. Equality can never be satisfied for progressives, because it is never about equality.
Conservation of what’s true and valuable
Conserving tradition rightly understood, is conserving those things that are true and valuable and reforming or discarding that which is not. Progressives enjoy misrepresenting tradition as if conservatives are interested in protecting tradition for tradition’s sake. They claim that traditionalists only want to hold on to power. That’s a strawman! True conservatives are only interested in conserving that which is true and valuable about tradition. Power is the catagory error made by cultural marxists who, by the way, are after power.
Progressivism vs Tradition
It boils down to this-while progressivism is an ideology, abstract and propositional, that incessantly attempts to (gain power to) change established beliefs and practices tradition is a way of life. There is the difference. It is truly an idea vs a way of life.
Tradition is an established way of living according to long established beliefs. In Christianity, traditional beliefs have been represented as orthodox in the creeds and councils of hundreds and thousands of years ago. The problem for progressives, as I mentioned earlier, is changing those beliefs while remaining faithful to Scripture.
“No creed but Christ”, they say.
Well, without sola-Scriptura (tradition), how do we know what he said?
The test of time
Bye and bye, those beliefs have been tested. The Church has spoken. Heresy has been tried. Tradition protected us from heresy by casting suspicion on whatever claimed to be better.
Unfortunately, our present culture does a 180 and casts doubt on all things traditional while propping up all things new. New is not necessarily better and in the case of Christianity, it’s probably much worse.
What progressives rarely consider is the fact that once they establish their idea or proposition, it becomes the target of progressivism. That is the nature of ideologies. They remain abstractions.
Lincoln’s abstract idea
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.-Abraham Lincoln
On a field in Pennsylvania in 1863, Abraham Lincoln exclaimed that the United States was a “proposition”. The death of the Republic was sealed in that solemn speech much more than any cannonball that fell into Sumpter could cauterize. Freedom that was tangibly expressed became something we can never quite grasp. It became an idea, not just for those who were already free, but for the slaves he never pretended to emancipate. It became an idea never to be realized but one that must be propagated, even coerced upon other nation-states.
Nah. Not honest Abe?
Do you ever wonder why when progressives are in power we move to change and when so-called conservatives are in power we still change? We exist as a proposition!
Ideologies weren’t the creation of Lincoln. He was a victim of them. Because his abstract freedom was forced upon us at the end of a bayonet, his freedom has never become reality for African-Americans. Because we won’t admit that, it may never be realized by any of us.
Abstract ideas vs tradition
That’s the danger of an ideology. That’s progressivism. It’s what the Church must guard against.
While those that seem to have great motives (Lincoln) move us toward change, we must ask ourselves “to what end?” Change in and of itself is dangerous. It necessarily moves us away from established tradition. Tradition must always be measured against Scripture and it is progressives who bear the burden of proof. We mustn’t change to remain relevant or fit within our culture. That’s a good enough reason to be a conservative Christian.
Hold on to what is good. Continue in what you’ve learned. Honor the true and valuable beliefs and practices of the past. We stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. The future is directionless without them.
A blind hog…
If Lincoln ever got it right, it was at the end of his Gettysburg speech…
It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain– Abraham Lincoln
Where does your devotion rest? Is it in the God of our fathers or the god of change?