VOICES FROM THE PAST?
How important is "tradition" in the future
church? Whether "for" or "against," you still may not have the right
answer. Read on. . . .
Today’s believers find the "experience" of God
far more interesting than stale reports from the past. Yet, often,
there is something about "real-time" truth that doesn’t feel really
true. Sometimes, we wonder if we’re connected to anything reliable.
In other words, can we trust ourselves? After
all, "feeling" God has not been fully approved by the "managers of
the sacred." Further,
No mind is so good that it does not need
another mind to counter and equal it, and to save it from
conceit and blindness and bigotry and folly.1
That’s why today’s leap from propositional
"truth" to personal "truth" pleads for a return to authentic
criterion—lasting legacies—time-proven eternals. So theologians have
responded to the crisis with evermore aggressive hammerlocks on
logic, philosophy, tradition, and Scripture. Of course, logic and
philosophy have lost credibility in the world of the Spirit. So now,
only tradition and Scripture remain.
Should we value tradition?
We are, after all, the very history of our
experience. Our collective memory continually reproduces itself in
real-time. Past tense morphs nonstop into present tense. Indeed, no
human experience is dead history—especially a "living truth" handed
down to a particular time, place, and people. Remember that even the
wildest biblical prophets faithfully obeyed previously certified
So each generation seals its own "time capsule."
Yet, Truth is not tradition. Truth is not
culture. And Truth is not even "religious," if we mean "socially
acceptable ideas about God." For Truth is autonomous to our
intentions. It is independent of our traditions and, especially,
those misleading events that give rise to our traditions.
Culture, unfortunately, carries the burden of its
own agenda. And this agenda is usually determined by the
self-assertions of our own faith, the inventions of our own spirits,
the compulsions of our own powers, and the goals of our own genius.
"Cultural prophets," of course, know this agenda and carefully
manipulate its implied opportunities.
Even without manipulating leaders, our collective
memories turn easily to nostalgia, sentimentality, and romanticism.
In other words, we easily turn our fervent and fanciful stories into
a subjective, self-loving, self-indulgence. Such delusions, of
course, lead to illusory utopias and "easy" no-risk-answers to life.
How often have "culture climbers" gorged on great
art only to make its glory their god? Or, how often have rednecks
celebrated "down-home" worship only to make its homespun ways their
Yet, churches of every style and every persuasion
still push their traditions. They treat tradition as faith. They
credit the power of God to tradition itself. But culture can’t hear
as deeply as God speaks. It can’t move as quickly as God moves. And,
it can’t repent as rapidly as God demands.
"You are nullifying and making void . . . the Word
of God through your tradition."2
Is tradition, then, a bad thing? Is it
No. After all, some historical group must attest
to Truth. Some body of believers must hold society accountable. Some
community must witness the countercultural. Of course, these
communities can’t criticize culture if they have already become
culture. So our hope rises in a new understanding of faith
communities—a new understanding of the church itself!
And we begin that understanding here:
God speaks to individuals, not institutions. He
does not subject His Truth to the pecking orders of mediation and
arbitration. He does not filter His Truth through worldly societies
or cultures—even "religious" cultures. Instead, Truth enters the
world pristine, unmediated. And, as the transforming power of faith
is always an individual experience, so is the inspired witness of
Individuals are the ones who "test and prove all
things" and "hold fast" to what is good.3 Individuals are
those given "spiritual gifts," including "prophetic insight" and
"the ability to discern and distinguish between [the utterances of
true] spirits [and false ones]."4 Individuals are the
habitations where God takes residence, where He builds His "temple."5
Indeed, each individual is a "living epistle" of
That means faith is shared within a community,
not simply ordained. That also means the unity of believers forms
from a "multitude of counselors,"7 not just a hierarchy.
And that means revelation informs religious polity from the bottom
up, not just the top down.
Yet, Truth is not the private possession of
anyone. Truth births, instead, from relationships—heavenly first,
earthly next. Truth, after all, transcends both individual
subjectivities and institutional proclivities. It is an anonymous
act which, nevertheless, belongs to us all.
This transcendent and transparent sharing is the
new church we seek. These are the signs and tests of Truth we need.
But, unfortunately, we’re not there yet. So the debate over which
comes first—tradition or Scripture?—continues. . . .
© 2010 Thomas Hohstadt
1. Charles Williams, quoted in Mary McDermott
Shideler, "Philosophies and Fairy-Tales"
2. Mark 7:13, AMP.
3. I Thessalonians 5:21, AMP.
4. I Corinthians 12:1-10, AMP.
5. I Corinthians 6:19, AMP.
6. II Corinthians 3:1-6.
7. Proverbs 11:14, 15:22; AMP.