There are many Christians in the church that, if asked, would say that Jesus died to save us from our sins. While this is true, it does not give the real reason why God sent his only Son to die on the cross. I believe that many people who have left the church is due to this: they only understood the Gospel of Jesus Christ as fire insurance and lost their "fervor" weeks, months, or years later. We do a really good job of asking people to accept Jesus because he died for their sins and we need our sins to be forgiven, but this does not address everything. Often times we stop at justification, being made just before God through forgiveness, but there is more.
The Son of God incarnate, Jesus Christ, came to reconcile us to himself AND free us from sin! If we only see salvation as fire insurance, then we have missed the most beautiful part of salvation. The Jesus of the Bible came to give life and give it abundantly, to be made like Christ, to be restored in the image of God. If we do not have power to live and walk in obedience, then the death of Christ was in vain. In Galatians 2:20, Paul says that he is crucified with Christ and it is no longer him who lives, but Christ who lives in him, and that the life he lives in the flesh he lives by faith in the Son of God who loved him (and everyone) and gave his life for him (and the whole world). Paul says that he has been crucified. I wonder what the church would look like if we began to preach that conversion means crucifixion and new life in the blood of Jesus. A life that is holy unto the Lord. A.W. Tozer says it this way, "The purpose of God is not to save us from hell; the purpose of God is to save us to make us like Christ and to make us like God" (The Crucified Life).
In Paul's letter to the church of Rome, chapter eight is about living in the power of the Spirit. He talks about God sending his only son and how nothing can separate Christians from the love of God. In the power of this love of Christ, Christians are called more than conquerors (Romans 8:31-39). If we are more than conquerors, then we should not view salvation as a mere ticket out of hell, but a mission. We are set free from sin to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our strength, with all our mind, and with all our soul; and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are set free to go forth, not be idle and "a get out of hell free card". Salvation is to be made like Christ and continually renewed.
To live a life that is crucified is not an easy task, it means surrender and the first thing that comes in the way of surrender is self-will. I promise you that it is not an easy path, but a life surrendered to the work of the Holy Spirit is a life that is abundant; a life that can experience victory and walk in holiness. Whether you are living in victory or fighting daily battles, know that God fulfills his promises. In Philippians 3:12-15, Paul talks about pressing on towards righteousness and being made perfect, not that he has attained perfection, but that he continually walks in the power of the spirit. Paul begins Philippians by saying that "He who has began a good work in you is faithful to bring it to completion" and ends Philippians with the same encouragement of pressing on toward the mark, which is being made like Jesus. Seek the Lord; seek to be made like Jesus and pray for the Lord to renew himself in you.
So while attending a concert two weeks ago, I found myself in a conversation with the person next to me before the concert began about faith and theology. This person began to talk about how they had left the Presbyterian Church and become acquainted with the Bethel Movement throughout the United States. He began to talk about what has changed in his life and so I mentioned that we cannot throw tradition out the window, where he proceeded to tell me that tradition is worship of ancestors.
To the church's demise today, many Christians hold the same or similar view as this man. As any good protestant, I was not brought up reading in early church tradition: the Patristic era or the Apostolic era. These things are usually attributed to the high church types of congregations that typically still have a sense of catechism or confirmation such as: the Anglican church, the United Methodist Church (in some sense), the Roman Catholic, the Eastern Church, etc. Although I was not raised up in this manner, the Apostolic and Patristic era are of utmost importance to the church today still. The early church produced the canon that we read from today and the creeds that are professed throughout the world in many churches.
The Early Church is where we get our tradition of Baptism (yes this arrives out of scripture, but the manner in which it is performed has a lot to do with the early Christians) and the Eucharist (The Lord's Supper). See if we begin to throw out the early church and the traditions of the church, we begin to miss the reason for the things that the church does and why they are theologically pertinent to the church today. The early church did not have a canon of scripture, they relied on the oral tradition and the reading aloud of documents they found to be scripture. The early church as well had creeds because it helped Christians know what they believe, without those, who knows where the church would be today.
Tradition is not the Word of God. It is not unchangeable and infallible, this is the very reason why the Reformation occurred and for the recently celebrated 500th anniversary of the Reformation. The church should always be reforming, but that does not mean that the grounds on which the church was founded are heresy. Tradition helps us to see where we come from and helps us to keep our focus on the essentials, that being the Kingdom of God. The writing of the Gospels was because of the need to preserve the beliefs of the early Christians and how the church is to function. There are also other documents that are not canonical but considered of much value such as the Didache (anonymous author) and Apostolic Tradition by Hippolytus of Rome.
Finally, what does this mean for the contemporary or post-modern church of today that seeks to be set apart? Well it means that we do not simply disregard tradition because it does not suit our liking or fit our preference of worship. We should seek to maintain the dogmatic beliefs of the early church and the creeds (Nicene, Constantinople, Ephesus, and Chalcedon) because they help us understand who God is and how he interacts with creation. The Creeds and Councils of the early church were ecumenical, they were pre-denominational; they truly were the Holy Catholic (universal) Church. The Holy Scriptures are the only source of revelation but tradition can be a helpful tool for us to understand the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God. So before you decide to throw out commentaries, creeds, and confessions, take a look at them and see how the early church used them and how they are congruent with Scripture.