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.
Just a guy trying to share the gospel and love people well. (B.A. Asbury University;