Have you ever seen “Fiddler on the Roof?” Maybe on Broadway before our government overlords decided to shut everyone down and cost half the country their jobs. Or maybe you’ve seen the movie version. There’s a line in there that stands out to me. They are singing about “tradition.” Tevya, the main character, says something really profound. He says, “Because of our traditions, each one of us knows who he is and what God expects of us.”
We all see this and feel it in different ways, but we are living in a world that is tumultuous and topsy-turvy to say the least. It feels truly dystopian and is completely unsettling. We are a culture adrift. There seems to be nothing stable, nothing that is permanent, and we feel the lack of it. As a culture, we have unhitched ourselves from history. This is one of the primary reasons, I believe, for all that is going on. We see this in the so-called “cancel culture” today. This silly obsession with erasing the past, good or bad, is nonsensical and quite immature.
We have a cancel culture in the Church today as well. Oh, they won’t call it that, these cancel culture warriors. They’ll call it progress or reaching the modern man or the big one, “relevant.” If you look at it carefully, it is ecclesiastical cancel culture. Those who engage in this have been and are trying to make the Church into something she is not. Now, they won’t claim that, of course. No, they claim that this is the natural “progression” of the modern Church (whatever that means) or the “development” of doctrine or even that they are “going back” to what the early Church was without all the trappings of religion. All of those claims are complete nonsense and false on their face.
Some will say, “But Jesus criticized the religious people of His day for their meaningless traditions.” No, He did not. He criticized them for relying solely on the externals of their traditions to save them. He criticized them for their lack of love and faith. Their harsh stance on tradition was criticized because they used it as a stick to beat the people with and put themselves on a pedestal. He did not criticize the traditions of the Jewish faith. In fact, He participated in the traditions of the faith and of His people. He went to synagogue, worshipping and preaching there. He went to the Temple during the great feasts. He observed Passover. He was a faithful Jew. There is no indication in the entire New Testament or from Jesus Himself that He came to do away with the traditions and faith of His people. Rather, He focused the fulfillment of the traditions and faith in Himself. He didn’t abrogate Tradition. He fulfilled it.
In the writings of the New Testament, we find again and again that Tradition was important to the early Church. In fact, there would be no New Testament were it not for Tradition. The Apostle Paul speaks repeatedly of Tradition. In his letter to the Church in Corinth (1 Cor. 11:1-2), St. Paul says,
“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.”
He goes on in this chapter to discuss proper worship, including the Eucharist, or Lord’s Supper. He gives the Corinthian Church (and us), the institution of the Lord’s Supper as it had been received from the Lord. Did you read that? As it had been received from the Lord. In other words, St. Paul didn’t make it up. It was received. The Church hasn’t made up her Tradition. It has been received from the Lord and is the continuing life of the Holy Spirit in the Church.
In 2 Thessalonians, St. Paul warns the Christians there of a great apostasy in chapter 2. He concludes that warning, in part in verse 15, by saying,
“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle.”
So, St. Paul says there is Tradition that is not written down. There is oral Tradition, “by word” as St. Paul refers to it. In other words, the Tradition that has been passed down to the Church has come by both oral and written Tradition. This is important and, in my opinion, blows a hole right through this nonsensical notion of “sola scriptura” that states that, unless you find it written in Scripture, it is not to be believed or practiced. Where do you think Holy Scripture came from and who decides what made it into the canon of Scripture? The New Testament didn’t fall out of the sky magically. It was compiled over time by the Fathers of the Church, by Tradition. And the books that were canonized haven’t changed. It is us (more precisely the Protestant practice) that decided we wanted to take some things out of the canon of Holy Scripture because it didn’t fit our narrative. Talk about cancel culture. This is Holy Scripture we’re talking about. You don’t get to go back and arbitrarily decide what is in or out. The Church, by the Spirit, decided that thousands of years ago.
St. Paul also reminds his spiritual son, Timothy, of this very thing. In his second letter to Timothy, chapter 1 verse 13-14, we read,
“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.”
Other translations, in verse 14, say “guard the good deposit” which was committed to you. St. Paul is of course referring to the gospel here, the good news of what our Lord Jesus Christ has accomplished on our behalf. Included in that gospel message is the Tradition that had been received by St. Paul from the Lord Jesus.
And in St. Jude’s letter, verses 3-4, we read,
“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
St. Jude says he was going to write about the gospel, “our common salvation,” but has instead had to write about keeping the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Once for all. In other words, it doesn’t change. It doesn’t adapt itself to the culture, it doesn’t develop, it isn’t modified. The faith and its Tradition have been once for all delivered to the saints. Changing that faith or the practice thereof is exactly what St. Jude goes on to warn about. He tells us that “certain men have crept in unnoticed.” Remember, he’s writing to Christians. In other words, there will be those among even the Church who will turn away from the faith once for all delivered to the saints.
Are there men in the Church today who have turned away from the faith once for all delivered to saints? What has changed, the faith and worship and practice of the Church or have some men crept in among us unnoticed and changed things?
I’m really not trying to be some grumpy curmudgeon here. This isn’t merely an argument of “We ain’t never done it that way” or nostalgia. This has, at its core, the very faith we profess and the core doctrines of the faith and the practice of our faith. If we change those, we are no longer the Church founded by our Lord Jesus and the Apostles. If we change those, we are no longer walking in that which was received. Rather, we are walking in a faith that we have made for our own comfort, not one given to us by Christ Himself.
God With Us Publications put out a series of books on the Eastern Church. In the book “A Stream of Living Water” addressing Holy Tradition, we read this,
“Tradition, therefore, is not an end in itself. We do not believe in the outward forms of Tradition, for that would be idolatry, substituting any created reality for the living God. We believe in the message of Tradition: that Jesus Christ is made present for us in the Church through the Spirit.”
This, then, is the Holy Tradition we embrace (or should) and take part in; the ongoing life of the Spirit in the people of God, the Church.
Let us return, dear brothers and sisters! Let us turn back to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Look around you at the so-called Church and those who claim her name. Find the Church as she has been, the one who has held on to the faith. I assure you that she is out there. Run to the arms of Mother Church and there, in the embrace of Jesus, you will find rest for your souls!
Glory to God!
I talk about this a good bit. People get tired of repeating themselves and others get tired of hearing the repetition. The thing is, we actually need this repetition. If we don’t continually repeat things, we forget them, or we fall away from the practice.
For example, if you’re into physical fitness like me, you know the constant repetitive practice of physical exercise, while not always exciting, will eventually create a better and more healthy lifestyle. If you will discipline yourself enough, eventually it becomes less of a discipline and more of a lifestyle.
This is one of the reasons liturgical worship is used in the historic Church. The things we repeat are the things that stick in our minds, hearts, souls and bodies (lex orandi, lex credenda). By the way, think about that as it relates to what kind of media you consume on a repetitive basis…
Anyways, repetition. What’s my point, you may ask?
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed or not but things in our world seem to be in constant flux. Everything changes on a daily basis it seems. Sometimes, it feels like everything changes moment by moment. In this ever-changing and constantly innovating world in which we live, it can feel like there is nothing to hold on to that remains the same. It feels like the whole world has gone mad and taken us for a ride and we just honestly want to make it all stop and hold on to something that’s not moving.
The Church has become like that as well.
In the one entity that should be eternal and unchanging, there has been constant change. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t use electricity and have indoor plumbing in our churches. I’m not suggesting we don’t take advantage of advances in technology that can help us. What I am saying is that new is not better when it comes to innovations in the Church. The Church should never adapt to the world and “modern man.” The world should be adapting to the Church.
The Church does not and should not change. Doctrine and dogma do not “develop.” There is a difference in finding new ways to say what has always been said and completely changing what the Church has always said. The Church is eternal and does not change precisely because Her Bridegroom is eternal and does not change. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us in Hebrews 13:8,
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
Because He does not change, the Church should not change.
It’s sad to me that those who wish to innovate the worship of the Church (which indeed changes the theology of the Church) always have such negative things to say about those of us who hold to tradition. We are “rigid” and “creating division.” My response to that is the faith does not change so, in the reasoning of the innovators, the faith must be rigid and create division. I believe it was our Lord Jesus who said, in Matthew 10:34,
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”
Does that mean that Jesus is a quarrelsome guy? No. Rather, His message creates conflict with the world and its so-called values. If we follow Christ as He is to be followed, there will be conflict. Even with others who claim the name of Jesus.
I heard a sermon recently by Fr. Josiah Trenham that has prompted this train of thought and thus this post. In that homily, Fr. Josiah, in talking about our forefathers in the faith who have held fast and unchanging, said this, “Novelty is the soil of heresy.”
Marinate on that for a minute.
That statement reminds me of what we read in Jude 3,
“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”
Even in the 1st century, just a few years after the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of our Lord, they were already having to remind the faithful to hold fast to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Jude did not say, “It’s cool. I know times have changed so we can do what seems good to us now.” No. He said to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” The faith hasn’t changed and neither should our approach is what he’s saying. Don’t be tempted to novelty and innovation. Don’t be tempted to appease the world.
It’s too easy to fall away. Again, the writer of Hebrews in chapter 2:1 says,
“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.”
Lest we drift away from the faith once for all delivered to the saints and the things we have heard, remember, “Novelty is the soil of heresy.” The writer of Hebrews again exhorts us in 10:23,
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”
Hold fast without wavering. Why? Because He who promised is faithful. Christ is faithful. He hasn’t changed a thing. Why should we? Who is it that has changed, us or Him? It ain’t Him.
Why is it that, over and over in the New Testament, the writers talk about holding fast if we aren’t tempted to fall away?
“Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.” – 1 Corinthians 16:13
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58
“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.” – 2 Timothy 1:13-14
“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” – 1 Timothy 6:12
Christ, in John’s Apocalypse, tells the church in Sardis (Rev. 3:3),
“Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come to you.”
And again, to the church in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:11),
“Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”
Dear brothers and sisters, God’s Word has not changed. The Son has not changed. The deposit of the faith has not changed. Our charge is to hold fast to the faith once for all delivered to the saints (that’s called Tradition) and not to give in to the impulse to be constantly innovating and changing and trying to make God fit into what we want and are comfortable with. As you seek for His Church, ask yourself this question: “Who has changed and who has not? Who has held fast to the Faith without wavering?” I’m not saying that all churches are perfect. That would be foolish to assume. After all, the Church is made up of you and me and we are imperfect sinners. But, who is that keeps innovating and changing things?
Be wary of those who call good bad and bad good,
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” – Isaiah 5:20
May we run to His Church, the ark of our salvation and may we remain steadfast, rigid and immovable! If we do that, if we are true to Christ, our Savior and King, then we will have the same joy as St. Paul,
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” – 2 Tim. 4:7
Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!