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!
When I was a Protestant church planter, there were a lot of buzz words we used. One of those was “community.” We were coached to “build the community.” To be honest with you, I look back at that now and I really have no idea what that means. This is a popular phrase among younger people as well. I suspect our older relatives don’t know what we mean by that either.
It sounds really awesome. The media loves to use this kind of language as well. I can’t tell you how many TV shows spend time talking about this sort of thing as well. We are told that we are to “give back” to our community and “serve” our community. These days, we’re told we need to wear masks and stay home so that we can take care of our community. We’re all in this together. Doesn’t that sound nice?
I submit to you that we are not all in this together.
Those of us who follow Jesus are not in “this” (whatever the world means by “this”) together. At least, we shouldn’t be. If you are a follower of Christ, your “this” will look very different from the rest of the world. Well, let me re-phrase that. If we are a follower of Christ, our “this” should look very different from the rest of the world.
The rest of the world is obsessed with self. We see this in our society with the preoccupation with safety and comfort at all costs, freedom from aging and dying, freedom from suffering, the forced acceptance of unholy things and many other things. Our society forces its own definition of tolerance on its members. And you will comply with their definitions or you will be ostracized, called names etc. You get the point.
So, why are Christians so worried about being part of the world? Do we really think we can “be in community” with the world? Now, by “the world,” I don’t mean other humans. I mean what the New Testament biblical writers called “principalities and powers.”
St. Paul says, in Ephesians 6:12,
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
So, it’s not, like, Coca-Cola and owning homes that we’re talking about here. There are forces at work that we cannot see with our naked eye that currently try to control this world. St. Paul calls them “the rulers of the darkness of this world.” There are forces at work that are against us, against human flourishing and, specifically, against those who claim the name of Christ.
St. John, in his Apocalypse, describes it this way (Revelation 12:17),
“And the dragon was angry against the woman: and went to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Go and read Revelation 12 and you’ll get the full picture. The world is not your friend. If you are a follower of Christ (the rest of the seed of the woman), you cannot “live in community” with the world. I’m not saying you can’t go the same grocery stores or be friendly or eat out or go to the movies. I’m not saying you can’t live in this world. I’m saying you can’t follow Christ and “be in community” with this world. The two are diametrically opposed to one another.
Jesus Himself gave us the meaning of Christian community. He told us how we are to live and those who are our “community” when he said,
“For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matt. 12:50)
Read that again. There are some things that Jesus said (actually a lot of things He said) that are really hard. What He said (and says) demands something of us. When He said that it is only those who do the will of the Father that are His brothers, sisters, mother, His community, we are required to do some things.
If we want to be in the “community” of Jesus, we must do the will of the Father. That means that there are those who are not doing the will of the Father that we cannot be in community with. And that may include other people who claim to be Christian. I know that will sound really harsh and will probably make some reading this angry. But the hard fact is that there are those who claim the name of Jesus that are not part of the “community” of Jesus.
Our Lord tells us,
“Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.” (Matt. 7:21-23)
Now for some good news.
We can be part of a community; the community of saints. The great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us (Hebrews 12:1), those who are of the faith and keep the faith now and those who will faithfully follow after us, they are our community.
And that community is vast beyond number. St. John tells us that a “great multitude” stands around God’s throne worshipping Him even now (Rev. 7:9) and will for all eternity. That is community, my friends! And that community is all in this together because we know the One.
The One who has wrestled with and for us with the principalities and powers and has conquered them!
The One who has given us His testimony to keep and wage war against our great enemy Satan!
The One who has given us the Spirit, by whom we may learn to do the will of the Father!
The One who, if we are faithful, will keep us until the day of His glorious return!
Rejoice, brothers and sisters, in the community of the Lamb who was slain!