I look around me at the world today and I am saddened. I am saddened by the direction the American society is headed and indeed the world. I am saddened by the complete confusion and fear that most people are living with these days. I am even more saddened at the behavior of most of the people who claim the name of Christ these days. I cannot remember a time in my life when I saw so many so-called Christians wandering around in confusion and fear, succumbing in such an obvious way to the darkness of this present world.
So many Christians I hear saying things like, “I don’t understand what’s happening,” or lamenting the condition of the world or, even worse, joining in the shame and cancel culture that infects our world today. In fact, if I may digress for a moment…I am ashamed of the Christians who shame other Christians for not choosing to take the so-called Covid-19 vaccine. Most of those Christians who are attacking other Christians for choosing not to be vaccinated say the same crap that’s coming out of the mouths of pagans.
Think about that for a second. If the things you are saying to each other as Christians match what pagans and the world is saying, you are doing it wrong. There are many good reasons to refuse the vaccine, least of which is a lack of actual scientific data that supports the long-term efficacy of said vaccine. By the admission of the very pharmaceutical companies that are dispensing these cocktails, these vaccines are, at this current time, experimental. From a Christian perspective, what happened to loving our brothers and sisters, showing them grace and speaking kindly to one another, whether or not we agree with them? Are our brothers and sisters not allowed to make decisions for themselves and their children without us calling each other names and attacking one another?
If you are one of those, I implore you to stop. Stop attacking your fellow Christians and understand that, just as you took the vaccine for your reasons, they are refusing it for their reasons. Besides, if you have taken the vaccine, why do you care if they do? Aren’t you protected?
Anyways, back to my main point.
There is a pervasive darkness over the world today. If you cannot see that, you are simply not paying attention, or you’ve just fallen asleep at the wheel of life. Over and over I hear Christians say that they don’t understand what’s happening. And I submit to them, you don’t understand what’s happening in the world because you have forgotten the Holy Scriptures. You have forgotten that the real enemies aren’t the Taliban or Al Qaeda or the coronavirus. We have an enemy, for sure. But it ain’t those things.
St. Peter helpfully reminds us of our enemy,
“Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you.”
St. Peter tells us, first, that we must humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God and that we are to cast all our cares on Him. Stop being so anxious about a virus; there have been and will continue to be viruses. Humble yourself under the hand of God and take your fears to Him. Be sober, be vigilant he tells us. In other words, to put it in our current context: pay attention and be on your guard against the influences of the world. Stop listening to the talking heads on TV and listen to the Holy Spirit. Spend time in prayer and Holy Scripture, go to Church, spend time with faithful brothers and sisters who aren’t consumed by the world, laugh with your children, play fetch with the dog. St. Peter also clearly tells us who our enemy is.
Our adversary is the devil, not each other. Not a virus, not the Taliban, not the President and Congress (though they sure act like the enemy of the people). At the bottom of all this is a spiritual struggle. The devil hates God and he hates you. He wants to destroy humanity and he will stop at nothing. He will use any means within his power. We must recognize this.
St. Paul also reminds us in Ephesians,
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance and supplication for all the saints.”
St. Paul reminds us that our enemies are not each other or a virus or any of this mess we’re in. Our enemy is against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness. Vaccines, masks and lockdowns won’t stop our real enemy. Only the armour of God will do that. Only when we are girded with the truth consuming our heart and mind and soul, only when we have put on the breastplate of righteousness and have shod ourselves with the gospel of peace, the peace of God that has been offered for all on the cross by our Lord Jesus, only when we have taken up the shield of faith and thrown our lives and souls into the care of the All-Holy One, only when we have taken up the helmet of salvation which is our union with Christ, only when we are armed with the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, only when we pray without ceasing, only when we persevere; then and only then can we see clearly and understand not only who our enemy is but the great power that has been given to us in the Church and our union with Christ to defeat our enemy.
Christ has defeated sin and death! And, if we are in Him, so have we! Let us live without fear. Let us live without vitriol toward our fellow Christians, let us live in the peace that only God can bring through His most precious Son by the power of the Holy Spirit, the Trinity who holds us in the palm of His hand!
Be strong in the Lord and the power of His might! He has overcome and so shall we!
Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!
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!