Among the many things that caused me to leave the Protestant tradition was a problem that I began to see with what is called “easy believism.” What that basically means is what I experienced as a child; I was told to say a certain prayer, be baptized and then I was all good. Now, I look back on that and feel like it was kind of a “get out of hell free” card. Once saved, always saved, right?
The problem with that is that it’s not actually a biblical understanding of what salvation is or what it means to be a faithful Christian. There are repeated exhortations in Holy Scripture, specifically the NT, to be faithful, to endure, to keep the faith until the end. In other words, there are things we must do if we are of the Faith.
St. Paul says we are to “examine” ourselves to see if we are of the faith in 2 Corinthians 13:5,
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.”
And St. Peter exhorts (2 Peter 1:10-11) us to make our calling and election sure by doing “these things,”
“Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
One of the things that I have found in the historic Church that is profoundly helpful is the practice of asceticism. And it has changed the way I live out the Faith. I have always been drawn to a monastic practice (though I am not a monk) of prayer and asceticism and the early Church did this very well, I feel. I’ve begun to slowly work my way through a book entitled Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander and it is fantastic. I want to interact with what I am learning and putting into practice in my own walk with Christ and His Church.
Colliander starts right off in Chapter 1,
“If you wish to save your soul and win eternal life, arise from your lethargy, make the sign of the Cross and say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Faith comes not through pondering but through action. Not words and speculation but experience teaches us what God is.”
I feel like, in my own life in the past, there has been great lethargy. I depended on a little prayer to “save me” and did little to actually put forth any effort of my own. I love his call to action but not just action for the sake of action alone. No, the call to action is to a lived experience of walking with God.
This is a way of life. It is the Way. The first Christians were initially called “followers of the Way” (Acts 9:2).
One of the earliest extant Christian writings we have, other than what became the books of the New Testament is The Didache (literally meaning “teaching”). In this work, one of the major themes talked about is the comparison between two “ways” that are called the way of life and the way of death.
Following the Way, following Christ should change everything about our lives. And once we change our lives to follow Christ, we cannot let go, we cannot give up. Colliander exhorts us to,
“Hold fast to your purpose and do not look back.”
Don’t look back. Sounds like something Jesus said when He stated,
“No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62
Jesus says that, if we begin to follow Him, if we put our hand to the plow and look back, we are not fit for the kingdom of God. Not fit. I don’t think Jesus is taking this lightly, but I fear that we do. We are given warnings throughout Holy Scripture of how we are to live and the judgement that comes on those who do not.
We must remember that we are no longer our own; we are not even alive in our flesh. As St. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:17,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
He didn’t say old things are to be put on a shelf so we can take them down and look at them occasionally. Old things have passed away. They have died. Or, as St. Paul again says in Colossians 3:3,
“For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Our former selves are dead, and our life is hidden with Christ in God (at least this should be true of us). As Colliander puts it,
“You have cast off your old humanity; let the rags lie.”
Our lives should be lived with one purpose: to be conformed to the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29). This can only be accomplished by putting on the Lord Jesus (Gal. 3:27) and putting our flesh to death (Rom. 13:14). We must, moment by moment, take up our cross and put our flesh to death and be unified to Christ.
Although this sounds impossible, it has already been done! This is the glory of the gospel! Christ has already defeated sin, death and the devil. In Him, our humanity has been redeemed in His own flesh! We have but to walk it out, daily dying to self and putting on the Lord Jesus, walking in His way and finding again the communion with God we lost in the Garden.
This is the glory of Christ and ours to share in! Through Christ, our communion with God has been restored and, like our first parents, we can now walk in the cool of the evening of our lives with Him. This is not yet fully realized but one day…oh, one day! In that day, we shall see Him as He is, and we shall be like unto Him! Glory to God!
Hold fast to your purpose, beloved, and do not look back.
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!