My wife has a favorite phrase, “I just want a bite”. If it is something especially choice, a “bite” may appear quite unexpectedly and in the most inconspicuous of places. It almost sounds biblical now that I think about it.
Anyway, several of us were having a conversation a while back about what we think church should be like, what it shouldn’t be like, and eventually how certain books were included in the bible. At some point someone made a comment that we should at least be able to see the reasons why certain books were included in the canon by the Bishops of old, and decide for ourselves. I understand where this comes from, but think it is a dangerous exercise because we elevate ourselves above the many wise and godly that have come before us.
Our natural tendency, especially in these United States, is that WE should decide. We are the final authority, we are in control. This is not a new phenomena. We doubted Gods goodness first in the Garden, and in every generation since.
This is the history of how Protestantism came about, and continues to die and shatter into myriad expressions of Jesus “one church”, continuously for the last 500 years! At the outset, Martin Luther wanted to exclude a number of important books in our New Testament because he felt that they undermined the primacy of grace and reinforced works, prayers for the dead, invalidated the work of the Reformation, etc. Books like Hebrews, James, Revelation, etc. Can you imagine what we would have lost had these three books been stripped from our spiritual conversation?
So the thought seems to be that if it was done in the past, it was uninformed, and the reasons for the choice were primitive, not as informed as we are today. That only now do we have the enlightened ability to rightly separate wheat from chaff, truth from error, god-breathed scripture from the imitation.
This position invalidates the work and witness of the saints of the past, what the church calls Tradition, and what Chesterton calls the Democracy of the Dead.
“Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.” I would go on to clarify by saying that Democracy today tell us not to neglect anyone’s opinion even if he is our enemy, while Tradition asks us not to neglect a good mans opinion even if he is our Great Grandfather. You get the point, we can’t and should not adjust the past to appease our current myopia.
So what Orthodoxy refers to as Holy Tradition can really be understood as Chesterton’s Democracy of the Dead, the wisdom of all the generations of godly that came before weighing in on a subject. The great cloud of witnesses.
If you accept this definition of Tradition, then you see how the church becomes a plumb-line through time, never changing, never wavering, shining as a light and a witness because she is consistent from generation to generation.
This is what I believe was gradually lost in the Reformation, seeking the fresh and new, and throwing out the wisdom of the ages. Mat 13:52 –Then he said to them, “Therefore every expert in the law who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and old.
I think the great tragedy of our day is our loss of continuity with the past, family traditions around holidays, the luxury of spending time with one another.
But the greatest tragedy of our day is that we doubt Gods truth, His words, and the wisdom that brought them to us. The church is like a bride who has seen her face in a mirror and having gone out and taken a bite of forbidden fruit, has forgotten what she looks like, who she is.