Sunday, June 12, 2011

Targeting Tradition

In many, if not all, branches of "born-again" evangelicalism, tradition has gained a notorious reputation. The battle cry of the misinformed masses is "fallible!", and so they carry on, unmindful of the rich legacy of the past, while propagating their own traditions. Indeed, even as they rail against tradition, they pander their own twists on it, unwittingly falling prey to all sorts of errors that could have been avoided had the voice of catholicity been listened to.

Ned B. Stonehouse, in the 1957 Evangelical Theological Society presidential address entitled, The Infallibility of Scripture and Evangelical Progress, states:

"In insisting upon the distinction between Scripture and tradition and in pleading for greater consistency in working out the implications of this Protestant principle, I would not indeed suggest that we should despise tradition or in general minimize its historical significance. Tradition, in truth, is a factor of great significance within the history of special revelation itself. This is bound up especially with the fact that the special revelation of the Bible is a revelation in history. As such the truth of revelation is often presented as that which, on the one hand, is received and, on the other hand, is delivered over. To make this point more specifically it may now suffice to recall the words of Paul in I Corinthians 15:3, 'for I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received'.

In addition to the tradition within Scripture there is the tradition beyond Scripture, the tradition of the church. And though this tradition is on a different level from that of which Paul has spoken, it remains true that for one who recognizes the providence of God, the kingship of Jesus Christ and the presence and power of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church, historical tradition may oftentimes be of very great significance. To put the matter in a somewhat different way, it must be recognized that Scripture itself has made a profound impact upon the life and thinking of the church, and this is of course especially true as it has been accompanied by the operations of the Spirit in the hearts of men.

Nevertheless, the distinction between Scripture and tradition must prevent us from absolutizing tradition. No matter how high our estimate of the scriptural significance of any phase of history, including for example the Reformation, we may not make the judgments and practices of any such phase our startingpoint for our evaluations of truth or our standard concerning it.

In emphasizing this point as I do I am deeply concerned with a tendency which seems to me to be widely prevalent among evangelicals to obliterate or obscure this basic distinction."

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