Perhaps it is no coincidence that our 2.5 year family review of what the Bible means by “being Christian” ends in the book Claiming Christ with an appendix reference–during the Christmas season–to tradition.
Few other times of the year, cloak themselves in as much glittering repetition as Christmas: the same jingle songs, the same crowded shopping malls, the same red and green lights, the same decorating of trees, the same long-time-no-see-relatives showing up, the same sugar-slammed digestive systems, the same and more of the same. Tradition.
Christmas, as its name implies, is a reflection upon the declared birth of a savior, many moons ago (or was that stars?). The holiday is a celebration of belief, repeated year after year. It is wrapped in tradition, and rightly so.
However, tradition of a very different kind, though still very religious, is also deeply entrenched within Christmas, and for that matter, equally infecting the Church itself.
The tradition of ecclesiastical men, otherwise dubbed: Orthodoxy.
Orthodoxy is the compilation over time of popular agreement on teachings within the Christian church. It forms the box–which during the off-season stores all our traditional ornaments, table settings, tinsel, and holiday fabric–for the historic beliefs of the Church. Orthodoxy is the main-stream beliefs that traditionally express what most Christians believe (or ought to profess).
Church councils, theological writings, official pronouncements, and popular teachings: all extremely important in the formation of defining Christianity, but not a single one Scripture.
The tradition of orthodoxy rightly deserves our careful attention, but only the word of God rightly deserves our allegiance. To those who believed in the glorious savior, born on Christmas morn (or so traditionally celebrated), that same babe-turned-Lord declared: only if you obey my teachings will you be accepted as truly my followers.
The orthodoxy of papal infallibility is Catholic tradition for many. The orthodoxy of “faith alone” is unquestionable Lutheranized tradition for many. The orthodoxy of TULIP, as it is known by Calvinites, is tradition established in blood. The orthodoxy of the divine-right-of-kings, has propped up many a teetering throne. In likely every denominational (and non-denominational) tradition there are well-meant, but imperfect claims. All teachings of men, and all shrouded in historic darkness. Yes, them’s is fightin’ words, but them’s is orthodoxy gone too far.
Tradition has its place, but some times it must be exposed to the ever-fresh air of God’s word, to expose the subtle inferences of men, those added pork-on-the-barrel of private agendas, the twisted tinsel of human invention overlaid upon the branches extending from the true Vine. This is not about new over old, but about truth over error.
As we sip our traditional punch, nibble on our yearly rum-balls, sing our come-again songs, and greet those long-past faces from yesteryear, celebrate tradition. Especially celebrate the tradition of God-with-us. But before you need that bottle of antacids, or contemplate numbing the nausea of unwanted repetition, take some time to reconsider what you are doing.
Is the tradition really an honor to the Lord, or more an excuse to fit into the culture? Are the things you have become comfortable in, a reflection of holiness, or holiday-ness? And with regard to religious tradition, long held by so many others, does it truly represent what God states, or has it become popular because that is the way it has always been done in your house, your church, or your life?
As Jesus challenged the orthodoxy of his day: You have a fine way of upholding your cherished traditions against the word of God. This problem is nothing new. It seems to come around again and again. Religious niceties have a traditional tendency to distract believers from hearing and following truth.
Tradition. Not everything is worth repeating; only that which lasts for eternity deserves a second look. Can you recognize the difference?
Have you made it a tradition to humbly measure all your traditions to the actual statements of Christ?
Make truth your habit…again and again. It is delightfully addicting, repetitively new, with no side affects.