"The Bible versus the traditions of men"

I once had a conversation with a very outspoken non-denominational believer at a party who was very critical of Roman Catholicism (the denominational affiliation of most of the people at the party) and any other "tradition-based churches."  Citing Matthew 15:1-9, she proclaimed wanted the simple word of God and not "human traditions." 

That is a criticism that is often leveled at the more liturgical churches, from Methodists and Lutherans to Catholics and Orthodox - and no doubt it sometimes is a needed corrective that we need to hear and consider without becoming defensive.  Yet it is worth pointing out that even "non-traditional" churches actually receive many things simply on the authority of the Church's tradition alone.  I attempted to engage this person at the party on the question of how she knew which books belong in the Old and New Testaments - if her non-denominational church had audaciously done the research to come up with its own canon on its own authority or if they simply received what was handed down to them by the people of the church, since it was the early church that decided which books belong in the Bible, and the Bible itself nowhere gives us a list.  That line of conversation did not last too long.

I also suspect, however, that some of our "traditions of men" in the historic churches are actually quite a bit more Bible-based than is often assumed.  In the Anglican tradition (out of which the Methodist movement sprang), almost every word of the Prayerbook Liturgy is borrowed from the Bible, and (by tradition) much longer passages of the Bible are typically read in these services than in the non-liturgical churches.

Since the Reformation there has been a tradition that we teach our children to memorize the Lord's Prayer and Psalm 23 as summaries of Christian prayer and the 10 Commandments and the Golden Rule as summaries of Christian morality (all passages of Scripture so far), and then we teach the Apostles' Creed as a summary of Chrisitan belief.  It is here that our "non-traditional" Christians might say, "Ah, see how they teach the traditions of men and not the word of God as doctrine, just as Jesus warned."  But this is simply wrong.  The Early Church Fathers very carefully assembled the Creeds to summarize the same faith that is also taught in the Bible and the Fathers of the Reformation continued to accept the Creeds precisely because these creeds "may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture" as Anglican Article of Religion VIII puts it.

I ran across the chart below at the Lutheran blog Cyber Brethren that gives a Scriptural warrant for every phrase of the Apostle's Creed.  As is pointed out on that original blog post, this chart was originally photocopied from a 17th Century Lutheran work and quite often does not use the obvious proof texts that we might think to use for any given line.  (Note: I've changed a word or two and added a couple of texts as well)

I believe (Hab. 2:4; Rom. 4:5)

In God (Deut. 6:4 1 Cor. 8:6)

The Father (Psalm 89:27; Matthew 7:11)

Almighty (Genesis 7:1; 2 Cor. 6:18)

Maker of heaven and earth (Psalm 33:6; John 5:17)

And in Jesus ( Zech 9:9; Matthew 1:21)

Christ (Daniel 9:24; John 3:34)

His only (Zechariah 13:7; John 1:14)

Son (Psalm 2:7; Matthew 16:16)

Our Lord ( Jeremiah 23:6; John 20:28)

Who was conceived (Jeremiah 31:22; Luke 1:31)

By the Holy Spirit (Daniel 2:45; Matthew 1:20)

Born ( Isaiah 9:6; John 1:14)

Of the Virgin Mary (Isaiah 7:14; Luke 1:43)

Suffered (Isaiah 50:6; Luke 23:25)

Under Pontius Pilate (Psalm 2:2; Luke 18:32)

Was crucified (Psalm 22:17; John 3:14)

Died (Daniel 9:26; Rom. 5:8)

And was buried ( Isaiah 53:9; John 12:24)

Descended to the dead/Hades (Psalm 16:10/Acts 2:28; Ephesians 4:9/1Peter 3:19)

And on the third day (Hosea 6:2; Matthew 26:32; Acts 10:40-41)

He rose again from the dead (Isaiah 63:1; 2 Timothy 2:8)

Ascended into heaven (Psalm 68:19; Col. 2:15)

And sits at the right hand of the God the Father Almighty (Psalm 110:1; Mark 16:19)

From thence he will come (Isaiah 66:15; Acts 1:11)

To judge (Wisdom of Solomon 6:6; Acts 17:31)

The living and the dead (Daniel 12:2; 1 Cor. 15:51)

I believe in the Holy Spirit (Zechariah 12:10; John 15:26)

The holy (Psalm 45:14; Ephesians 5:26)

catholic/universal Church (Psalm 22:26; Matthew 16:18)

The communion of saints (Exodus 19:5; Ephesians 4:3)

The forgiveness of sins (Psalm 32:1; Acts 10:43)

The resurrection of the body (Isaiah 66:14; John 5:28)

And the life everlasting (Psalm 16:11; 1 Peter 1:4)

Amen! (Psalm 72:19; 2 Cor. 1:20)

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Blogger rob said...

As an evangelical, I didn't realize that any "order of worship" is, by definition, a liturgy. My education had the gospel, but lacked knowledge of Christianity in general. My church also did not have catechesis beyond the basic gospel message; but some depth would be of immense value to all.

Finally, if we don't understand tradition and its role in the Church, we cannot adequately formulate and defend what we think the Church is.

11:55 AM, June 14, 2012  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If we were all first century Jews, we would know how much traditional "liturgy" Jesus adopted at the Last Supper, as well as all the specific Jewish feasts Christ fulfilled in his Passion, Death and Resurrection. The non-liturgical Churches have thrown out what they never understood.

5:09 PM, June 26, 2012  
Blogger Mr. Mcgranor said...

It is my understanding that the Apostles Creed, and Nicene Creed is not inspired. What do you say? I don't think its hard to stay within the Scripture--as the center of mankind's piety and stewardship, and their relation to mankind's cultural traditions.

12:09 PM, July 21, 2012  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Mr. Mcgranor,

With most Protestants, I would affirm that the ancient catholic (universal) creeds are not inspired - at least not in the same sense that the Scripture is "breathed out by God" (2 Tim. 3). The traditional line is (as I've asserted here) that the Creeds are agreeable with, based upon, and summaries of the Scriptural teaching.

The Bible is a very long and complicated book. To simply say "We believe the Bible" is clearly not enough, since people who do say that then disagree on what exactly the Bible says. We need clarifying statements that can summarize in a consise way what it is we believe.

I believe that, like the formation of the Scriptural canon after all of the books of the Bible had been written, the formation of the "canon" of the Creeds was guided by the Spirit, who was working through the church's authorities. But the actual text of the Creeds are not, as I say, inspired by God - that does not stop them, like a good hymn, from being absolutely and 100% true.

The statement "rape is wrong" is not inspired by God, but is nevertheless absolutely and universally true.

9:17 PM, August 22, 2012  

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