If you’ve been following the posts on John Armstrong’s book, your church is too small, it might be helpful to pause for a moment and check our bearings.
Our author began with ‘The Biblical and historical Basis for Christian Unity’ and concluded this opening section with a consideration of the marks of the church (chapter seven).
In the second main part of the book, John focusses on ‘Restoring Unity in the Church Today.’ In so doing, he exposes the unity-destroying disease of sectarianism. And now we come to the last chapter of this middle section:
Chapter Thirteen: What Place Should We Give to Tradition?
John doesn’t pussy foot around as he begins:
“…unless we retore serious respect for Christian tradition, we are doomed to repeat the myriad of mistakes we have made with regard to unity and mission.”
He notes the disdain that evangelicals often voice for ‘tradition’ (because they pit the spiritual against the historical). But as John rightly states, “those who dispense with tradition always create new traditions.” And how right that is!! I grow up in Christian Brethren assemblies (whose leaders often commented that, ‘We’re not a denomination. We simply meet together like the first Christians. We’re not into church traditions.’). But long before your 10th birthday, and long, long before even knowing the definition of ‘tradition’, you saw its evidence every Sunday at the Breaking of the Bread. Very precise protocols (words and actions) for ‘open worship’ and the Lord’s Supper.
John notes all three expressions of Christianity rely on tradition. He notes that the Protestant Reformers “argued that final authority was found in the Scripture, but they lived in profound historical continuity with the apostles, prophets and early church fathers.”
The comments on Scripture and tradition in the chapter are worth much consideration. Our author strongly affirms that Scripture plays the major role in the faith and practice of vital Christianity. However some approaches to exegesis (with its “right rules of grammar and logic”) become a new ‘religious order’ and in fact feed sectarianism.
John appeals for the Church to listen more to the ancient church (“the early church writers were closer to the apostles and the development of the New Testament than we are“). He approvingly cites Thomas Oden who has “underscored our need for a postdenominational, flexible, and deeply rooted ancient faith…“.
Our author concludes with a challenge to evangelicals – don’t see tradition as the enemy. Indeed an antitradition perspective encourages schism, leading to a “small view of the church and a big view of our own importance.”
Does our writer see any light? Certainly.
“Thankfully, many are waking up to the tragedy of this false individualism and are wisely looking for help from the three great classical traditions and the scores of ancient writers who feed their hunger.”