Tuesday, February 10, 2015

We don't want tradition. . .

In 1916 Henry Ford said this: “I wouldn’t give a nickel for all the history in the world. It means nothing to me. History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition. We want to live in the present, and the only history that’s worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.”

I had not realized it until now but it seems Ford was not only a prophet with regard to the automobile and to modern manufacturing techniques, he was a prophet of modern Christianity.  For surely much of modern Christianity lives to oppose or ignore what the Church and those saints before the present moment believed, confessed, and taught.  The church today is more likely to listen to culture, public opinion, and the heart than to the voice of the saints.  The sacred deposit once handed down to the saints has been traded in for a flashy new model; the old has been relegated to the flea market or second hand store for those who are hopelessly out of sync with our present mindset.

We have looked at Scripture and decided it is at best a moral word encouraging us to be better people than we are.  We have looked at its story of creation and decided it is no longer credible in this scientific age.  We have looked at the relationship between male and female and decided that Scripture and tradition were wrong and feminism is right.  We have looked at life and decided there are no absolute values to life -- not to the unborn, not to those who despair of living, and not to those who are a financial or logistical burden to us.  We have looked at morality and decided that the most immoral thing is to deny yourself for any reason or cause (including to follow Jesus) and rendered every moral stand that would restrain our freedom to what whatever seems right in our own eyes and without any guilt suspect.  We have ended up with a church and a faith that is only shallowly rooted in history but it surely wide enough to encompass any and every opinion about Jesus, gender, sex, history, and science -- every opinion, that is, except that which is orthodox, Christian, and traditional.

I once sighed in frustration about a church I served that every year we had to vote on whether or not we would observe Christmas.  My point was that we eschewed tradition and seemed intent on re-inventing ourselves and everything we believed or did over and over again.  Little did I know that this would become a modern Christian epidemic.

“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to that arrogant oligarchy who merely happen to be walking around.”  So said G. K. Chesterton in  Orthodoxy, 1908.  It sounds positively old fashioned now.  Who would speak like this today!  Or consider the late Jaroslav Pelikan's famous quip: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”  Could it be that Pelikan's prophecy is true?  Have we abandoned the living faith of the dead to be content with the dead faith of living?  Or what about McMillan's famous line:  "Tradition does not mean that the living are dead, it means that the dead are living."  Surely we are not ready to declare the dead dead... or are we?  Remember that by saying The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob the Old Testament and the Jews were affirming their faith in the resurrection and in the ongoing life with God their ancestors enjoyed and for which they lived in blessed anticipation.

I have not even begun to quote the many famous quotes on tradition.  Perhaps there was a time when tradition gave veto to the dead but today it is more likely that we no longer give the dead even a voice.  We love nostalgia -- give us Antique Roadshow or American Pickers or Restoration shows featuring everything from soda machines to cars.  We love such things but we tend to see them more as cute and quaint than authoritative.  So when it comes to Scripture, we read a book whose wisdom must be silenced when it conflicts with our modern values and its stories read with a grain of salt when they contradict our modern scientific assumptions about life.  And when it comes to liturgy and worship, tradition is but an affectation or peccadillo -- sort of like those who enjoy watching Downton Abbey or other BBC shows (old or new).   Maybe Ford had us right all along -- we don't want tradition.  Not Americans, not Christians, and not Lutherans. . .  sad, really, but somewhat predictable.

I once knew a fellow who had an old car.  It was not a classic, just old.  It was not a collectible -- just old.  It was not vintage -- just old.  Nope, just old.  That is pretty much how many of us Christians view tradition.  So, like Ford, we will give the saints a pass and view them from a distance while ever defining anew the age old faith of Jesus Christ.  Perhaps we will not miss what we no longer know.... or maybe God will issue a wake up call...

13 comments:

Kirk Skeptic said...

It is no accident that Dr Pelikan ended up swimming the Bosporus, where he died in the arms of a falsely so-called "apostolic tradition." Giving our anbcestors a vote is not the same as giving them carte blanche; Scripture, not the mere preferences and fancies of of the past, is to be our final authority.

David Gray said...

Yes, tradition is not equal to Scripture or trump Scripture however your interpretation must be informed by tradition or you wind up with the same hermeneutic as David Koresh. If your interpretation has no tie to any previous understanding in church history you are reading Scripture incorrectly. That's what the premillenial dispensationalists have done.

Janis Williams said...

We love nostalgia. However, we are just like the post-moderns who can't actually live out what they say they believe. We may wax nostalgic about many things, but there are yet many traditions we hold firmly in our lives. Just as liturgy is treated with contempt, everyone still participates in it in some form. We have even come to honor false traditions (such as premillenial dispensationalism).

It is with us as it is in so many things: We pick and choose to our liking. We prefer misinformed history as our tradition. We would rather remake history (secular or Christian) in order to observe the traditions we invent.

Kirk Skeptic said...

@DG: "informed by tradition" can be a matter of degree.There's David Koresh on one side, and Mr Bergoglio on the other - sort of like Scylla and Charybdis. Many who wish to swim the Tiber, Bosporus, or Thames do so for a romantic view of an allegedly monolithic church tradition allegedly handed down by the apostles. Since non-liturgical is an oxymoron, the pertinetn question is how Scriptural the liturgy in question is - anything else is an argument over taste and preference (and, of course, politics).

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Anonymous said...

Vintage etc is just a way of coloring old as nostalgia, it is museum piece, not living. This is tradition, living and active, let the viewer understand. http://www.dodge.com/assets/images/vehicles/2015/challenger/homepage/Featurette/2015-challenger-vlp-iconicdesign.jpg

Kirk Skeptic said...

@anonymous: thanks for the car analogy, as vintage could also be the way an huckster colors junk. Everything old isn't classic, and some discernment is always necessary.

Paul Becker said...

"Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle." 2 Thess. 2:15

Kirk Skeptic said...

@PB: and those traditions are...? The writings of the OT most certainly were handed to the NT church, while the Western Liturgy most certainly wasn't. Ehile said liturgy beautifully expresses the theology of hte Lutheran symbols, and is hence commendable, it is still human artifice and therefore not commnadable, The burden, though, lies with the challenger.

Anonymous said...

But if it is very much Scripture said and sung, how can it be rightly called human artifice?

Kirk Skeptic said...

@anon: the Psalsm and other Scritures are God's, while the collects, colors, hymns, accompaniments, liturgical year, vestments, etc, are man's. Word and Sacrament don't need their skids greased by pomp and ceremony. i do not object to such, and indeed believe that some form of ceremony is intrinsic, but rather I can't get lathered-up over thefinicky details of ceremony.

Scott Oakland said...

When we reject what those before us have confessed and believed, we no longer subscribe to Sola Scripture, but SOLO Scriptura, reading the Bible like no one read it before. May the Lord keep us from that approach.

Kirk Skeptic said...

@SO: we're not talking about what our forebears believed and confessed, but hiw they worshipped. Our forebears differeed on many adiaphora.