Saturday, December 29, 2012
Extending the franchise. . .
Tradition may be defined as an extension of the franchise. 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 the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man's opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.
Tradition is the extension of the franchise. Not exactly a theological way of putting it but solidly in line with the theology, nonetheless. Earlier in this section, Chesterton laments the false competition between democracy and tradition. I quoted only the last part of that treatment.
Tradition provides balance, continuity, and grounding. Without it, we are doomed to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about -- that is, to the present moment. If there is a danger to Christendom today, it is hardly that we are too wary of the moment, too cautious about capitulating to the present tense, or too quick to embrace trend and fad. The danger is that we are doing only this, having cast off our anchor and lost our moorings by disdaining the tradition that delivered to us the sacred deposit and made known the saving Gospel.
No one would suggest that tradition become a dictator but neither should the present moment be allowed to run rough shod over our confession and practice, inherited from the saints as our faithful and fruitful legacy. We can add from the best of today but we dare not lose our grasp on that which brought us to this moment. From creed to confession, we are at our best when we acknowledge our debt to the past and build upon it with our utmost for His highest, bequeathing to those who follow us the best from yesterday and today.
For us as Lutherans this is a pointed message to those in the ELCA who have chosen to be set adrift on the sea by ecumenism which leaves unreconciled the significant differences and embraces progressive social change that regresses to the level of base desire. Having refused to hear or heed the past, we are only as deep as the moment and will pass on not a legacy as much as an attitude that we know better than any who came before. It is also pointed to those in the LCMS who would believe that substance can somehow be preserved in some encapsulated form while the style of a thousand others is adopted as our new look and language. Having refused to believe that either confession or creed has a face or a form, we have taken the noble work of the masters who went before us and adopted the stick figures of a people too impatient to learn and too convinced that we are not your grandpa's church (as if this were the most important aspect of our identity).
The Lutheran franchise is in danger, alright, but it is in danger more from within than without. The faith will surely endure if the denominations do not but it would be an incredible waste if the Church of Luther and Bach denied knowing even knowing these people on Sunday morning. We currently face a crisis of catechesis in which some Lutherans teach generic truth over the short term without confronting those who would be Lutheran without the bold confession of :We believe, confess, and teach" and the bold confidence "This is most certainly true."
A little listen to the past is a good thing. We lose nothing by listening. We gain nothing by closing our ears and our minds. If we expect to extend the franchise, and here I mean pass on the evangelical and catholic faith, we must do more than claim a heritage. We must embrace and confess tradition. 2 Thess. 3:6; 2 Thess. 2:15; 1 Cor.11:23; 2 Tim. 3:14;2 Timothy 1:13-2:2... It is significant that Jesus' disparaging remarks about tradition are always aimed at those who have corrupted it or exchanged the truth for the lies of their own manufacture.