In a positive light, the word brings to mind images that speak a sense of welcome familiarity, of comfort, ‘there’s no place like home,’ and maybe of security as well, safety from unwanted change. In a negative light, the word conjures up notions of irrational and oppressive conservatism, ‘it’s always been done this way, don’t ask why,’ and a challenge to personal freedom.
Considered from a Christian perspective, tradition is also viewed both positively and negatively. As one would expect, ancient Christian communities like tradition; ‘reformed’ and modern sects hate it resolutely, basing their rejection on Christ’s indictment of the traditions of the scribes and Pharisees.
Tradition, as it has been handed over to me (for that’s what tradition means, ‘handing it over,’ παραδοσις, parádhosis) is something at once progressive, efficient, practical and effective.
Though many think tradition hidebound, it is actually progressive in the sense of moving us forward without hindrance, without waste, without danger to ourselves or others. Having evolved over time, it is not the product of a single individual or even a small group. It’s not limited either to time or place. For all these reasons it is uncontrollable, and rather than being controlling, which is one of the chief criticisms against it, it liberates. We just go along with it, and with no direct effort on our part, it ploughs furrows in us which it then plants with good seed. It’s when we harden ourselves to it as dry, thirsty soil ironically repels water, that we remain sterile.
When does tradition become the enemy? When it is no longer true to itself, when men of today try to capture it and harness it to their own ambitions for personal power and advantage. In doing so, they actually depart from tradition while they say they are enforcing it. Tyranny then replaces the free give and take from which tradition draws its very life. Again, the paradox that those who force tradition on others are in fact distorting and betraying it. Why? Because tradition is life being aware of itself and living in that awareness, not allowing itself to be eclipsed by temporal demands, not sacrificing truth for the sake of ideologies. Tradition is no ideology. It simply is.
Those who consider themselves progressive and believe most firmly in evolution are ironically the chief opponents of tradition. Yet tradition is the proof of evolution and a demonstration of God’s hand in it.
That God should create things instantaneously and that we should experience these creative acts as evolutionary trails stretching over immensely long periods of time only adds more weight to the probability that creationism is true. It is a function of scale, that what is instantaneous for the Being should appear verily to take ages from the viewpoint of those whose existence is part of the act of creation. The chasm between the Creator and His creation is more than one of size or even of being; it is immeasurable because it is unfathomable. This makes it all the more remarkable that the Being has bridged the chasm for us, and opened to us a possibility of transformation that defies analysis and reveals evolution itself to be very much ‘an indoor affair’.
The door that has been opened to us gives us egress out of what we thought was an immensity but upon looking back turns out to have been nearly nothing. The nihilist is right after all, but of what use is being right, if you cannot have what really is.
One final thought, brothers, and then I will quiet down before I do any more damage.
Without human society the individual doesn’t exist. The individual is a construct based on ideas, whereas the true state of humanity is that of an organism composed of a multitude of coordinated units. It is for this reason that the Body of Christ is so significant a perspective on human history, and why becoming ‘one body and spirit’ with one another is more than a mere metaphor. He shouldn’t have revealed this truth to His holy apostles if it weren’t significant, nor spoken to us so insistently about His being in the Father, and with the Spirit as well, in us and among us. What has been revealed is so much more than any one of us can imagine or behold.
Hence, back to tradition.
It is that eye which is single,
so that the whole Body can be full of Light.