I have very little time to whip this post out. I have a marrow biopsy in 2 hours, though they’re going to do it right here in my bed, but I also have visitors out in the gift shop.
On Facebook, someone posted:
The real issue isn’t-“the Bible alone” versus “the Bible plus tradition.” Rather, the issue is- “the Bible plus Apostolic tradition” versus “the Bible plus man made tradition.”
Depending on your definition of “apostolic tradition” everyone agrees with this.
If apostolic tradition means “what the apostles themselves meant to say when they wrote the words of the New Testament,” then Protestants, Roman Catholics, Orthodox, and even Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons are in unity on that belief.
The question is, how do we determine what the apostles meant to teach?
First off, let me say that I believe that 95% of all people who claim to be Christian are so stuck on whatever tradition they practice that it would be fair to say that they couldn’t care less what the apostles meant to say. They just want to continue doing what they’re doing. Even if they change, it will be for some emotional or relationship issue, not because they feel that they’ve gotten any closer to apostolic truth.
For those of us who do care what the apostles taught, there are multiple routes to determining what the apostles meant.
The Roman Catholics and Orthodox tell us that we should just take their word for it. By God’s protection, they’ve preserved the apostles’ meaning through the church, which Jesus promised would never fall (they say).
Most conservative Protestant churches tell us that it can be found just by reading the Bible because the Bible interprets itself, though it seems to have interpreted itself differently to around 50,000 different denominations in the United States, and to a lot of individuals as well.
A newer movement tells us that we can find apostolic tradition in the history of the Pre-Nicene church. I would, uh, almost be among those. However, those who are in this movement are in at least as much disagreement as other Protestants, often more.
I think the obvious route–and any historian would have to agree with me–to understanding the meaning of the apostles is not only to read their writings, but also to see how the churches they started interpreted their writings and put them into practice. And we have thousands of pages of writings from apostolic churches from the first couple centuries after the apostles.
But that doesn’t mean that’s enough to accurately interpret “apostolic tradition.” Even historians disagree among themselves over both the history and the beliefs of the early churches.
So, how do we decide. Here I agree with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox, sort of. If we are Bible believers, then the Bible tells us that the church is the pillar and support of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). If we are Bible believers, then the Bible tells us that together we can trust the Anointing to lead us into truth (1 Jn. 2:27). If we are Bible believers, then the Bible tells us that as we are trained to build the body of Christ together, speaking the truth in love, each member doing its share, then we will be protected from deceivers and false doctrines (Eph. 4:11-16).
It is the church that can determine whether we have accurately found apostolic tradition, but that church is not some organization based in Rome, Antioch, Istanbul, or Moscow. That church is the local church, believers gathered together, giving themselves to Jesus Christ, willing to be supernaturally taught by him, and to follow his Spirit wherever he leads.
Men will always disagree. It is their nature. Galatians 5:19-21 tells us that divisions, schisms, and dissensions are simply what our flesh produces.
But if we will get out of our flesh and get under the leadership of Jesus Christ together (alone, you’re a sitting duck–Heb. 3:13), then we will know everything we need to know, and the apostolic tradition the Spirit of God leads us into will be exactly the apostolic tradition that the Spirit of God led the apostles into.