Friday, June 7, 2013

Unsuitable tradition?

Reflecting on whether the Spirit of truth is liberal or conservative, I drew no conclusion to the actual question. And no one commented on that omission. (If pushed for an answer I would say, Anglicanly, "Both.") But in recent comments here (see below) some debate emerged about tradition.

Tradition is a funny thing, is it not? When we Anglicans want tradition we keep it. When we don't, we ditch it. Stuff (unsuitable) tradition!

Let's think about what is going on in the Church of England at the moment. There is a vigorous argument for women being bishops. Yet no one is arguing for the abolition of bishops. Bishops being a tradition we want to keep. There is also a vigorous argument going on for same sex couples being able to be married. Apparently marriage being about a man and a woman is not a tradition many want to keep.

In ACANZP we have our own version of keeping what we want and discarding what does not suit. We want to keep an episcopal church but we do not want to do the hard yards on being one church of multiple cultures, so we have ditched aspects of church unity in favour of a three tikanga model. But in each of the tikanga we are utterly faithful to tradition concerning bishops.

Of course some make a similar play about Scripture. Even accusing me of following Scripture when it suits and not when it does not. Me? How dare they!

Cue removal of faux-outrage. The serious issue here is the question of truth. What is the truth God has revealed to us? If tradition (or a banner being towed behind an aeroplane) tells us the truth, we should abide by it. Scripture also.

If tradition does not tell the truth, we should ditch it, tell it to get stuffed. It is no use. Like a dead parrot.

So hard work continues to lie before us as Anglicans. The catholic bit of us respects tradition enough to check it out rather than ditch it automatically. The reformed or Protestant bit of us questions tradition enough to retain nothing which is not true. We are not bound by tradition but we are bound to seek the truth. We are having a debate about gay marriage in some parts of the Communion, and about women bishops in some places, precisely because the catholic part of us wants to retain tradition and the reformed part of us is willing to change it. But what is the truth of these matters?

It is lazy thinking to appeal to tradition (whether 'tradition' or 'Tradition', whether to an accumulation of the church's understanding of Scripture or to an equal source of revelation besides Scripture) because tradition is no sure authority in itself. Our true authority lies in the truth. Tradition is sometimes handed down truth (affirmed by us when we received the traditions we deem to be Holy Scripture) but often it is handed down speculation, dreamy thoughts, pious legends, habits and practices of the church. These truth claims need checking out.

It can be lazy thinking to appeal to Scripture. 'Scripture' is, after all, a shorthand for 'a complex body of texts, some of which are reinterpreted by other texts in the body (principally the Old Testament texts in relationship to the New Testament texts). But it is always potentially good to appeal to Scripture because Scripture is the received, accepted and ever after affirmed revelation of God.

In that sense, Scripture is always greater than what the church deems to be tradition. It stands as judge over tradition. Even where we reckon 'tradition' to be the interpretation of Scripture accumulated in the collected wisdom of the church, that interpretation is subject to checks and balances, to the TMO (Third Match Official) which turns out to be, Scripture (re-read, searched, dug deeply into).

The church has privileged Scripture in this way. Made a decision that Scripture is true truth. That does not mean the church owns Scripture, like a publisher owns the copyright of a book and can exercise an authority to later change the contents so a new edition is published. Rather the church has recognised that it has a lord and master while on earth. Its recognition and reception of Scripture is a submission to Scripture owning the church. Not the other way round.

Rightly we read Scripture in our worship, use the words of Scripture in the content of our worship and appoint one of our number to preach to the rest of us, Sunday by Sunday.

In this way we continue our submission to Scripture and remember that we ceded power to Scripture when we recognised that there lies the truth that God has given and we must live by.

OK. That leaves the question of who decides, when difference arises, the answer to Pilate's question, "What is truth?" There also lies a lot of current Anglican angst. But there is an answer. As I shall reveal exclusively here soon. I just need to complete transcription on some stone tablets of the revelation I have received ...

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Remarks made about tradition/Tradition: I cite them for handy reference (without attribution, as far as I can tell it doesn't matter who made these remarks). They are numbered (in no order of priority) for possible ease of future reference:

1. the view that Tradition is the Church’s accumulation of interpretation and commentary on Scripture
2. Eastern Orthodoxy. Their practice of Tradition is again sui generis. It is neither Roman nor Anglican. It does not align itself with the view that Tradition is the Church’s accumulation of interpretation and commentary on Scripture, the view that prevailed well into the second millennium, and normally called “single source”. Nor is it Tridentine, as you point out. Yet to affirm “Holy Tradition completes Holy Scripture” suggests Scripture is not “sufficient”, in direct denial of Article VI.
3. And as for 'sola scriptura', it's a rather circular argument, it seems to me. Where in scripture is the list of books that comprise the scriptures? Answer: nowhere. It's in the tradition.
4. The two-source being the dominant position developing since the Middle Ages. We should have noted as we walked that track, past Trent’s definition, “Any disjunction between Scripture and Tradition such as would treat them as two separate ‘sources of revelation’ must be rejected. The two are correlative…Holy Tradition completes Holy Scripture….By the term Holy Tradition we understand the entire life of the Church in the Holy Spirit.” [Agreed Statement Adopted by the Anglican-Orthodox Joint Doctrinal Commission, Moscow, 1976: 84]
5. The function of the Christian canon was to separate the apostolic witness from the ongoing tradition of the church, whose truth was continually in need of being tested by the apostolic faith
6. might the notion of the Great Tradition itself have a cut-off date parallel somewhat to the Bible's own canonization? Not a question I've had to put so sharply before. Or is Tradition just some ever rolling stream - that permits even changes of the degree now sought by so-called revisionists and their blessing of SS marriages?
7. OR, is Scripture - without Tradition - the sole reference point for faith in Christ? If so, one wonders how the Faith grew before the New Testament was written and codified.
8. only after such things as “two source theories of revelation” come seriously into play thanks to 14th C canon lawyers and then Trent, do we have the grand “majority Christian position”

1 comment:

Bryden Black said...

Well Peter; I was at least hoping for nothing less than golden tablets ... that said ...

Curiously, the very Scriptures display the process of traditioning. 1 Cor 15:1-3 is a justly famous example, with 1 Cor 11:23 being even more famous. In similar vein, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to “imitate him”, 10:33-11:2; for fundamentally, he imitates his Master - the entire logic of Philippians. All of which is thoroughly Incarnational traditioning. And where is this going? In again typical Anglican style, we already have both Scripture and tradition. [But NB Ts and ts.]

And so, the question to investigate, I suggest, is rather one that digs into the traditioning processes of the Tradition itself. For with such a perspective to the fore, it might just reveal what is a legitimate extension of the (theo)logic of the Scriptures, what Athanasius called its dianoia, and what merely inculturation. And - wonder of wonders - with such a set of spectacles on the ends of our noses (hat-tip Karl Barth), we might have a better chance of reaching better solutions (i.e. closer to the Truth!) to some/many of our contemporary ‘dilemmas’. Well; there’s always hoping ...