Tradition, it's something American Protestant Evangelicals (APEs) have a huge gripe about. They immediately level this accusation at any and all organized religions. So, I'd like to take this opportunity to rebut.
Often the "religious" person will haphazardly give a reason for tradition and the "bible Christians," as they like to call themselves, will start to realize that they are being backed into a corner with fuzzy logic and facts. When this happens, all the sudden, the "bible Christian" takes leave to redefine their position. They say that they aren't against pious tradition, per se, just the vain traditions of "mere men."
This seems even more absurd to me, because suddenly this individual takes the mantle of authority upon themselves to confirm tradition as "acceptable" and dismiss others as "unacceptable," all the while claiming to do so with the scriptures. The problem is, none of "them" agree on the scriptures! So, who are they to definitively say? The mantle they've put on themselves is tailor-made for a very large man, and they sit swamped in it's folds like a little child. It reminds me of the cartoon, Robin Hood, where prince John is perpetually stretching his ears out to hold up a crown that belongs to his cousin, king Richard the Lionhearted.
Proverbs 3:5 says," Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding." If they are "bible Christians" then why are they doing the opposite of what the bible compels them to do, leaning on their own understanding of scripture? Quite frankly, it's because each of them is woefully convinced that all of their conclusions about everything under the sun are divine, because they have the Holy Spirit.
It brings to mind Voltaire's words," These fellows are certain that the Holy Spirit 'with which they are filled' is above the law, that their enthusiasm is the only law they must obey. What can we say to a man who tells you that he would rather obey God than men, and therefore he is sure to go to heaven for butchering you?"
Now, I'm not suggesting that APEs (American Protestant Evangelicals) want to go around killing people in the name of God. Nor am I suggesting that they are law breakers by nature, and neither was Voltaire. He was talking about religious fanaticism. But he brings up a valid point, that even the APE must deal with: What is the standard for truth? Many of our sad APE friends and family, without batting an eyelash, will have already said emphatically," It's the Bible!" But that is exactly what we are talking about here: How does one interpret the bible? Again, here, many of our APE friends and family will say without missing a beat," With the Holy Spirit!" It's the old circular logic, which is a fundamental error of logic.
There is an illustration that some clever person made, called rather mockingly 'The Wheel of Power," which was drawn up at the APE's expense. It's a circle and every so often on the circle is a question, and after it is an answer and it says:
THE BIBLE IS THE WORD OF GOD!
"But how can you be sure it's the word of God?"
BECAUSE THE BIBLE TELLS US SO!
"But why believe the bible?"
THE BIBLE IS INFALLIBLE!
"But how do you know it's infallible?"
THE BIBLE IS THE WORD OF GOD!
"But how can you be sure it's the word of God?"...
And around it goes forever and ever. All those statements might be true, but those are not answers to those questions! Further, they don't even begin to address the issue of interpretation, which is what we've been talking about up to this point. Even if all of the above declarations were established, we have to ask questions about the matter of interpretation. And in order to answer those questions we absolutely must get away from erroneous circular logic, which we know to be false. Otherwise, we could just make our own wheel of power addressing the issue of interpretation.
So, being properly motivated in the inquiry, I think we've established to a degree which answers are unsatisfactory. We've also established that the right questions have to be asked. To that end, let's digress and go into what the APE says they're against: the vain traditions of men. That's what they claim to be against.
Well, let's look at this and ask the right questions so that we come up with the right answers. Is the following proposition true?
1.) Vain traditions of men= df (identical) Traditions of men
No. That isn't true, is it? Of course not! It's not true, because vanity isn't necessary to the traditions of men. That is to say, traditions of men can exist without being vain. Now, on the other hand, traditions are necessary to the existence of vain traditions, right? You can't have vain traditions without 'tradition;' you'll just have 'vain' then, yeah?
So, the point of all that is, these APEs call themselves 'bible Christians.' That is supposed to mean that they only believe in what the bible says. Well, it's obvious to everyone, including them, that, that is not the case. Case in point, that APEs stand in opposition to all traditions of men, while claiming to stand only against the vain traditions of men. And why is this? Because to the APE, proposition #1 which we all concluded is necessarily false, is in their mind true! To them, all the traditions of men are vain. The problem with this is, it doesn't say anywhere in the bible that all the traditions of men are vain. In fact, the bible doesn't even come close to suggesting that they are; it says quite the opposite. One begins to wonder why they call themselves 'bible Christians.'
Before we can just move on beyond the APE's prejudices against the word tradition and talk about what the bible says, let's quickly address what the bible is. The bible is tradition! That's right, the canon of scripture is tradition, and that's a fact. The bible as the APE's know it has 66 books; the original bible has 73 books, that's the one that Catholics use. When the canon of scripture was being compiled it wasn't an issue merely of veracity, literary accuracy, or aesthetics. Those 73 books were chosen from approximately 350 different books that were deposited as worthy of canonization or note.
So, not only did everyone have dozens of copies of these 350 books, but after they decided which ones were pseudo-epigraphical (of dubious authorship), which ones were heretical, and which ones were readable, they had to go through and figure out which books everyone had in common, if their copies of the same books all agreed, and if not, which ones were most accurate. The accurate ones that everyone already had that corroborated with each other, were then synthesized into a single definitive version of the book. Then the book was added to the canon, after much debate about its place in the chronological order of epistles and Gospels. This process took years to complete.
The one thing that all of these books have in common, both the valid scriptures and the invalid, was that the local traditions stated that they were noteworthy. All the New Testament and Intertestamental books were the deposit of tradition. Not only were they traditionally true and the version which seemed most reliable out of all of the books, but they knew that they were the most reliable and true out of all the books, precisely because they agreed with tradition. That is why the bishops (the direct successors of the apostles) came together to discuss the matter as a Universal Catholic Church. These books agreed with not only their verbal traditions, which is all most Christians had, but also, their liturgical traditions (the latter which is exactly what APEs are referring to when they say 'the vain traditions of men.')
The Christian bible itself is a tradition; it is what all Christians, throughout the ages, have traditionally believed to be valid, true, and right. That is, until the Reformation, when Protestants decided they would simply stop believing in part of the bible, and took a pair of scissors to it. That being the case, you might rightly say that the Protestant form of the bible is in fact a vain tradition of mere men. A terrible and sweet irony there, aye?
Let's use the vain tradition of mere men, called the King James Version Bible, then, since the irony is so sweet and it is their translation, after all. Note ostensibly, it is His Majesty, King James' version of the Bible. Well, what does it say about tradition? Here are some apostolic quotes from the New Testament :
2 Thessalonians 2:15
"Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle." I say! Will you look at that: whether by word OR their apostolic epistle. I say! Take note of that if you will, not only that the apostles were delivering more than doctrines and dogmas, namely traditions, but that these traditions whether oral or written were binding. Which means that there would have been a very clear system of authority to validate these traditions. Otherwise, the apostles would have been commanding everyone to believe anything that people claimed the apostles to have said. I say! Not only do we have here evidence of apostolic authority to innovate traditions, traditions of men, but that they are binding upon believers, and also we have here implicit evidence of a definitive apostolic delivery of these traditions.
2 Thessalonians 3:6
"Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us." Here we have it that tradition ameliorates and prevents the poison of disorder. It must have been well said the Holy Spirit is not the author of confusion (disorder). Tradition protects the Church, keeps it in order, and prevents the faithful from wandering away into true vanity, the vain traditions of men, self-willed iniquity, and disordered individualism. Holy Apostolic tradition, according to this scripture, most emphatically separates the sheep from the goats. And atop it all is the first statement," "Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ..." Again, we see that Holy Apostolic tradition is binding and compulsory to every Christian. Not only that, but we are to get away from every brother who does not observe it!
When Christ rebukes the pharisees in the Gospels, we see Him saying that they reject the Law and observe the traditions of the elders. We see Him saying that their rabbinical traditions nullify the law. We see Him saying that the rabbis had overburdened the people with their many traditions. Yes, we see this, most certainly.
What we do not see is Christ saying that their traditions are evil or useless. There is a difference between observing the Law and traditions that are intended to help one observe the Law, and rejecting the Law and observing only tradition for the sake of traditions themselves. There is a difference between traditions which help and cause one to observe the Law, and those traditions which negate and seek to replace the Law. There is a difference between traditions which help a man do and obey what he must in order to make his life holy, and those traditions which ruin his life and crush him beneath innovated obligations. These and these alone were the issues Christ dealt with. Christ's condemnation of the pharisees and some of their traditions (those which negated the law of Moses) was not a condemnation of tradition itself; and that is self-evident. A blind man could see that. Christ never condemned tradition, nor heralded its ending.
Is the bible necessary to Christianity? No. Otherwise, there were no Christians before the bible existed and there were no Christians to write the New Testament and no Christians to write it about. Christianity is necessary to the bible, the bible is not necessary to Christianity. The truth of the bible is necessary to Christianity, now that is a true statement. That truth which is necessary to Christianity was and is alive in holy apostolic tradition, it first existed in tradition, it spread around the world in the form of tradition. If you were to put the mediums of the bible and tradition next to each other and compare them, they are both indispensable to communicating the Truth of Christ.
Think about the proposition of such a condemnation, that somehow God is not revealed in sensible things(bells, incense, vestments, the Eucharist, the holy oil, confession, marriage, holy orders, art, confirmation, Church documents), but He is revealed in sensible things (letters and words, e.g. the bible). Well, either He is revealed in sensible things or He isn't! It can't be both! A contradiction is absolutely, necessarily, always false. A Church with apostolic traditions is a Church with sacraments; sacraments are a visible sign of an invisible reality.
A lot of APEs say that tradition is keeping them out of the Catholic Church. That's erroneous; traditions keep one in the Body of Christ. Traditions protect the faith, are confirmed by scripture, expound the truth of Christ, and reveal the fullness of salvation in every generation. Traditions keep worldliness, confusion, chaos, and dissent outside of the Church and divinity, clarity, peace and concord inside the Church. Tradition keeps the salt salty, it keeps the spring fresh, and the virgin's lamp burning.
If tradition is keeping them out of the Church of the Apostles, then they are stating that they're worldly, confused, disorganized, and dissenting. Look at the APE "church." Do they match up with that? Look at fad Christianity, Mega-'churches' with 'executives' for pastors, rock bands and giant T.V.'s. Look at the 'Prosperity Gospel' people 'living in authority' with their $1,000 seeds and their $23,000 dollar toilets. Look at the confusion of 30,000 Protestant denominations, like Ishmael, a wild man whom eveyone's hand is against and whose hand is against everyone, ever envious of Isaac, the Catholic Church.
Yes, APEs fit the bill perfectly: worldly, confused, disorganized, and dissenting. It's not tradition that keeps them out of the Church, it's their pride. It's their refusal to renounce the world and embrace the Church, to submit to the teaching of the Church, to submit to Apostolic authority, and to be unified with Christ through obedience to His bride, the Holy Catholic Church and her sacraments.
But despite all of this, there is a reason that Protestants go on praying, and keep going on missions trips, and keep trying to innovate new ways to keep each other excited about the Gospel, and keep digging through Jewish culture, and keep doing good works, and read their bibles, and show up to their churches which they know are wholly inadequate, and listen to their pastors who they regularly disagree with, and argue with each other about theology to no end seeking the truth. It's because they want what only tradition can give them. The substance of apostolic tradition is what they want, it's what they need. They need the sacraments and Christ keeps calling them to Himself through the sacraments, which they have cut themselves off from. He's like a man on the other side of a door to a pitch black room full of people looking for the same door, shouting," HERE!" hoping they find the door and then the handle. He sees how confused they are, how frantic they live, the nervous energy that possesses all their endeavors that comes from never knowing what to do next, and the perpetual longing for something more.
It's terribly ironic that APEs always invite people to have a 'deep personal relationship' with Jesus Christ, to make Him 'their personal Lord and Savior.' They only think about #1, me, me, me. But Jesus Christ is not only a personal savior, He is a communal savior. When we receive the Eucharist, we become one with Christ, because He enters not only into our souls, sharing His divinity, but He enters into our bodies, sharing His perfect humanity with us. Becoming one with Him in the Eucharist, we become one with all who partake of His Body and Blood. We become one with God and His Church, a perfect union in a single instant. There is nothing more personal than that; that is hyper-personal.
Listening to Christian rock, saying some personal prayers, talking to God like a buddy, flipping through a KJV bible, listening to Pastor 'X' and eating cracker/ juice packets is not a 'deep personal relationship.' Those things cannot replace the Eucharist and don't even come close to it. It is despair of this fact that drives Protestants to peddle what they cannot give... ' a deep personal relationship with God.' Because deep down, in his soul, every Christian recollects those non-negotiable words of Christ,"... Whoever does not eat My Flesh and drink My Blood has no life in him." The Protestant, the separated brethren, craves the Eucharist, which holy tradition transmits to us. There is only one place to get it: in the Churches of the Apostles. Pray for their conversions.
"Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." ~Aristotle~