Wednesday, October 6, 2021

The Relationship between Scripture and Tradition

Martin Luther the famed reformer, understood the balance between scripture and tradition as scripture and tradition walking along side each other, as long as tradition doesn't violate scripture.

I would articulate my own understanding between tradition and scripture in this way: Scripture is the infallible, inerrant word of God. Scripture's application in the historic church and to the present is expressed through tradition. Tradition then is fundamentally a good thing, an expression of the various acceptable forms in which scripture may be lived out. There are many different forms in which true worship to God and adherence can be lived out. Some churches emphasize contemplation, other churches emphasize experience, other churches emphasize doctrinal purity, still other churches emphasize ritual. These are all legitimate expressions of scriptural Christianity. But there is a zone outside this bubble which ought to be considered perverted tradition, or traditions that contradict the scriptures. Examples would include churches in which the tradition is to reject the scriptures, or lower the view of the scriptures to being simply symbolic and not historical. Another example would be pluralistic churches that attempt to mesh Christianity with other world religions. Still another example would be churches that ordain homosexual pastors.

In defense of this position, it seems clear that scripture is our guide to living out biblical tradition. The scriptures are useful for teaching, exhortation, and rebuking. The scriptures are our guide to God. But the expressions of these principles are left open to us. The Bible does not specifically prescribe what instruments to use in worship, or what rituals must be performed, or how sermons should be preached. So there is an open area for tradition to function in a diverse and biblical way. But the Bible as a razor's edge also "cuts off" certain forms of worship and preaching and doctrine, as outside the realm of biblical Christianity.

The best objection I've heard to this idea of scripture being superior to tradition is from Catholic apologists who indicate that this principle of "sola scriptura" is stated nowhere in the Bible. And they would also cite apostolic succession passed from Jesus to Peter. I would counter by stating that Christ was not passing on the authority to dictate truth but the authority to pass on truth from Jesus to Peter. And the concept of sola scriptura could be indicated in Revelation 22 when the word says that anyone who adds or takes away from the account in Revelation will face punishment from the Lord. This principle could be applied to the entire Bible.