It seems like we as Christians can make two errors when it comes to tradition. One is to completely ignore it. The other is to be enslaved to it. As a pastor this is a challenge when studying the Scripture. Some like new interpretations just because they are new. Others have a hard time seeing the text for what it is because they are so controlled by what they have been told the text is supposed to say.
I think we have to face this as a real challenge.
I’m not sure I have all the answers to it (heaven is a start) but for the now, when studying Scripture we have to pray and pray and pray and pray for humility. I heard someone this week saying he’s reading the Scripture and he thinks he’s figured out that Jesus is not really God. You’d think the fact a couple thousand of years of church history filled with really godly people risking their lives and dying to say the exact opposite would at least be something of a motivation to get him to go back to the text and start wondering whether or not he might be missing something.
But obviously, we need more than that. Because the truth is looking at a passage of Scripture there are times where lots of people have been wrong. (THE DEITY OF CHRIST IS MOST DEFINITELY NOT ONE OF THEM!!!!)
We need to pray and pray and pray and pray for discernment. Whether or not what we are believing agrees exactly with tradition we need to make sure that our beliefs are based on an accurate interpretation of Scripture. We need to make sure that if we see the Scripture clearly teaches something, we are willing to submit to what it actually says.
Sometimes reading Scripture you will find that wrong tradition is one of the greatest obstacles to true understanding. (I think as an example I’ve had a hard time understanding what Jesus teaches about divorce in Matthew and Mark because of wrong tradition. For Grace Fellowship Churchers, you’ll just have to come on Sunday to find out what I mean by that.)
John Calvin ran up against this. When he started preaching the Word people started objecting on the basis of custom or tradition.
I like his response, “If men’s judgments were right, custom should have been sought of good men. But it often happens far otherwise, what is seen being done by the many soon obtains the force of custom: while the affairs of men have scarcely ever been so regulated that the better things pleased the majority. Therefore the private vices of the many have often caused public error, or rather a general agreement on the vices, which these good men want to make law. Those with eyes can perceive it is not one sea of evils that has flooded the earth, but many dangerous plagues have invaded it and everything is rushing headlong. Hence one must either completely despair of human affairs or grapple with these great evils – or rather forcibly quell them. And this remedy is rejected for no other reason save that we have long been accustomed to such evils. But, granting public error a place in the society of men, still in the Kingdom of God his eternal truth must alone be listened to and observed, a truth that cannot be dictated to by length of time, by long-standing custom, or by the conspiracy of men.”
I think part of what he’s saying is that the gospel helps us have a right understanding of tradition. We know that we are sinful. We need help. We know that other people are sinful. They are not always right. It warns us against blinding self-righteousness. The “I cling to this teaching because it makes me feel more important than you” attitude. It checks us against liberalism. The “if there are different interpretations nobody can know” attitude. It gives us hope. We are not in this alone. We have the Holy Spirit. We are not in this alone. We have each other. It enables us to read the Scripture with other people because we don’t have to know it all or be right all the time because we are not saved by our complete, absolute perfect understanding of everything in Scripture but by the work of Jesus Christ.