by Rev. Dr. Daniel C. Wilburn
Evangelicals believe church traditions are unbiblical because tradition is only human interpretation of Scripture. Simon Chan quotes former president of Dallas Theological Seminary, Lewis Sperry Chafer who speaks the Evangelical mind toward church tradition
The very fact that I did not study a prescribed course in theology made it possible for me to approach the subject with an unprejudiced mind and to be concerned only with what the Bible actually teaches.
Chan: “…evangelicalism accepts an ahistorical view of the church supported by an ahistorical view of Scripture, cut off from [church] tradition. As a result, the church is constantly being created by one’s own action in the here and now on the basis of a Bible viewed as a deposit of propositional truths and timeless principles that can be transposed into any time and situation.” (Liturgical Theology, IVP, p30)
This ahistorical church and Bible is detrimental because life and meaning are never without context. The failure to perceive one’s own situational interpretation of Scripture leaves the present-moment church without a healthy identity. Identity is always formed out of history. Always. We Evangelicals have fallen into the trap of recent modernism’s “myth of objectivity.”
My friends in China believe they are ‘just reading the scriptures’ meaning they believe the Scriptures have a single pure meaning, with perhaps even NOT considering the historical context. Evangelicals scholars however, place a high value on exegetical tools of historicity. Interesting they will legitimately consider the historic settings of say Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church but fail to realize any value to say the monastic movement, desert fathers and mothers, creeds, and even the Psalter.
The larger historical church says the church is our mother. Evangelicals are runaways still believing home is a bad place. They miss out of nurturing. They are story-less and thus make the same mistakes as the rest of church – except in spades! Now the free church has some 30,000 denominations within the U.S. Each person thinks they are their own private church. This is heresy: the church is the body of Christ. Beyond nice metaphor, Paul speaks of our necessity for each other in 1 Corinthians 12. It is not a suggestion. It is our “ontology” our being, our identity, our Via, our way.
Therefore, let us explore church traditions – with all caution of course. Let us learn from our “cloud of witnesses…” Augustine on theology, Teresa on prayer, Calvin on justification, Wesley on discipleship, King Jr. on justice …and on and on. And let us look deeply into the Orthodox and Roman churches for how to be in a rich relationship with Jesus, constant, steadfast, unswayed, and consistent.