Existential Punk said: "Tradition doesn't make it right!"

My friend Adele commented in a recent post:

IMHO, scripture is NOT clear on the issue of homosexuality, and traditions over the years do not make something right. Slavery and subjugation of women were once endorsed by scripture and scripture was used to uphold those unfortunate things. People FINALLY came to their senses as i hope they will over the issue of homosexuality. Sadly, they probably will not and i believe the church as a whole will render itself irrelevant and out of touch. I see churches focusing way too much on dogmas, beliefs, etc that have all man-made creations and interpretations. They have become idols above and beyond how human beings are treated, which i think brings tears to G-D's eyes. Churches like the Anglicans, Catholics, & Presbyterians care
WAY more about being what THEY think is right over how they treat people. VERY SAD INDEED. No wonder people like me want NOTHING to do with church and many of its people. Thank G-D i have Christ in my life and friends who love and embrace me.

Adele, this resonates with me because, as a newcomer to the United Methodist Church, I'm enjoying an increased emphasis on the importance of "tradition." In churches I grew up in, tradition was supposedly meaningless. But that was essentially lip-service, because the subcultural norms there were clearly a manifestation of informal tradition. But for the Methodist tribe, tradition is only one piece of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. Tradition and Scripture are counterbalanced by experience and reason - interacting like thinking people in the world God has given us.

I'm also reminded of a recent comment made regarding Prop. 8 in California (can't remember who said it). Essentially, "the purpose of Democracy is NOT to allow the whims of majority dictate the freedoms of the minority." So even if "most" Americans did want to prevent gay marriage from being legal (or interracial marriage, or divorce, or oral sex for that matter) that doesn't mean the majority has the right - in a democracy - to deprive citizens of those freedoms.

A.D. Hunt said, "I myself, as a Covenant supporter, am not interested in controlling anyone," and I believe him. I think people can intelligently and respectfully disagree and even disapprove without that disapproval leading to forced mandates. Churches can hold to unpopular or controversial doctrines without asserting them cruelly or angrily.

Again and again, I've seen Adele's (Existential Punk) interactions with people she disagrees with to be respectful, gracious and tolerant.

I ask the same question she raises, though: "just because it's tradition, does that mean it's correct?"
Contrary to some who have recently adopted the phrase, there is already a “fellowship of confessing Anglicans”. It is called the Anglican Communion. The Episcopal Church is now distancing itself from that fellowship. Ways must be found for all in America who want to be loyal to it, and to scripture, tradition and Jesus, to have that loyalty recognised and affirmed at the highest level.

I want to be faithful to Jesus. I even want to be faithful to Scripture and Tradition, but I'm not willing to "bow" to Scripture and Tradition without maintaining tension with Experience and Reason.


16 comments:

Joan Ball said...

Here's my challenge - if I start picking and choosing what is and is not okay from the Bible, then I can pick and choose whatever I want from it. Maybe others aren't as prone to scamming themselves, but I have a long history of it that I do my best to battle every day, one day at a time.

For that reason, I tend to be willing to believe and follow any and all of what's in there - even the seemingly archaic stuff - trusting a combination of scripture, conviction, tradition, teaching, etc. as my guide. Why don't I wear a covering on my head when I go to church? Because so far I have not been convicted to do so and tradition seems to have moved away from it. That said, if I woke up tomorrow morning convicted that I should wear a covering on my head or never speak in church again I would do it.

Not saying anyone else has to do it that way, and my approach may change as I continue to wind my way through a life-long spiritual journey, but that's just how I roll.

Adele, I am thrilled to have met you and am grateful to call you a friend. But, as I told you over pasta in Virginia, I have no idea how I would resolve my faith/life if I were a lesbian. That said, I am working too hard on trying to resolve my ongoing gluttony, ego, anger, envy and other issues that make up the plank sticking out of my eye that I would never tell you what to do with it either.

Great series guys. I've been enjoying the conversation.

Jen said...

The challenge Joan put forth about picking and choosing is interesting to me.

Mostly, in a kind of ironic way because the canon itself was “picked” and “chosen” by function of political power. What we accept as the complete canon today is the product of the dominant views of a particular time and culture (often at the expense of the marginalized).

Scripture is both memory (ancient witness) and present word, and the tension between the two can be tricky. Authority is contextual, and what was once understood in ancient communities as the authoritative word of God does not and should not always translate into modern society. It is possible to read the word of God and get it wrong, because Scripture is not meant to be read as timeless, transcultural principles. Divorced from social ethics, theology can be incredibly harmful and traditions of slavery and oppression attest to that truth.

While Scripture is bound to the past it represents – God is not, and one must not confuse the authority of God with the authority of the Bible. Phyllis Bird writes, “The Bible’s authority is intimately connected with its character as a bridge between the past and present activity of God.”

I think the beauty of Scripture is that it has always been meant to be engaged in community. We cannot interpret Scripture outside of the tradition and community that created Scripture, but together we can wrestle with how the written word speaks to a modern context.

I would argue that the foundation of Biblical authority is found in past experiences, which provide insufficient answers for a dynamic present and future. But for me, the importance and value of Scripture revolves around the witness it bears to the Creator – and it is ultimately insufficient in and of itself to represent the truth of God. Interpretation and degree of authority given to this piece of ancient literature must not occur without acknowledging the time and culture (however painful) in which it was written, the agenda of the authors, and the understanding that truth cannot be contained in written word.

Thus, while tradition is intricately linked to understanding Scripture, it does not mean that we should rest on the conclusions of tradition. We must be willing to engage with the authority of a dynamic Creator.

Dan said...

Hello....

I would totally agree with the title of this post that tradition does not make it right. But I would say Scripture does. So it comes to what Scripture says, not tradition. Traditions are based from a specific time period and culture. Scripture was written in a specific time period and culture which means all the more we must be students of Scripture to understand it's original context and meaning. But Scriptural truth is eternal and Spirit produced through people. Tradition is human-produced. I think this is what Jen was saying in her comment.

With arguments about Scripture being used for backing slavery or women's restriction - I would read "Slaves, Women and Homosexuals" by William J. Webb which disuss the 3 and why they are different catagories. Of course it was evil if people did try and make a case from Scripture about contemporary slavery.

I'd also make note that when you look at which churches in the USA as well as in Europe and overseas which are growing, seeing new birth of new Christians, usually younger generations, coming to faith in Jesus - the churches are generally those which teach Scripture over tradition and generally conservative. So it seems that those raised outside the church are finding the truth of Jesus in Scripture attractive and life-changing.

But as always, anything without love is useless. So any topic of discussion or talking about tradition or Scripture has to be in love or it is wasteful.

Peter said...

Mmmm... Jen (my wife) is smart.

Dan, I hear what you're saying, and I think it's a very responsible Evangelical attitude (wish more Evangelicals followed your exhortation, "Scripture was written in a specific time period and culture which means all the more we must be students of Scripture to understand it's original context and meaning."

I'm familiar with the Webb book you reference, and while I agree the three categories in his title are separate, I don't necessarily believe the church's treatment of them (HUMANITY'S treatment of them) should be separate or differentiated. Emancipation, freedom and equality apply to all three.

I don't think Jen was necessarily suggesting that "Scriptural truth is eternal and Spirit-produced through people" That's closer to (but not quite) my own attitudes. I think Scriptural truth is continually evolving and changing - which I realize is dangerous and borders on heresy for many (if it isn't outright heresy for some). I read Jen's comment as saying that the Scriptures are "attempts" at comprehending a Creator God who is beyond our comprehension. "We see and know in part..."

Peter said...

Joan, good to see you as always! Glad you and Adele had a chance to connect in person!

I'm reading the second paragraph of your comment - "trusting a combination of scripture, conviction, tradition, teaching, etc. as my guide" - and I can't say that, based on these words, we disagree on anything.

I'm "prepared" to accept any and all of Scripture - but when Scripture collides with conviction, tradition and teaching, different attitudes emerge that are not necessarily acceptance.

In regard to covering your head, you said, "Because so far I have not been convicted to do so and tradition seems to have moved away from it." Which is almost exactly what I've heard Adele say regarding her homosexuality.

Aren't these differing convictions and interpretations inevitable (and sort of BEAUTIFUL) as we seek a God through a Holy Spirit who whispers quietly and gently in our imperfectly open, trembling and seeking hearts?

Existential Punk said...

@Joan,

'Here's my challenge - if I start picking and choosing what is and is not okay from the Bible, then I can pick and choose whatever I want from it. Maybe others aren't as prone to scamming themselves, but I have a long history of it that I do my best to battle every day, one day at a time.'

i agree so that is why so many of us advocate doing this together in community through living life together and through prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit. It's those who hold so tightly on to their beliefs and think anyone who thinks/believes differently from them is wrong and going to hell that i have a problem with personally.

i think blindly following what was written so long ago in a different cultural and historical context without testing, questioning, etc. can be dangerous.

i did really appreciate this:

'Why don't I wear a covering on my head when I go to church? Because so far I have not been convicted to do so and tradition seems to have moved away from it. That said, if I woke up tomorrow morning convicted that I should wear a covering on my head or never speak in church again I would do it.

Not saying anyone else has to do it that way, and my approach may change as I continue to wind my way through a life-long spiritual journey, but that's just how I roll.'

i am so glad to have met you and call you friend too, Joan. Thanks for saying this:
'That said, I am working too hard on trying to resolve my ongoing gluttony, ego, anger, envy and other issues that make up the plank sticking out of my eye that I would never tell you what to do with it either.'

Much love,
Adele

Existential Punk said...

@Jen,

SO BEAUTIFULLY Said! THANK YOU. i am gonna use your comment in a post on my blog!

EP/Adele

Existential Punk said...

@Dan, you said:

'I'd also make note that when you look at which churches in the USA as well as in Europe and overseas which are growing, seeing new birth of new Christians, usually younger generations, coming to faith in Jesus - the churches are generally those which teach Scripture over tradition and generally conservative. So it seems that those raised outside the church are finding the truth of Jesus in Scripture attractive and life-changing.'

Does not mean those beliefs/churches have got it all right! What is the retention level? Many get 'saved' out of an emotional response i would say. The truth of Jesus in scripture does not only come from conservative places. i often see people getting scared into religion. Often people in power and leadership in churches play on the fears and insecurities of people. This was my personal experience. When you are told 'if you don't accept Jesus into your heart you will go to hell' is a pretty amazing motivator. i am not at all saying there are not real and genuine people in the churches but let's be realistic and see there are powerful and manipulative people too.

Pax,
EP

Existential Punk said...

@Peter,

AMEN to this:

'while I agree the three categories in his title are separate, I don't necessarily believe the church's treatment of them (HUMANITY'S treatment of them) should be separate or differentiated. Emancipation, freedom and equality apply to all three.'

THANKS, bro! ;)

Adele

Existential Punk said...

@Peter,

i LOVED these 2 things you said to Joan:

'I'm "prepared" to accept any and all of Scripture - but when Scripture collides with conviction, tradition and teaching, different attitudes emerge that are not necessarily acceptance.' - YES!

and

'Aren't these differing convictions and interpretations inevitable (and sort of BEAUTIFUL) as we seek a God through a Holy Spirit who whispers quietly and gently in our imperfectly open, trembling and seeking hearts?' YES it is very beautiful and inevitable! Yet, those who hold very strongly to their own beliefs find this heresy! i don't mind being called a heretic! All a heretic is is someone who holds a differing view from the norm, which is not always a bad thing! :)

Adele

bridgeout said...

I am still pondering and soaking these things in. But somehow these writings resonate within me...

Peter said...

Adele, you're a machine today! Great comments!! Let me know when you're ready to get started on the second part of our weakness series: "THEIR Strengths..."

Love you,
Peter

Howard Pepper said...

I've enjoyed "listening in" on the above conversation. In the interests of letting readers know me a bit more (as I don't tend to do a lot of self-disclosure unless asked to), I am actually all about the practical, day-to-day issues and struggles like those expressed here. I believe I'm pretty empathetic and compassionate too (worked for 10 years effectively as a counselor/psychotherapist). But I tend to write here and elsewhere mostly from my strong philosophical and analytical side. So please realize that doesn't indicate looking, or intending to speak, past the expressions of pain and various emotions. And I appreciate the personal stories of posters, and our host, Peter.

That said, and knowing all the emotional and other investments people have in their views and experiences of Scripture, I have to say all we CAN do is "pick and choose" from it. And that is all that is appropriate, in my long-considered view, backed by literally thousands of hours of study and positive associations with a very "high" view of Scripture for nearly 30 years of adult life. It can't be made "systematic," and is way too extensive in detail and varied in genre, etc. to do anything other than pick and choose. So we'd better be thoughtful and mature in what criteria we use for our choices.

It took a loooong time, but I finally realized and could acknowledge that the Bible itself evolved and, in many cases, was heavily edited, and repeatedly. The period of that was relatively short for the NT, and I understand and accept most of the arguments for faithful transmission of the texts ONCE they got into fairly wide circulation (generally after turn of the 2nd century). For Paul's writings, reproduction was fairly early and he himself can be tagged with most of the concepts in 7 or 8 of his "genuine" epistles (notably: almost certainly NOT including I, II Tim. and Titus). Still, I think he was not as limiting of women as the famous I Cor. 14 passage seems to indicate (either an interpretation issue or possible later gloss, tho I'm not aware of textual evidence for the latter.)

But it's quite clear the Gospels were a borrowing, counter-influencing and reacting project that was in flux, and largely according to rapidly developing new theology and polemical/apologetic needs, in the 30-85 or 90+ CE period. So both in the Gospels and between them and the rest of the NT and certainly the OT, we do not see great consistency or even the touted "unity" of doctrine; rather, development in process.

Well put, Jen, as to picking and choosing in the very formation of the canon, tho that was spread over a couple centuries so not the product of a single group of "power brokers," as I'm sure you're aware (a point often misspoken by critics, helping reinforce "opposite" misconceptions). And it was similar with the OT canon, and with the changing forms of those writings that apparently only got solidified not too long before the copies (of only parts of the OT) that were hidden in caves in the Qumran region, discovered only in 1947. So back then, they all were "making it up as they went," just as we are still today.

A. D. Hunt said...

I looked at my Google Reader today and it said I had 181 posts to slog through! Well I got yours and saw I was mentioned and i thought I ought to stroll on in.

Good to read everyone's reaction to Peter's insightful comments (as usual) as well.

It seems to me there is no way to not "pick and choose" on bits of Scripture. The presuppositions we have when arriving at the text are hardly easy to discern and are almost never erradicated by even the most intense self-scrutiny.

Which is WHY I am so committed to fellowship and accountability. Because of the nature of the beast of hermeneutics, we are in desperate need of one another in interpretation. Not just so we can say "Look at how varied we are in interpretation" but so say "I'm not so sure that is what this section is getting on about" or "I've never really seen it that way, thank you for opening up Scripture to me" or even "Despite our disagreements, I can recognize the faith you have and agree to disagree."

When I was mentioning "catholic" ecclesiology that was what I was getting at. To be "catholic" under a bishop is to not enforce uniformity in all manner of dogma's, but to assure that in disagreement, we don't take actions that will be such that our fellowship will be broken. Which is why I am so sad about the recent Anglican woes.

I'm stuck right in the middle. I can't imagine an Anglicanism without the "liberal" tendencies that push and agitate; but when strong actions are taken despite the urging that said actions will break fellowship, then that is when both sides loose and (in typical protestant fashion) "orthodoxy" is tightened up and exclusion happens rather than embrace.

The way it's looking the new orthodoxy is where one lands on homosexuality. I think that it is sad.

A. D. Hunt said...

BTW, Peter, since several expressed interest in understanding Scripture theologically, i wonder if I might be self indulgent and point them to my latest post on just that?

Al said...

Peter, thanks for reminding us of the tension/strength offered as we consider all 4 aspects of scripture, tradition, experience and reason. My history hasn't recognized the value of these 4 pillars, and an unstable, lop-sided structure is the result.
Of course, each of us will place varying degrees of value on each pillar in a given conversation, and usually we have one that trumps the rest. That is what makes the whole aspect of community so vital. Adele, you are so right: 'i agree so that is why so many of us advocate doing this together in community through living life together and through prayer and the leading of the Holy Spirit.' How sad it is that this is not what we often see within 'the church' as we know it. And yet, you 'have Christ in my life and friends who love and embrace me', so you are closer to what 'church' is supposed to be than many of us presently experience.
Ditto to Jen: 'I think the beauty of Scripture is that it has always been meant to be engaged in community. We cannot interpret Scripture outside of the tradition and community that created Scripture, but together we can wrestle with how the written word speaks to a modern context.'
Scripture, tradition, experience and reason only work when in the tension of community. Iron sharpens iron.
I don't think the issue with any of us is 'accepting scripture', but rather understanding it and balancing how we interpret it within the other 3 vantage points. I suspect many of us subconsciously use scripture (or at least our present understanding of it) as our trump card to void the value of the other three. Then there are those who might use tradition in exactly the same way.
Bridgeout, I have been finding myself in that same place of wonder, hesitancy and safety as I believe it is God who is causing that resonance and deep internal agreement. Like Mary, we can treasure these things and ponder them in our hears.
Thanks all for a wonderful start to my Sunday!

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