Whether or not we belong to a communion that treats tradition as an authoritative source of teaching, we are all, in fact, children of tradition in our religion.  We do not start our Christian lives by working out our faith for ourselves.  It is mediated to us by Christian tradition in the form of sermons, books, and established patterns of church life and fellowship.  We read our Bibles in the light of what we have learned from these sources.  We approach Scripture with minds already formed by the mass of accepted opinions and viewpoints with which we have come into contact in both the church and the world.  Inevitably, we grow up children of our own age, reflecting, in our outlook, the mental environment in which we were reared.  The process is as natural as breathing in the air around us, and as unconscious.  It is easy to be unaware that it has happened.  It is hard even to begin to realize how profoundly tradition, in this sense, has molded us.

But, we are forbidden to become enslaved to human tradition, either secular or Christian, whether it be “catholic” tradition or “critical” tradition or “ecumenical” tradition or even “evangelical” tradition.  We may never assume the complete rightness of our own established ways of thought and practice and excuse ourselves the duty of testing and reforming them by Scripture.

Christ deals with the question of the authority of tradition in Mark 7.6-13.  He tells the Pharisees that, by bowing to man-made tradition rather than God-given Scripture, they show that their hearts are far from God.  To Christ, ecclesiastical tradition was no part of the Word of God.  It must be tested by Scripture and, if found wanting, dropped. – J. I. Packer (born in 1926)


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