"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Orthodox Church -- Updating Tradition?

"'Tradition is not only a protective, conservative principle; it is, primarily, the principle of growth and regeneration ... Tradition is the constant abiding of the Spirit and not only the memory of words.'"

"'When the Spirit of truth has come, He will guide you into all truth.'"  ~ Jesus in John 16:13

And after saying this, Timothy Ware, in The Orthodox Church states :  "It is this divine promise that forms the basis of the Orthodox devotion to Tradition."

If you are like me the word "tradition" conjures up images of rules and customs and "we've always done it this way" conversations that leave people doing things the same ol' way all.the.time. despite progress happenin' all around them.

Don't hold me back!
Maybe it's my American revolutionary heritage mixed in with a healthy dose of Southern rebelliousness, but it makes me think of being chained down, being given a bag full of rocks and then told "Go now...be on your way."  As if I will make a lot of progress with all that stuff weighing me down!

So reading these words -- growth, regeneration -- in regards to Tradition was somehow strange...yet refreshing!

Hey, isn't this what many of those progressive Muslims want when they say the Quran laid down basic principles for treating people justly, but we must apply them to our times and not think we must do the exact same things in the 21st century that they did during Muhammad's time?  We don't have to brush our teeth with miswaks just because the Prophet did.
Miswak used for cleaning teeth
We can ... *drumroll*  use electric toothbrushes if we please!  We don't have to ride camels.  Cars are legit!  And then there are of course all those other little tidbits we can feel free to update as well. Like demolish slavery completely and greatly curb the practice of polygyny since most men don't seem to practice it like Muhammad declared they should anyway.

But I digress.  This is a post about the Orthodox Church.

So, see how I felt about tradition. Well, this is Tradition and it sounds open to change.  In fact Ware writes, "It is absolutely essential to question the past." 

Granted this doesn't mean you have a free for all and can change things to suit your individual wants.  You want robbing banks to be legitimate because it's fast and easy money for you? Probably notta gonna happen.

The author explains it like this when talking of creative fidelity:

Loyalty to Tradition, properly understood, is not something mechanical, a passive and automatic process of transmitting the accepted wisdom of an era in the distant past.  An Orthodox thinker must see Tradition from within, he must enter into its inner spirit, he must re-experience the meaning of Tradition in a manner that is exploratory, courageous, and full of imaginative creativity.  .. It is not enough simply to give intellectual assent to a system of doctrine; for Tradition is far more than a set of abstract propositions -- it is a life, a personal encounter with Christ in the Holy Spirit....Tradition, while inwardly changeless (for God does not change), is constantly assuming new forms, which supplement the old without superseding them.  (pg. 198)

"Christianity, if true, has nothing to fear from honest inquiry."

Should this not be true of all faiths? If they are true, questioning them should never be frowned upon.  Never should we tell our children and wondering adults that "they just have to accept this as fact" as if their questions are wrong. It's important to know why we believe something especially if we are speaking of things that potentially have eternal consequences.

What do you think... is "Updating Tradition?" too misleading a title for this post?  What do you think about Timothy Ware's views of Tradition - while inwardly changeless - as something that constantly assumes new forms?  Do you agree?  Do you agree with the parallel to progressive Muslims who believe the Quran lays down basic principles for living in any century, but not set-in-stone rules (e.g. using camels) that must be used today?  Why or why not?  What do you think about "honest inquiry" of religions? Why are questions often discouraged? Why are questions important? Any other thoughts or impressions?


Suroor said...

"Christianity, if true, has nothing to fear from honest inquiry."

That is very interesting, but how many inquiries are really honest? What I see is - good Christians proving only Christianity is right, and good Muslims proving only Islam is right. There is no room for 'what if I am wrong?' As if our religiosity depends entirely on disproving the other. What I mean to say is with or without tradition, Trinity is complex, so complex that even trinitarians find it hard to explain. It is more of belief in it than the result of hones inquiry. Yet, I have not seen seriously scholarly Christians able to defend their position when former-Christian-now-skeptics write against the concept of Trinity. How many Christians are open to change?

You said "It's important to know why we believe something especially if we are speaking of things that potentially have eternal consequences." That is so perfectly said! I completely agree with it. However, I never see good Muslims reading anything that may shake their beliefs. Such material is forbidden to them. Muslim countries block Internet sites that can "damage your faith." Similarly, I don't know of any serious Christian who reads books that argue against Trinity which forms the entire basis for modern Christianity. I don't even see such Christians mention Arianism or the fact that until 325 AD, Christianity was synonymous with Unity, not Trinity, before the Nicene Creed became the measure of "correct belief." Just like anything that could remind the world of pre-Islamic Arabia was destroyed, so were the traces of Arianism removed from Christianity. One person's belief is another's heresy. But who decides what is belief and what is heresy?

Honest inquiry could help; questions help too, but as long as the Other is questioning themselves and conducting honest inquiry because 'they' need it to come to the realisation that *we* are right. That is how I see it happening in every faith. Unfortunately.

Thanks for this thought-provoking post, Susie! Really enjoyed reading it.

Lat said...

"..Tradition - while inwardly changeless - as something that constantly assumes new forms?"

So tradition is both spirit and words,right? Maybe it's true.The rules are there existing from the past but the people practising it change from era to era.And so they are the new forms practising Tradition.

I feel that new forms may and will eventually be able to change the tradition of the past.There's always the chance of it happening.

You mean the 'initmate encounter' with God never changes? From the past till now,it's been the same?How does one know for sure how this encounter works?

Amber said...

I think it is important to question, well, everything. Why we do what we do, why we believe, all of that. The problem is that thought can only take us so far. At some point, no matter what faith it is that you're a part of, or that you're looking at, there will be a concept on the other side of a chasm - some place that rationality cannot take us. That's where you have to decide if you can believe without complete understanding. If you can have faith.

For some they look at all the other things that make sense, that they have been able to puzzle out and they find that they can believe without knowing exactly how it all works. For others they can't - and they'll either keep poking, trying to find a logical way to get there or abandon that faith and seek elsewhere.

Change can be good, and necessary, but we have to be careful that we don't embrace change in the wrong directions. We cannot allow the core principles of the faith to be changed. If we lose those, there is not faith. It has become something 'else' - a heresy, or a cult. Maybe even both. But it is not the original faith.

Becky said...

I really loved the previous comments, some very good points.

I too think it's incredibly important that we question everything except of blindly accepting status quo. If you have never explored anything but what you know, how can you really be sure of anything? I too think it is such a shame that people within all religions (or belief-systems) tend to only seek out the information that supports what they already know.

Susanne said...

Suroor, I appreciate your heartfelt views on this topic. I do see what you mean. Perhaps I should read books more critical of my faith in order to become a more honest person. Maybe one day I'll reach your levels of honesty on this issue.

Thanks for your thoughts!

Susanne said...

Lat, I think you summed it up pretty well. What I've found interesting is that God doesn't always work in the exact same way when it comes to changing people and drawing them to Himself. So this is why I'd say based on observing and reading about people in the Bible and even more contemporary folks that God isn't always using the exact same ways. And how do we know when we encounter God? I suppose when one meets the Creator, it's life-changing enough that she knows. Really logical there, eh? :)

Susanne said...

Amber, good points! I think faith is definitely part of faith and this is one reason people struggle so much. We want everything proven to us, right in front of our eyes so that we can understand before trusting. For whatever reason God doesn't work this way and our faith and trust in Him is important. I also think back to the proverb about "and do not lean on your own understanding." Perhaps our understanding has been tainted by sin and it's not good enough to trust our logic no matter how wonderful we think it is. Thanks for your feedback!

Susanne said...

Becky, thankfully I've learned quite a lot about Islam from some serious Muslims and then I did finally (after Suroor encouraged me) read the Quran. :) But not much else. I've just been so satisfied with Jesus and the example he's provided that I've not felt a longing for anything or anyone else. Maybe having peace in my faith is a bad thing because it doesn't make me search for something else. When one already has peace and joy she believes is from God, why would she look for something? It's like a woman who has a good man, why would she be looking for another lover?

Thanks for your comment!

Becky said...

I see your point Susanne. I more so thought of the people who only know something about their own religion/beliefs, yet deem any other way of thinking wrong. I don't know if I'm making much sense.

We once had a king in Denmark, who became famous for his statement "Vi alene vide", which translates as "We (the royal we) alone know". There are many people who tend to believe this, "I'm right and everyone else is wrong". I prefer to think that we all have a path that is right for us but that doesn't mean someone elses path is wrong. I seem to quote this always, but it really sums up my beliefs so well: "To believe in your choice, you don't need to prove other people's choices wrong." - Paulo Coelho

I'm happy that you've found peace within Christianity, and haven't felt the need to look elsewhere, especially since my impression from this blog, tells me that you are still curious and respectful of people who choose different paths. And that's what's important in my opinion.

Suroor said...

"Maybe one day I'll reach your levels of honesty on this issue."


I never boast to have the highest level of honesty about my beliefs. I try but I know I'm more confused when I try to be honest.

I'm sorry if I sounded like I was talking down. It is just a frustrating thought that I have had about all religions and your post reminded me. I should be more careful with my words. Sorry!

Susanne said...

Thanks,Becky! I enjoyed the quote/lesson from your king and the one from your blog. I'd noticed it and liked it. :)

Yes, I am open to my being wrong. I don't mind learning from other people about different religions and have been blessed to learn about Islam straight from Muslims for instance. I've just never looked into most other religions which perhaps I should have. :-/

I think the Bible teaches me to have a teachable spirit so I am always willing for God to change my mind about things and, in fact, He has in many aspects that perhaps I don't share so much on this blog, but I know within myself...and maybe others in real life have recognized. :)

Thanks for your feedback. It's always good hearing from you and learning from you! :)

Susanne said...

Suroor, no, I didn't think you were talking down. I just know you have been good about searching and reading about other religions and I have not so I recognize this fault within myself and sometimes it bothers me that I've not been as honest as you, for instance.

Maybe this is my personal "deficiency in religionS" (to turn a phrase) and will be my downfall in the long run.

No apologies necessary. Maybe you are like a prophet in my life that God wants me to listen to so I'll start learning about other faiths instead of being boxed into my own.

I'm sorry if my reply gave you another impression. Please don't mince words! :D

Daniel said...

Can we or should we update Tradition?

Well, tradition (little “t”) is fine to update and change as it is usually cultural; however, when speaking of Tradition (big “T”) I will answer with two of my own questions.

1) Has God changed or updated Himself?

2) Has Christ changed or updated Himself?

The answer to both of those questions is no, so why would we want to change what they originally taught to us? If we change Tradition, we change everything about Christianity and make is something diluted from its former state. Without Tradition we have all the things you see in the Religion of Christianity today. Thousands of spin offs, hundreds of denominations, people teaching all sorts of gooblygok which has nothing to do with the faith of Christianity. Religion bends to the will of man, faith in Christ is constant. Tradition must be constant as well or one finds themselves in an earthly religion, twisted, skewed, altered and a shadow of what it originated from.

The Traditions of the church have nothing to do with the world around us. There were not developed to fit with culture, but developed out of the teachings of the Early Church Fathers. I will give you an example.

Christ taught John. John taught Ignatius. Ignatius is an ECF. He received his instruction directly from the Apostle before John wrote his scriptures. That is the Tradition of the church and the church takes every effort to remain within was taught by Christ, the Apostles and the ECF’s.

So, in short, absolutely not! We MUST NOT “update” Tradition, even if it does seem “outdated” by our standards.

Becky said...

Daniel, you wrote:
1) Has God changed or updated Himself?

To this I would say YES! The God in OT is not at all the same God as in NT.
In OT you have a God who takes human shape (as when He visits Abraham), but strikes horror in the heart of Moses when He shows him Himself.
You have a violent warrior-like God in OT, but a meek and forgiving God in NT. How can you say God does not change? Or maybe God does not change, but our perception of him does. None-the-less, to me that does show that Tradition might have to change.

I'm reading "A History of God - From Abraham to the Present: the 4000-year Quest for God" by Karen Armstrong, which deals with our perception of God within the monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). It's really interesting and thought-provoking and I greatly recommend it.

Susanne said...

Daniel, I appreciate your views! Thanks for taking time to leave them for me to ponder!

Becky, those are good observations. I can definitely tell the God of the OT *seems* different than Jesus.

Daniel said...

Becky, I see what you are saying, but I disagree. Gods interaction with us is not a change in God, but rather a different interaction with us. The entire OT was a prelude to the NT with hundreds of predictions of Christ. God is still just as demanding as He was in the OT but we lived under the law then, not grace. This relates to us, not God. God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. He has not changed.

Then again, we are speaking of Christian Tradition, not Jewish Tradition. Christian Tradition didn't exist until after Christ.

Becky said...

Daniel, I see your point, although what you call God's interactions with us changing, I might also call our perception of God changing.

However, I have a hard time understanding how you can say a difference between living under the law and living under grace, isn't a change in character?

Susanne said...

Amber wrote a great post about "Does God Change" and since she won't promote it herself, I will.

It's a wonderful point of view!


Becky said...

Oooh that looks really interesting! I've added it to my read-it-later list! Thanks for the tip!