Search This Blog

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

Churches can only embrace one tradition

Can a church span two traditions?
In our pluralist society, the church may be tempted to imagine that it too can be pluralistic on secondary matters - and to some degree it can. But no church can embrace two different traditions successfully.

A church cannot be both charismatic and non-charismatic. A church cannot accept both believers' baptism and infant baptism. A church cannot be Arminian and Calvinistic, cannot accept both congregational government and eldership governement, and so on. And here is why.

In the first place, it is naive. Zealously naive, enthusiastically naive, optimistically naive perhaps, but naive all the same. The time will come when the attempt to embrace two widely divergent traditions will expose itself in disagreements and division. Unfortunately we do not live in the first century, but live after 2000 of widening streams has resulted in so many issues on which to disagree on.

In the second place, it is unwise. Any such attempt will lead to unnecessary division in the future. The day will come when these issues will emerge and if the church has not already fallen into one general broad tradition, known to all, division will occur.

In the third place it is unpractical. It is simply impossible to have prophecy one week and no prophecy the next, baptise babies one week, baptise believers the following.

In the fourth place, it will cause confusion. Particularly among the young and the weak. Should I be baptised or not? Should I speak in tongues or not? Should I believe I am always saved or imagine I can pluck myself out of the Father's hand?

There's nothing wrong with tradition!
There's nothing wrong with a church maintaining a view on these matters and falling within one tradition! We are small and human and must naturally understand things partially (we know in part and prophecy in part), and should be happy to acknowledge that we sit in one historical / theological / ecclesiological stream. Nothing wrong with that. It's a humble acknowledgement of finitude.

Provided we do it humbly
Where tradition goes wrong is when our tradition, we imagine, is the only tradition. But honestly, who would dare to say that their views on secondary issues represent the last word, the final word, the ultimate truth? When there are believers just as godly and Gospel-centred who do not take our view, and do so with great integrity.

So don't rock your boat!
The upshot of this is very practical. When we move city and join a new church we should not try to change the direction of the ship (unless it's in error on fundamental things), or even change the flag. We should humbly accept the tradition of that fellowship and worship in that stream. Provided it's a Gospel stream, of course.