VIEWSrnTradition, Old and Newrnby Harold O.J. BrownrnWhy do ye also transgress the commandment of Godrnby your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3). Jesus had manyrnnegative things to say about the dangers of placing excessive emphasisrnon tradition; in the passage quoted above, he goes on torncite the prophet Isaiah, “In vain do they worship me, teachingrnfor doctrines the commandments of men” (Isaiah 29:13). Wliornsaid anything positive about tradition? The prophet Jeremiah,rnfor one: “Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths,rnwhere is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find restrnfor your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16). How do we reconcile the warningrnof Isaiah with the exhortation of Jeremiah?rnAs a starting point, we must distinguish between tradition asrncontainer and tradition as content. This is a difference betweenrnthe positions of the two great confessional bodies which appearrnequally devoted to preserving their traditions. Generally speaking,rnthe Eastern Orthodox think of tradition—parac/oszs—literally,rnthe handing down or handing over, as the container thatrncarries the Scripture as its central content. Roman Catholics—rnand this was the Protestants’ casus belli—asserted (or seemed tornassert) that tradition stands beside Scripture, presenting a contentrnthat supplements Scripture and is equally authoritative.rnFor those who had discovered (or recovered) the principles ofrnsola scriptura, a natural reaction was to reject the concept of traditionrnaltogether, without reflecting sufficiently on the fact thatrnthey themselves retained old traditions to varying degrees andrnsoon developed new ones for their progeny.rnIf we simply take the word “tradition” without further qualifi-rnHarold O.J. Brown is religion editor for Chronicles and arnprofessor of theology and philosophy at Reformed TheologicalrnSemiriary in Charlotte, North Carolina.rncation, Jesus would seem to be saying that all tradition involvesrntransgression. And this, indeed, has been the interpretation ofrnmany Protestants, with battle lines drawn up between the camprnof those who they think slavishly and uncritically follow whateverrnhas been “traditum” (handed down), and who therefore involvernthemselves in a maze of complex observances, and theirrnown camp, where worship and life are clean and sparse, builtrnonly on the Word of God in Scripture. This second camp reallyrndoes not exist, however, for almost no one attempts to limitrnteaching and worship to strings of Scripture verses. If we attendrna Lutheran or Episcopal service, we see much that reminds usrnof the Catholic Mass. Wliile repudiating the traditional form ofrnthe Mass, even the more austere Reformed and Baptists haverntheir extrabiblical traditions, often taken with extreme seriousness,rnsuch as the Sunday evening service and adult Sundayrnschool. No less eminent a Reformer than John Calvin recognizedrnthe limits oisola scriptura when he warned against limitingrntheology to collections of Scripture verses strung together.rnWhat then is the Protestant objection to “tradition”? Howrnare we to interpret Jesus’ warning? The problem with the traditionalistsrnis not that Scripture is disregarded, but that it is supplemented.rnIt is not merely that something is added on, butrnthat the additions are deemed necessary for salvation. This wasrnthe Protestant charge. Nevertheless, the Protestant Reformers,rneven the stern John Calvin, preserved much more of thernCatholic intellectual tradition than many ostensibly Catholicrnthinkers do today. They preserved it, but, they would argue, asrncontainer, not as content.rnWhen the Protestant Reformation—led by Luther, followedrnby Calvin and the other Reformers—proclaimed the principlernof so/a scriptura, rejecting tradition as a source of revealed truth,rnDECEMBER 2000/1 3rnrnrn