The Complicated Business of the "Tradition"

@DaleMCoulter muses on his students:

The task was not to defend the tributary of Christianity in which my students had first touched the waters of baptism, but to show them that it was fed by a vast river stretching back two millennia. In short, I defended Christianity by helping them swim upstream so that they could discover just how deep and wide Christian Tradition was. Through a confrontation with full-throated Christianity, students had the resources to criticize the stream to which they belonged while also locating that tradition within the great river of Christian Tradition. It was a matter, then, of introducing them to the differences between tradition and Tradition.

As someone who has drawn from several “streams” of Christianity, there’s good news and bad news about this.

The good news is that is works.  As Coulter notes, most people are raised on a single track of Christianity.  That’s all they see and that’s all they know.  Once you see “how the other half lives” (and when you make leaps across the socio-economic and ethnic as well as theological divides in Christianity, that broadens your perspective too) you grasp the greater truth and not just what you’ve been taught.

The bad news is that, once you’ve done this, you’re an ecclesiastical orphan.  Denominations and groups have their own idea, and once you’ve taken in other ideas, you’re never really a part.   I think that’s one reason there are so many people who go through church dissatisfied.  It’s not that they don’t believe, many are quite fervent.  It’s just that they’ve experienced other things that they don’t see where they’re at.

How that plays out depends upon what part of Christianity you’re in.  Some groups are big on uniformity; you can get in trouble in a hurry.  OTOH, in a Pentecostal church, I’m always surprised at the issues I bloviate on (abolition of civil marriage, the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the lack of real authority in the church) that never get a rise.

The key, of course, is to keep the main thing the main thing.

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