A “Traditional” Church

I love that we worship in a traditional church. There are all sorts of churches out there. There are churches where you sit down to be entertained. There are churches which simulate a club or sporting event feel. There are churches which seem indistinguishable from the non-believing world around it, both in ideas and practice. In addition to all that, there are churches that are content to make the Word of God central rather than someone or something else. Now if the definition of a church is irrelevant or non-existent then all that establishes a church is merely the expression of a preference. Sadly, for many, that is all a church is; a parade of preferences. Now I mentioned that our church is traditional but what does that mean?

Many opinions can come forward as we hear the word “traditional”. Perhaps the image which is conveyed before you is that of an old stuffy room half-full of people with outmoded, or better said, outdated ideas. I think we do better to see the word “tradition” from its historic use. Tradition comes to us from the Latin word “traditio” which has two uses, the first being economic and the second ideological. The first use means “the handing over, delivery [of goods]” and the second being “the transmission of knowledge, [and/or] teaching” (Oxford Latin Dictionary). When we speak of a traditional church, we look to the second use and desire to focus on the reality that the church exists to hand down that which was before it. But we must follow up with another question, what is being handed down?

The Apostle Paul guides us in his language from 2 Thessalonians 2:15, “So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (ESV) A church is bound by God to be founded on the Apostolic Word which is representative of the New Testament and even more broadly, the Bible as a whole.

The Protestant Reformer, John Calvin, commented on this passage from Paul and wrote that tradition here means “the whole of that doctrine in which they were instructed.” Francis Turretin, another Reformed theologian noted that 2 Thessalonians 2:15 “designates the twofold method of delivering the same doctrine by the voice and by writing.” The Apostolic Word had been delivered orally at that time in part because the New Testament was not yet complete. The Bible did not fall out of heaven in a neat and tidy book, but was organically revealed and delivered. In short then, the Apostolic Tradition is nothing other than the New Testament.

Why is this all so important? A true church has no other foundation than the Word of God for that is what is handed down. God’s Word alone is the faithful tradition. A true church is rooted in the Word of God, as it is read and proclaimed (that is preached). A true church is rooted in the Word of God as it is visualized in the sacraments. A true church is rooted in the Word of God as it honors God’s demand for church discipline, both positively in discipleship (Matthew 28:19-20), and in the negative aspect, which may include excommunication (cf. Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5 and the warnings of Revelation 2-3 from Christ Jesus Himself). Churches are not headless concoctions that are free to roam void of their head (cf. Colossians 1:18). A true church standing on what God has delivered is inseparable from Christ, both in His person and His Word.

Therefore, to be a faithful or traditional church has very little to do with robes, organs, candles, liturgies or even hymns. You can bear all those external elements and still be the furthest thing from a traditional church. To be a traditional church is to be a congregation of Christ committed to standing faithfully upon His Word alone; the very Word which has been faithfully delivered to the saints in the Bible. Again, to be a traditional church means that pastors will faithfully preach God’s Word to their people, faithfully administer the sacraments of Holy Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, and love Christ’s sheep enough to disciple them and even bar them from the sacrament when their lives or beliefs have strayed away from that faithful deposit of Apostolic teaching which has been entrusted unto Christ’s under-shepherds.

In sum then, when I say that “I love that we are a traditional church” I mean that I love that our church loves the Bible. I mean that we are receiving and handing down that which is given unto us by Christ through His Apostles and Prophets; namely, His holy gospel as contained in the Bible. I am saying that as Christians we are duty bound to commit ourselves to churches like these, and to celebrate and pray for other churches where Christ’s Word is the foundation.