Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Tradition as Submission's Teacher

Christianity is a religion of submission. The Blessed Virgin Mary said to the Angel, "Let it be," and Christians recognize this as the essence of faith. Faith is submission to the will and word of God, the casting aside of our sinful selves. It is submitting to believe "God's truth" rather than what seems apparent or obvious to us.

Christianity is also about the submission to fellow believers. "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ," (Eph. 5:21) and countless other passages urge the same. Our faith is not the exercise of our own will, but is the following of God's; our life is not the exercise of our will, but the emptying of ourselves to others.

This kind of submission is nearly impossible when you are dealing with idiots, the wicked, and your enemies. We can agree with this submission stuff in abstract until it actually gets to submitting to someone who makes you miserable, or threatens to make you miserable.

And it is especially hard when you are a congregationalist. When you have no authorities who are actually trying to help you, all you can do is submit to each other: almost impossible. When you have no tradition to submit to, all you have is each other. When all of you are free and equal and say "By God no one is going to tell me what to do" submission is impossible.

The advantage of having tradition is that it teaches submission. It allows you to begin to submit to fellow human beings without the personal stake, without an idiot breathing down your neck. It's just a step below that abstract submission that sounds good but is hell in practice. It's a step below because there is no one person making stupid claims and commands that you have to say "yes" to. It's generations of people that you can't pin down.

Tradition is more than this, but it has this pedagogical element as well. It teaches us to submit. It teaches us that we are not autonomous--laws unto ourselves. It teaches us that there are others to whom we should listen, and that their wisdom, their practice is better than my own.


  1. Anonymous said...

    Fr. Hall,
    I think you have identified the essential problem of our current confession. In our current context, it is impossible to act with humble submission and obedience because of the prevailing egotism of the LCMS. In other words, it is impossible to have the mind of Christ. We are only able to submit in a sentimental manner, or a fearful one, as there is apparently no authoritative tradition for us. Will you be my bishop? I'll try to get everyone else to agree.:)
    Blessed Epiphany,

  2. Mike Baker said...

    Very profound, Pr. Hall.

    I've taken the first three paragraphs and started using it to help witness to new believers and Christians who have been mislead by the current rash of anthropocentric spirituality that hides under the name 'church'.

    You were really on a roll until you got all political. ;)

  3. William Weedon said...


    I've really come to think that it's all about the fourth commandment. What you're speaking about here is honoring our fathers and mothers in the faith, and part of that honor is submission.

  4. Christopher D. Hall said...

    The problem, Bill, is which Fathers? The old Church Fathers, or you know, the way our favorite pastor used to do it...or they way my daddy said it should be done?

    When you have no Tradition of the Fathers that we follow (not legalistically, but from love) then any "father" and any "mother" and any "tradition" is good...or my own traditions...

  5. Rev. Eric J Brown said...


    Which Father's isn't as big a question as you seem to think it is. In your submission show love to your neighbors - so that means I will bear in mind the traditions of the Church Catholic, but I also have to take into consideration the local customs of where I am at. If these local customs are to be changed, let this change be done:

    A - Gently, for the sake of those who are used to current custom.
    B - Not of a frivolous or "trendy" nature.
    C - In accordance with the wide stream of tradition present in the Church Catholic.

    There are multiple traditions that are within the realm of the Church - we have freedom - it's a big yard, enjoy playing in it.

    Oh, and Mason,
    We are bishops, chief. We have our own altars to tend to - ain't no one over us who is going to tell us how we have to do things. We may give honor to specific folks for good order (as in the ancient days the patriarchs were given honor) - but you are the bishop of Grace-Tulsa. It is your task to see that the tradition of your congregation is in-line with Christ - and that is done chiefly through your own preaching - so that when people align themselves with you they are in fact aligning themselves with Christ.

    Man, I love Ignatius of Antioch. No one better than him until Luther comes along, and even then, I don't think Luther tops him - Luther just wrote a lot more.

  6. William Weedon said...

    Good words, Eric.

    The tradition of the Church catholic is simply huge, of course. I think that the fathers and mothers we seek to honor in the faith are ALL of those who have come before us, but none of us will honor them as well we might, but let us be growing in our familiarity with them. I think of the aged saints I've already buried here who taught me so much, of recent great figures like a Fr. Arseny, of our Reformation fathers and of the Church fathers before them scattered across the ages. The more familiar we become with tradition, though, the more we realize that some "tradition" that people bank on may not be as strong as they imagine. I think, for example, of the illuminating words of John Cassian (cited in Philokalia) that the fathers really had but one rule for fasting: quit eating before you're full. Now there's a piece of tradition that is very helpful indeed.

    We've all got a long way to go in learning from those who have stood under the Word of God before us; and it's a joy for us to grow in it. No jurisdiction of the Church has it down perfectly - and they all confess as much.

  7. William Weedon said...

    P.S. I think one of the challenges that Lutherans this day and age face is the ignorance of our Reformation fathers and how THEY teach us to regard the fathers before them. There's something splendid when a century after the Reformation, Johann Gerhard can casually opine that the greatest theologian of the Church was...

    Luther? Chemnitz? Anselm? Augustine?

    No. Gregory of Nazianzus!!! That's our heritage. Largely forgotten, but waiting to be discovered, celebrated and lived anew.

  8. Anonymous said...

    Where should I begin?

    Well, you should have your six-pack of Black Butte Porter soon!

    I'll visit the concept of pastor as bishop from the writings of Ignatius at a later time. I am far from convinced that each congregation qualifies, although I dig the title. The problem in our context, of course, is the egotism that destroys our catholicity. Few of us know the Tradition, or our traditions, well enough to be faithful, IMO. I have to run to a t-ball coach meeting, but want to consider this question again.

  9. Rev. Eric J Brown said...

    We may be headed to Tulsa this Friday. . . if so, we may have to see if we can meet up.

    I would agree that there is a dreadful ignorance of the tradition of the Church Catholic, or even a lack of a sense that we belong to something that extends beyond our own local congregation - and this tends to be true of pastors and clergy in the LCMS.

    As for which congregations qualify to have their own bishops. . . well, you and Chris are in doubt, perhaps, because both Enid and Tulsa have multiple parishes - but when it comes to Lahoma I am it. Besides. . . haven't you listened to Father Yoda. . . size matters not! If you have your own altar and don't need any other clergy's approval to celebrate the Supper or confirm. . . your a bishop. Walks like a bishop, quacks like a bishop. . . it must be a. . . LCMS Pastor.

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