Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Place of Tradition in Hermeneutics

Among all of the controversies surrounding the Protestant reformation, one of the primary concerns was the proper appropriation of tradition. In Cardinal Sadolet's letter to the people of Geneva, he argues that Calvin and his contemporaries did not have the support of Christian tradition on their side. The reformers had a mere 25 years of tradition to the Roman Church's prodigious 1500 years. Calvin's response is cunning. He writes, “…the ancient church is clearly on our side, and opposes you, not less than we ourselves do.” (Calvin, John. “Reply by John Calvin to Letter by Cardinal Sadolet to the Senate and People of Geneva.”49). In responding this way he turns Sadolet's logic around and claims that the reformers are actually being more faithful to the tradition than the Catholic Church was. Thus, the appeal of the Protestant reformation was not meant to dispense with tradition. Rather, it was an argument against the way in which the Catholic Church had appropriated it.

The question then is this: What is the role of tradition in interpreting Scripture? The Catholic position appears to be that Scripture and tradition are to be held on the same level. The mainline Protestant reformers clearly hold up Scripture as authoritative (sola scriptura) without dispensing with tradition, but (perhaps problematically) leave the question of its proper position unestablished. The radical reformers seem to completely disregard tradition as irrelevant, professing that one can really read Scripture unassisted by tradition. The result of this lack of articulation on the part of Protestantism seems to be partly responsible for the fractious milieu that has become one of its hallmarks.

At the risk of muddying the waters of discussion, I will go ahead and say that, on this point at least, I think the radical reformers were more than a little naive simply because nobody is able to completely divorce themselves from their own context (cultural, historical, denominational, etc). Thus, even in the most deconstructed traditions, such as the Quakers, you will find them to be just that–– a tradition. But how does one interpret Scripture in continuity with all of Christian (and Jewish!) history? Can we just appeal to the early church without looking at the less flattering parts that follow? Should we go so far as the Catholic Church and put the two on the same level?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Our Membership

"This was our membership. Burley called it that. He loved to call it that. Andy Catlett, remembering Burley, still calls it that. And I do. This membership had an economic purpose and it had an economic result, but the purpose and the result were a lot more than economic. Joe Banion grew a crop on Mr. Feltner, but also drew a daily wage. The Catlett boys too were working for wages, since they had no crop. The others of us received no pay. The work was freely given in exchange for work freely given. There was no bookkeeping, no accounting, no settling up. What you owed was considered paid when you had done what needed doing. Every account was paid in full by the understanding that when we were needed we would go, and when we had need the others, or enough of them, would come. In the long, anxious work of the tobacco harvest none of us considered that we were finished until everybody was finished. In his old age Burley liked to count up the number of farms he had worked on in his life 'and never took cent money'.

"...The members, I guess you could say, are born into it, they stay in it by choosing to stay, and they die in it..."

Taken from Hannah Coulter this Wendell Berry quote might well be mistaken for the book of Acts, thick with covenantal, ecclesiological, familial language.

Somehow we've made mutual generosity an event. Appealing for help is the crescendo of maxing resources, dead ends, burgeoning shame and awkwardness. Its broaching the sentence, "I can't..." And God-forbid never twice in one month. Meanwhile, fervency, outdoing, contributing, and seeking are the verbs marking love of Christians in Romans 12.

I long to raise Judah and Amelie in this Membership. Being "born into it", as they grow to pray, worship, and trust Christ, they will learn there's more to our faith than family devotions. Our family is flanked by other families as one Family. "They stay in it by choosing to stay, and they die in it..."

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