A Threefold Tradition
JOHN’S REMEDY FOR HERESY
By: Clifford Hurst
DETERIORATION OF ORTHODOXY A FACT
Thirty million people are involved in three thousand cults across America. Tidal waves of heresy are sweeping the Church. The church has an undeniable problem. Why has it been unable to prevent or stem the exodus from and the deterioration of its orthodoxy? It has allowed and even taken part in the development and propagation of a distaste for tradition. Misunderstanding its nature and worth, scholars and ministers have drug the word tradition so often through ridicule and human reasoning that it has become repulsive to the laity and populace. Now, church leaders scratch their heads bewildered at heresy’s destruction of their churches and at cults’ success at stealing members and prospective converts. The early Church had the same problem with heresy.
JOHN SHOWS US THE WAY BACK
The Apostle John had an inspired remedy: “Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning. If that which ye have heard from the beginning shall remain in you, ye also shall continue in the Son, and in the Father.” 1 John 2:24. That which originated from God should continue in the Church. There is only one way that it can; through paradosis, a passing down. That, friend, is simply tradition.
THREE WEAPONS OF TRUTH CONQUERS HERESY!
John faced a problem with the heretical gnosticism (actually Cerinthusism). Their major heresies involved esteeming knowledge over conduct, discriminating against common, unenlightened Christians, and denial of Jesus’ deity. With “that which was from the beginning”, John combats and destroys these heresies respectively with three messages. John is adamant that these three messages from the beginning must continue in the Church. Thus, John reveals a threefold tradition that is a guard against heresy.
TRADITION ONE: MORAL PURITY
The first of these is a message involving the moral dimension of the believer’s life. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard…this then is the message which we have heard of Him…God is light” (I John 1:1a,5).
Knowledge of God is not the test of spirituality. Conduct is.
The message from the beginning is that God is morally pure. If God is morally pure, it is demanded of the believer to be morally pure if he desires fellowship with God. This message must abide in the Church; it must be passed on. The Church should have maintained traditions like the Wesleyan tradition; it was a vehicle of this message. Much is said being today about God’s moral purity. Little is said about its claim on the believer’s life. Why? The Church, abhorring tradition, has not passed on that which was from the beginning.
TRADITION TWO: SACRIFICIAL LOVE
The second message from the beginning entails the social dimension of the Christian’s life.
John pens, “I write…an old commandment which ye had from the beginning.” “For this is the message that ye heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.” (I John 2:7; 3:11).
In the past, genuine love has been a tradition with Christians. Is it today? Doubtless, it is more talked about today than ever before, but John’s love is not “in word neither in tongue but in deed and in truth.” (I John 3:18).
The pagan Tertullilan was converted after viewing the martyrdom of Christians at Rome. His description of them was brief but accurate, “Oh, how they love one another.” Today’s world’s description of Christians is also accurate, “Oh, how they fight and fuss.” Why? We’ve lost the tradition of sacrificial love.
When the Apostle John was so ancient he had to be carried into the assembly, he continually spoke out during worship, “Little children, love one another.” The congregation was soon tired of his interruptions. Why was he so repetitious? He wanted the message of true Christian sacrificial love passed on; he wanted it to be a tradition.
TRADITION THREE: PURE DOCTRINE
A doctrinal message was the third message in which John compelled his readers to continue.
“Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning.”
He focused on the central doctrine of who Jesus is. The Gnostics’ doctrine had attempted to nullify the Apostolic message. And so is the case today. Introduction of new doctrines, such as the prosperity doctrine, have contorted and disfigured traditional doctrine. Christ becomes a convenience store, a genie of our whims, a god bound to the conjectures of man’s imaginative powers.
The historical Christ is being lost amid the waters
of new or over-stressed peripheral doctrines.
Christology has not been the only theology to suffer. Why? More energies are spent on propagating doctrines of today’s hour than on preserving the traditional, orthodox ones.
It is clear. If the Church is to maintain the Truth in the moral, social, and doctrinal dimensions, it must have tradition, the passing on of that which was from the beginning. To uphold God originated tradition is simply an effort to preserve orthodox Christianity. This is a worthy effort in a cult world that garners seventy percent of its converts from orthodox churches and in a church world that is spineless and impotent. How to change this perilous condition? “Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning.”