The majority of evangelicals, at least in America, would answer the question I pose in my title negatively. When they hear this word they think of traditionalism and of ancient practices that are non-biblical. This is unfortunate for a number of reasons.

I thought about this question yesterday as I conversed with a very good friend who is a devout Roman Catholic. I was sharing how I had recently re-embraced the reading of the Scriptures in large narrative chunks of material at one sitting as a good spiritual practice. (I have tended to read the Scripture by doing technical exegesis as primary and thus became used to studying it as something like a science book at times.) She admitted that she never did read Scripture in this manner, though she attends some Benedictine worship settings where this is practiced by the brothers. She then said, "But by going to daily Mass I hear the Word of God read aloud as it was intended to be used as stated by the writers of the New Testament itself."

After thinking about this answer briefly I said to my sister, "I agree with you. Have you ever been to an evangelical church and noticed how little, if any, of the Scripture is read, especially liturgically?" She said that she had visited a few and was very unimpressed. I had to agree with her totally. I then said, "Do you not think, however, that this is a case where the truth is not an either/or response but rather a both/and?" She agreed. I also reminded her of Father Baima’s remarks at our Forum in September when he said most Catholics did not do daily Bible reading in private because evangelicals do it. Of course. So much of what we do, or do not do, is formed by our reactions to what we think is traditionalism. The reality here is that there is much in holy tradition to support both of these practices. (If anything there is more to support public reading in liturgical settings than private reading. The early Church didn’t even possess a Bible to read so how did they hear the Word of God?)

Here is the point. Tradition without history homogenizes development into a statically defined truth. This is done in many liturgical settings by people who do not embrace a living historical Christian faith where the Holy Spirit is active and working in our time. But history without tradition produces a kind of historicism that relativizes the development of Christian truth and teaching in such a way that real growth and serious aberrations seem entirely arbitrary. (The Spirit does fresh and new things but not arbitrary things.) The pitfalls of both of these extremes must be avoided. My friendship with so many Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians, and the literature of the ancient tradition, helps me to navigate between these two extremes, at least more so than I did when all I had was an "evangelical tradition" that I thought was taken right out of the pages of the Bible. This had to be one of the silliest things I ever thought and practiced, which reveals how much I need to learn and practice epistemic humility.   

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  1. George C December 5, 2007 at 6:44 pm

    I can definitely agree with you about the way we tend to read and study the Scriptures. With the Epistles in particular, I think it is safe to assume that they were origionally read in one sittng and then probably discussed. I wonder if this was the case with other books of the Bible.
    It is quite interesting how little of actual Scripture is read in the giving of a typical sermon and yet how the sermon is often treated as the Word of God. of course most preachers will admit that their sermonsa are potentially flawed, but in practice the sermon is often treated otherwise.
    I often wish there was a format to gather simply to worship, partake of the Lord’s Supper, and hear the reading of the Scriptures more along the lines of a celebration and then have a seperate time where the Scriptures were taught in more of a discussion format.
    As an attempt to study Hebrew culture I attended a pretty conservative styled Messianic synogauge where I loved the mix of liturgy and discussion (over the couse of an evening and two day services). Unfortunately the theology was weak if not dangerous.

  2. GLW Johnson December 6, 2007 at 6:04 am

    When was the last time you sat down and gave a careful reading to Calvin’s commentary on the Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (which can be easily accessed in the English translation of Henry Beveridge and originally commissioned by by the Calvin Translation Society,1851 and reprinted by Baker Book House in 1983 as ‘Selected Works of John Calvin:Tracts and Letters (vol.3)? Considering that this was done towards the end of his life, it provides us with the Reformer’s mature reflection on what is still the official postion of Roman Catholicism. To claim to be ‘Reformed’and especially a ‘Calvinist’ and not heed Calvin’s own words on the subject raises alot of questions about what it means to claim to be ‘Reformed’.

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