The Apostolic Fathers believed in expedient, optional tradition

"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us." (2 Thessalonians 2:15)

Click to View

 Sola Scriptura home page

Introduction:

Expedient man-made tradition that is optional and not a matter of faith, since the apostles were silent about such matters. (Tertullian, The crown or De Corona, ch 3-4) This 4th category of tradition are optional practices usually associated with carrying out specific commands and liturgy that are recorded in scripture. In 200 AD, examples of "expedient tradition" these include giving a person a cup of milk mixed with honey immediately following baptism and then not bathing for a week afterwards. Roman Catholic and Orthodox "Classical Reformation" apologists have a great deal of difficulty explaining why this "oral tradition" should not be followed, since they have only one category of tradition and it must be followed.

 

Tradition #3: Expedient tradition. (Roman 14:5)

A. Expedient Tradition exists in every church today:

Today, every local church on earth has "expedient tradition". Here is a list of the types of things that are "expedient tradition":

  1. how fast songs are sung and the number of songs that are sung
  2. how much scripture is read and which scriptures are read
  3. if the worship service should start with a prayer or a song
  4. The day of "mid week bible study", if the local church decides to even have one.
  5. The time of the Sunday worship service can become such a widely practiced standard that when someone visiting from out of town asks what time is you worship service is, you can merely reply: "the scriptural time", and they know exactly when to show up. Of course it is understood that there is no "scriptural time", but because the time is so widely practiced as a "church tradition" it almost appears to be a binding apostolic tradition nowhere recorded in scripture.

This is the mistake the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches make when they look at their current practices. They just assume that because there was a pattern of tradition in the church around 200 AD, that it was a binding and essential apostolic tradition. This is a grave error because the witness of history is such that each region had their own distinct set of the traditions, just as we see in the churches today! These kinds of optional expedients were practiced by Christ, the apostles, the Fathers and every church today. What is most troubling about these liturgical traditions to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, is that there was no uniform pattern anywhere, EVER in the history of the church. Although the Catholics and Orthodox fight over whose liturgy is the apostolic tradition, the truth is, no such uniform tradition ever existed. God deliberately left these liturgical choices up to each local church, otherwise the New Testament would resemble the legalistic system of worship seen in the Law of Moses. We are under the "law of liberty".

B. How Expedient Tradition gets started and becomes law: Roman 14:5

Although Roman 14:5 is dealing with individual differences within a local congregation, it is easy to see how such individual traditions could grow to become widely practiced church traditions and then even as law. The origin of Wednesday night, mid-week bible study, may have started with a single Christian setting aside that time for personal Bible study, worship and prayer. Others wanted to join him and in time a decision was made that a formal time would be set for all members in the local church. Unfortunately this good practice of spending extra Bible study time together as a church, may become an unwritten law and seen on the same level of authority as the first day (Sunday) communion worship services. Most expedient traditions are merely good optional choices, but we must always separate what God requires from the freedom God gives us to chose expedients.

C. Jesus showed that expedient tradition is not law: Mark 7:3,5

"For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders" ... "The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?"" Mark 7:3,5

  1. God did not require washing of hands. It was a human origin custom. It was man made doctrine.
  2. Jesus knew it was an optional man made law that was being bound upon him.
  3. It is interesting that Jesus did not condemn washing of hands as an expedient tradition, he did condemn the binding of the tradition upon others.
  4. This is the mistake that too many churches make today by binding their traditions as laws that must be followed.
  5. The Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches are some of the worst offenders in this regard.

D. Challenge to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches:

We would love it if Roman Catholic and Orthodox apologists would actually draft a list of doctrines that they believe which are not found anywhere in scripture but only in the inspired oral tradition of the Apostles and prophets of the first century. Of course, they want it both ways. First they trash the Bible saying it is not a complete guide to doctrine and that we need the "oral tradition of the church". Then when we draft a list of doctrines that they teach that are not found in the Bible, rather than just agreeing and pointing to the authority of and extra-Biblical tradition of the church, they suddenly "turn Protestant" on us and start spewing scripture after scripture to at us in an effort to prove their doctrines from the Bible! Such blind deception and hypocrisy!

E. List of expedient traditions mentioned by the Church Fathers:

"If no passage of Scripture has prescribed it, assuredly custom, which without doubt flowed from tradition, has confirmed it. For how can anything come into use, if it has not first been handed down? Even in pleading tradition, written authority, you say, must be demanded. Let us inquire, therefore, whether tradition, unless it be written, should not be admitted. Certainly we shall say that it ought not to be admitted, if no cases of other practices which, without any written instrument, we maintain on the ground of tradition alone" (Tertullian, The crown or De Corona, ch 3-4)

"If, for these and other such rules, you insist upon having positive Scripture injunction, you will find none." (Tertullian, The crown or De Corona, ch 3-4)

"For many other observances of the Churches, which are due to tradition, have acquired the authority of the written law" (Jerome, Dialogue Against the Luciferians, 8)

  1. before they are baptized: "solemnly profess that we disown the devil, and his pomp, and his angels" (Tertullian, The crown or De Corona, ch 3-4)
  2. immerse three times "thrice immersed"" (Tertullian, The crown or De Corona, ch 3-4)
    "
    dipping the head three times in the layer" (Jerome, Dialogue Against the Luciferians, 8)
  3. After baptism: drink "(as new-born children) a mixture of milk and honey" (Tertullian, The crown or De Corona, ch 3-4)
    "tasting milk and honey in representation of infancy" (Jerome, Dialogue Against the Luciferians, 8)
  4. After baptism: "from that day we refrain from the daily bath for a whole week" (Tertullian, The crown or De Corona, ch 3-4)
  5. "as the anniversary comes round, we make offerings for the dead as birthday honours" (Tertullian, The crown or De Corona, ch 3-4)
  6. "ceasing from fasting every Pentecost". (Jerome, Dialogue Against the Luciferians, 8)
    "
    fasting ... in worship on the Lord's day to be unlawful" (Tertullian, The crown or De Corona, ch 3-4)
  7. "the practices of standing up in worship on the Lord's day" (Jerome, Dialogue Against the Luciferians, 8)
    "
    kneeling in worship on the Lord's day to be unlawful" (Tertullian, The crown or De Corona, ch 3-4)
  8. "We feel pained should any wine or bread, even though our own, be cast upon the ground" (Tertullian, The crown or De Corona, ch 3-4)
  9. "At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign." (of the cross) (Tertullian, The crown or De Corona, ch 3-4)

Summary:

  1. For the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches teach the doctrine of "oral tradition" yet not keep the specific oral traditions listed by Tertullian and Jerome, is all the proof anyone needs to conclude they are a tradition unto themselves, regardless of what the Bible says or the Church Fathers.
  2. We give the Catholic church a score of zero because they rejected all these traditions and replaced them with new ones never practiced by anyone.
  3. We give the Orthodox a score of 20% because they correctly immerse as the Bible says, and practice thrice immersion as tradition states, but we deduced 5% because thrice immersion (immersed three times) is not necessary, since the Bible records a universal pattern of being single baptism. (Jesus died, was buried and raised only once.). We also deducted 5% because renouncing the Devil is now found in scripture when one is baptized.

Practice from Tradition

Orthodox

Catholic

thrice immersed

Click to View

Click to View

disown the devil before baptism

Click to View

Click to View

Drink milk and honey after baptism

Click to View

Click to View

don't bath for a week after baptism

Click to View

Click to View

kneeling in worship is forbidden

Click to View

Click to View

Sign of cross on forehead

Click to View

Click to View

Score

20%

0%

Tertullian, The crown or De Corona, ch 3-4
Jerome, Dialogue Against the Luciferians, 8

 

F. Full texts with detailed discussion:

  1. We love this statement by Tertullian because it proves our point that he used the Bible only to determine doctrine to the exclusion of oral tradition. Now we are actually shocked that Roman Catholic and Orthodox apologists would ever want to refer to this text because it utterly refutes their claim that there is an oral tradition with doctrines that are distinct from, and missing from scripture! If these anti-sola Scriptura advocates are correct, that we must follow, as Tertullian did, "tradition" then why do neither the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches say as a matter of liturgy before they are baptized: "solemnly profess that we disown the devil". Why do Orthodox immerse three times ... just as Tertullian says you should do in tradition, "thrice immersed" yet the Catholics reject this tradition and sprinkle once? After being baptized, why do both the Catholic and Orthodox churches disobey "Tertullian's apostolic tradition" by not "a mixture of milk and honey, and from that day we refrain from the daily bath for a whole week"? In fact they all disobey this apostolic tradition and take a bath as soon as they get home after being baptized! What heresy! Of course, the liturgy of "triple baptism" is not taught in scripture any more than drinking milk/honey and not bathing for a week. These represent localized customs that are expedient. All churches have localized customs and they vary, from congregation to congregation. Remember, there are three kinds of tradition that the apostolic fathers refer to. This is the second type of tradition that is optional because it involves human origin choices that God cares nothing about. Like Tertullian said, "we trace upon the forehead the sign. If, for these and other such rules, you insist upon having positive Scripture injunction, you will find none". That's because it is optional for local churches and individual Christians to do. Indeed, even the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches do not make the "sign of the cross on the forehead" as was the "apostolic tradition", rather they changed the "apostolic tradition" and started making the sign of the cross on the chest! It is these expedient things that are "tradition" and clearly optional that scripture is silent about. Other examples of tradition in this same category today, might be making sure the temperature of the water in the baptistery is exactly 77 degrees; holding the person being baptized under water for exactly three second, one for the Father, one for the Son and one for the Holy Spirit. So this very passage by Tertullian that Roman Catholic and Orthodox anti-sola Scriptura advocates quote to disprove sola Scriptura, in fact refutes them! This passage also clearly shows the category of "tradition" that all the "Apostolic Fathers" viewed was not found in scripture. Unlike "classical reformers" like Keith A. Matheson, who stated in his book, "The shape of sola Scriptura", that it is important to maintain the oral traditions of the post-apostolic church, we reject this completely because there was a clear and steady drift away from New Testament doctrine and liturgy immediately following the death of the apostles. For us, if it is not in the Bible, we don't do it! Tertullian said: "And how long shall we draw the saw to and fro through this line, when we have an ancient practice, which by anticipation has made for us the state, i.e., of the question? If no passage of Scripture has prescribed it, assuredly custom, which without doubt flowed from tradition, has confirmed it. For how can anything come into use, if it has not first been handed down? Even in pleading tradition, written authority, you say, must be demanded. Let us inquire, therefore, whether tradition, unless it be written, should not be admitted. Certainly we shall say that it ought not to be admitted, if no cases of other practices which, without any written instrument, we maintain on the ground of tradition alone, and the countenance thereafter of custom, affords us any precedent. To deal with this matter briefly, I shall begin with baptism. When we are going to enter the water, but a little before, in the presence of the congregation and under the hand of the president, we solemnly profess that we disown the devil, and his pomp, and his angels. Hereupon we are thrice immersed, making a somewhat ampler pledge than the Lord has appointed in the Gospel. Then when we are taken up (as new-born children), we taste first of all a mixture of milk and honey, and from that day we refrain from the daily bath for a whole week. We take also, in congregations before daybreak, and from the hand of none but the presidents, the sacrament of the Eucharist, which the Lord both commanded to be eaten at meal-times, and enjoined to be taken by all alike. As often as the anniversary comes round, we make offerings for the dead as birthday honours. We count fasting or kneeling in worship on the Lord's day to be unlawful. We rejoice in the same privilege also from Easter to Whitsunday. We feel pained should any wine or bread, even though our own, be cast upon the ground. At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of daily life, we trace upon the forehead the sign. If, for these and other such rules, you insist upon having positive Scripture injunction, you will find none. Tradition will be held forth to you as the originator of them, custom as their strengthener, and faith as their observer. That reason will support tradition, and custom, and faith, you will either yourself perceive, or learn from some one who has. (Tertullian, The crown or De Corona, ch 3-4)
  2. Jerome clearly believes that if the church in the entire world agrees on some doctrine or practice, it is as good as having a Bible verse in scripture and a binding command. We strongly disagree. Jerome even knew at the time he said this, that NONE of what he talks about in this passage like "laying on of hands after baptism" and "drinking milk and honey" after baptism, was universally practiced. And no one in the modern Roman Catholic or Orthodox church today does so either! What is most important here, is that the "unwritten customs and laws" that Jerome claims were handed down by the apostles, are all very trivial and optional matters like "standing up in worship on the Lord's day". Any Catholic or Orthodox defender who want to use Jerome as an example of a man who felt "unwritten customs and laws" are as binding as scripture are required to do all the things Jerome here identifies as "unwritten customs and laws". Otherwise they are as hypocritical as they are dishonest. Jerome says: "Don't you know that the laying on of hands after baptism and then the invocation of the Holy Spirit is a custom of the Churches? Do you demand Scripture proof? You may find it in the Acts of the Apostles. And even if it did not rest on the authority of Scripture the consensus of the whole world in this respect would have the force of a command. For many other observances of the Churches, which are due to tradition, have acquired the authority of the written law, as for instance the practice of dipping the head three times in the layer, and then, after leaving the water, of tasting mingled milk and honey in representation of infancy; and, again, the practices of standing up in worship on the Lord's day, and ceasing from fasting every Pentecost; and there are many other unwritten practices which have won their place through reason and custom. So you see we follow the practice of the Church, although it may be clear that a person was baptized before the Spirit was invoked." (Jerome, Dialogue Against the Luciferians, 8)

G. Expedient tradition and the Easter wars:

  1. The Quartodecimans (14th Day Christians: Nissan 14 & Easter controversies) calculated the date for Passover according to the Law of Moses. Hippolytus was the bishop of Rome and for reasons unknown, came up with an entirely new way of calculating the date for Passover. (Easter) What is so important about this example, is that Hippolytus labeled these men Quartodecimans and called them heretics. Yet the Quartodecimans wanted to "do it the way the Bible says" and maintain the 1700 year old Jewish tradition of calculating Passover on Nissan 14. But the Jewish calculation meant that Passover (Easter) fell on different days of the week and the church at Rome didn't like this and wanted Easter to always fall on a Sunday. So, contrary to scripture and tradition, they eventually outlawed Quartodeciman view with the Nicene creed. Hippolytus implies that the Quartodecimans keep all other "apostolic tradition", except for rejecting how to properly calculate Easter. Now the "Easter controversy" is an example of how man-made doctrine began to infiltrate the church which no one in the first century practiced. Yearly Easter celebrations are found neither in scripture or the apostolic fathers. What we do find in the apostolic fathers, was that every Sunday was a celebration of the resurrection of Christ. "We keep the eighth day [Sunday] with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead" (The Epistle of Barnabas, 100-130 AD, ch 15). So here we have the bishop of Rome, going against both scripture and tradition of the early church. The issue has never been settled because Easter is a man-made holy day. Had scripture revealed it, we would know exactly how to celebrate it. Christ did not tell Christians to remember his birth at Christmas, but his death... and not once a year at Easter, but every Lord's Day, through communion. "Easter", therefore in the early church was a weekly event!
  2. And certain other (heretics), contentious by nature, (and) wholly uniformed as regards knowledge, as well as in their manner more (than usually) quarrelsome, combine (in maintaining) that Easter should be kept on the fourteenth day of the first month, according to the commandment of the law, on whatever day (of the week) it should occur. (But in this) they only regard what has been written in the law, that he will be accursed who does not so keep (the commandment) as it is enjoined. They do not, however, attend to this (fact), that the legal enactment was made for Jews, who in times to come should kill the real Passover. And this (paschal sacrifice, in its efficacy,) has spread unto the Gentiles, and is discerned by faith, and not now observed in letter (merely). They attend to this one commandment, and do not look unto what has been spoken by the apostle: "For I testify to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to keep the whole law." In other respects, however, these consent to all the traditions delivered to the Church by the Apostles. (Hippolytus. Refutation of All Heresies, book 8, ch 11, The Quartodecimans).
  3. Easter is a tradition: Cyprian in 250 AD, says of the Easter controversy: "they who are at Rome do not observe those things in all cases which are handed down from the beginning, and vainly pretend the authority of the apostles" (Cyprian, Epistle 74, 6)  

 

 

The Apostolic Fathers recognized five different kinds of tradition:

Click to View

Tradition #1: Scripture. (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6)

Click to View

Tradition #2: Verbal inspiration. (Jer 1:9; 1 Cor 11:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 3:6; 2 Tim 2:2)

Click to View

Tradition #3: Expedient tradition. (Roman 14:5)

Click to View

Tradition #4: Uninspired creeds "Rule of Faith". (1 Cor 15:3-6; 1 Timothy 3:16; 2 Timothy 2:8)

Click to View

Tradition #5: False doctrine tradition. (Mk 7:7-9; Col 2:8; 2 Tim 4:2-5)

Click to View

Mistakes made by the Apostolic Fathers based upon tradition

 

 By Steve Rudd

 

Click to View

Go To Start: WWW.BIBLE.CA