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Apostolic Tradition


The Apostles' Tradition –The Heart of the Matter
By Beresford Job
Essex England

This section will demonstrate that the apostles of Jesus, at His direction, established and set up churches to function and operate in a particular way. Further, it will be made clear that this pattern, or blueprint, was intended to be universal, and that all churches should be fundamentally the same when it comes to how they meet and how they are organized.

The Forgotten Commands

I am sure that very few Christians would have a problem with the proposition that the Bible contains commands which are supposed to be obeyed. When Paul wrote to Timothy, as someone in church leadership, and told him to "Command and teach these things..." (1 Timothy 4v11), then we take this to mean that there are indeed things which constitute commands and which are therefore to be adhered to at all costs. So when, for instance, we read in the pages of scripture that we are to "Bless those who persecute you..." (Romans 12v14), we rightly understand it to be something we are obliged to do and not merely an option. In the light of such clear biblical counsel it is clear that no believer is free to curse someone, and would be in complete disobedience to the Word of God should they do so.

But what might cause quite a lot of Christians problems is my next proposition that there is, in fact, a whole batch of commands relating to one particular area of following the Lord which not only are not obeyed, but are actually considered by most to be virtually irrelevant, if indeed even known to be in the pages of Bible at all. And what I am referring to are the particular practices of the churches established by the apostles, and the fact that the way in which these churches were set up was a matter of apostolic command, and intended to be the only way churches were ever meant to be set up.

And what I intend to demonstrate here is that the New Testament reveals clearly that not only are apostolic doctrine (what we believe) and morality (personal holiness) binding on us as commands, but so too are the practices and ways of doing things passed down by the apostles in regard to how churches should function and operate. So what we are going to see is that there are practices, or traditions, to which every church ought to adhere, such practices and traditions being actually biblical commands which are binding on us, and which ought to therefore be obeyed like any other biblical commands. So let's start with Paul's first letter to the Thessalonians in order to ascertain that the New Testament does indeed speak of traditions handed down by the apostles, and that such traditions are considered to be commands which are binding on churches.

"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions (Gk: paradosis - a handing down, established practice) which you were taught by us (the apostles), either by word of mouth or by letter.....And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things which we command......Now we command you brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is living in idleness and not in accord with the tradition (paradosis - established practice) that you received from us." (1 Thessalonians 2v15, 3v4 and 6)

Now in these verses Paul is referring to Christian behavior (personal holiness) in general, and then, in particular, the need for each man to work and not be idle. So we see that there were certain practices, or traditions, which pertained to practical aspects of the Christian life, which Paul had handed on to the believers in Thessalonica and which he further stated to be commands in the name of the Lord. These particular commands covered not only the mandate to work, but then a further mandate to others to withdraw fellowship from any brothers who decide to remain in idleness.

So we therefore have an example of what I am calling apostolic tradition, in the area of personal holiness, and have further established it to be a matter of clear scriptural command. But as we now proceed to other references, found in the first letter to the Corinthians, then it is of the utmost importance that we understand Paul's context there to be that which they were doing, their practices, when they come together as a church. And what follows is Paul's claim for divine command concerning the way they were meeting when they came together as a church.

"I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions (paradosis - established practice) even as I have delivered them to you." (I Corinthians 11v2)

Paul is here referring to the comprehensive blueprint for the Corinthians as a church he has passed down to them, and in particular their practices when they gather together. Or, to put it another way, this is all to do with how they met as a church, and the way they went about things when they did so. Paul is not here dealing with matters of doctrine or belief, and neither is he talking of personal holiness. His remit is to correct certain abuses that were occurring when they came together, and in process of doing this commends them that the mechanics of their coming together, if not the spirit, were indeed in line with the traditions he had handed down to them. And it makes quite obvious the fact that Paul had taught the Corinthians to meet in a particular way, proceeding along particular lines and doing particular things. He had given them a certain 'how to' when it came to being a church, and he praises them that they were still doing things as he had instructed them.

"If anyone is disposed to be contentious, we recognize no other practice, nor do the churches of God." (I Corinthians 11v16)

Notice Paul's assumption and insistence that all churches were set up the same, and based purely on apostolic practice. The particular issue he's referring to here was whether or not people in the church should have head coverings in order to participate in the open worship and sharing together that occurred when such churches met, but the point to highlight is, once more, Paul's command and expectation of complete uniformity in that regard. We are seeing quite clearly that there was indeed, as far as Paul was concerned, a set way of doing things that he expected all churches to adhere to. (And although it's slightly off the subject here I'll just say for the record, and for no extra charge as well, that my understanding of that difficult passage is that women should have long hair and men should have short hair, and that it's all to do with the differing roles of men and women and the angelic beings who are looking on. But any more on that is for another time.)

"As in all the churches of the saints......" (I Corinthians 14v33b) Here, regarding the issue of women speaking during the church gathering, we again see Paul assuming that all churches are practicing in the same way. And again and again and again we see this unmistakable fact that the apostles set churches up to function in the same way when they gathered together. The apostles didn't go around suggesting various different ways for churches to go about things when they met, they rather instructed all the churches in the only way they were ever intended to go about things when they came together, and it was expected that all the churches would comply. And just so there's no mistaking what I'm saying here then get a load of this:

"What! Did the word of God originate with you, or are you the only ones it has reached?" (You can just feel the sting of Paul's sarcasm here at the idea there were other ways of doing church than that which he had taught them?) "If anyone thinks that he is a prophet, or spiritual, he should acknowledge that what I am writing to you is a command of the Lord. If anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized."(I Corinthians 14v36-38)

And again we must underline the fact that all these verses pertain to matters of church practice, to what Christians did when they got together as a church. To how they did church, if you will, to how they functioned and were set up as a corporate body of believers. Paul, when referring to issues of church practice, puts it all under the simple and straightforward heading of being a matter of the Lord's command. It's not optional or something! It's not a matter of what suits us best! And neither is there an issue of the way the Holy Spirit leads either! The Spirit will never lead you to go against the teaching of the Bible, but He will most definitely lead you if you meet according to the teaching of the Bible! No, this is a matter of one thing and one thing only: a command of the Lord! And Paul actually says to ignore and not recognize anyone who says differently! And do you know what it means for you and I? Well, I'll tell you:

It means that the prevailing idea that the Lord wants different types of churches meeting in different types of ways goes completely against the teaching of the New Testament. The apostles, under the Lord's guidance through the Holy Spirit, set up churches to operate and function in a particular and definite way, and we will be demonstrating elsewhere, from the New Testament alone, what that way was. And of course a church is either based on such apostolic practice or tradition, or on something else - the traditions of mere men! And if that is the case then such churches simply cannot be said to be biblical churches. Those dear believers in them may well be doctrinally sound and orthodox in so far as their beliefs are concerned and concur with the Bible, and they may well also be living faithful lives in so far as personal holiness goes, but as churches they fail completely the test of being biblical and how Jesus has always intended that they should be.

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