Parasitic Religion

There is a sizable body of Christianity that is parasitic. It feeds on other branches of the church. It has been argued, and not without merit, that every group outside the Catholic church is parasitic of the traditions of the first 1,500 of the church. At least those who don’t acknowledge their debt to this tradition are parasitic

But it goes deeper than the Catholic/Protestant divide. Today there are lots of people who have attachment to no tradition. The whole non-denominational trend is symptomatic of this.

This is an issue for a few reasons. First, there is no authority. Oh, I know, they appeal to scripture. Just like every other Christian on the planet. Sola scriptura is a foundation of sand.

Martin, there is no one of the heresies which have torn the bosom of the church, which has not derived its origin from the various interpretation of the Scripture. The Bible itself is the arsenal whence each innovator has drawn his deceptive arguments.

Johann Eck in reply to Martin Luther

Without a rule or creed to limit how scripture is appealed to, there can be little common ground from which to reach conclusions. Rejecting tradition is not freedom, it is anarchy.

Related to this lack of authority is a lack of accountability. Where there is no authority, there can be no accountability. To be accountable, there must be an understood standard and someone who is appointed to judge using that authoritative standard.

The antidote to parasitic Christianity is faith that acknowledges tradition. You don’t even have to agree with all of it. All of Christian tradition doesn’t agree with itself, but it is worth engaging in the debate. It is worthwhile to acknowledge that those who went before should get a vote.

Tradition means giving a vote to most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our groom; tradition asks us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father.

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

We have lots of fathers in the church. Apostolic fathers, desert fathers, monastic fathers…the list goes on. Each age of the church had particular challenges, strengths, and issues it was dealing with internally and externally. We can learn from them.

We can stake our claim somewhere, though I’m not sure anyone perfectly matches any group. If they think they do, either they aren’t engaging the traditions of the group or they aren’t truly thinking. But it gives us something to push against and—critically—it pushes back against us. We need to be challenged or we do not grow. If all we do is cherry-pick what we like from whatever source, we’re just being our own authority. Something Jesus never called us to do.


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