The Tradition is a building. The foundations are set in stone, as they ought to be. Some rooms are finished and decorated, for the moment. We may redecorate, or even renovate them eventually, but not right now. Others were finished, but someone left the windows open all winter. There’s a lot of water damage, and it’s starting to leak into other parts of the house. And there’s a nest of rattlesnakes that live under the bureau, and bats in the closet. Need to do some serious work in there, pronto. Other rooms are framed in, but there’s exposed wiring, sawdust and tools everywhere, the occasional hole in the floor. You probably don’t want to let a kid in those rooms yet, at least not unattended.
Adding to the Tradition is part of the Tradition. Always has been. When Moses gave the Torah, the only music in the Tabernacle liturgy was somebody occasionally blowing a trumpet. And not a Louis Armstrong trumpet, either — a shofar, a hollowed-out ram’s horn. Don’t get me wrong, I love the shofar. But there’s a reason nobody’s recording a whole CD of shofar music. It’s not capable of a particularly broad range of musical expression. Along comes David, and brings the Ark up to Jerusalem, where the Temple will one day be. He makes musical instruments, writes psalms, and organizes the Levites to bring a service of musical worship that parallels the service of animal sacrifice in the Tabernacle. There’s not two words about any of this in Torah, but David does it anyway, and when Solomon builds the Temple, the musical worship is included in the Temple as well as the animal sacrifice.
Scraping off accumulated barnacles is also part of the Tradition. Jesus does this very forcefully in a number of ways, with His “You have heard it said…but I say unto you…” utterances, His parables, His miracles and actions. But Jesus is not leading some sort of fundamentalist “Back to Torah!” movement. When He cleanses the Temple, He drives out the bazaar in the court of the Gentiles, but He leaves the choristers and musicians alone. He celebrates Hanukkah, too. Some changes harmoniously build on and glorify the foundation that has been laid; others obscure and obstruct it. Jesus differentiates between the two, as well He ought to, since He’s about to introduce some innovations of His own.
Of course it’s not as simple as “good accretions” versus “bad accretions” to the Tradition. To everything there is a season: some accretions are glorious in their time, but not intended to be everlasting. The Tabernacle gave way to the Temple. Animal sacrifice gave way to the death and resurrection of the Messiah. (The folks in charge of offering sacrifices were a little slow to take the hint, so about 40 years later God razed the Temple to the ground. Hadrian constructed a temple to Jupiter some 40 years after that, God apparently preferring demon-worship on the Temple Mount over the emptiness of animal sacrifice after His Son’s death.) The feast of the peace offering gave way to the feast of the Lord’s Table. Sipping grape juice at that Table will give way to drinking new wine with Jesus in the Kingdom of His Father, as we hear Him declare the Father’s praises in our midst…but I’m getting carried away. Back to the Tradition…
It’s a living Tradition, a succession of experiences and relationships mediated by the Holy Spirit. Along the way, there are ordinations, baptisms, structures of civil and ecclesiastical government, and so on, but the succession of those things is a characteristic of the Tradition, not its backbone. The Tradition is the life of the Church, the Body, the fullness of Christ, and is in turn perichoretically filled by the Holy Spirit. It is the life God gives, manifested among men. Think River Ecclesiology here — where the living water flows, the Tradition is alive.
The Spirit inspired the Scriptures within that mighty stream of experiences and relationships: “Holy men spoke as they were borne along by the Holy Spirit.” The Scriptures are part and parcel of the Tradition. It’s a serious category mistake to talk about “Scripture and Tradition” as though the two were separate sources — no matter which one you want to have primacy.
Can the Tradition be wrong? Of course. If Christ is not risen, if Yahweh is not king above all gods, if the gods of the nations are not idols, then the Tradition is finally, fatally, irrevocably wrong. But since Christ is risen, Yahweh is king above all gods, and all the gods of the nations are deaf and dumb idols…the Tradition is not wrong.
Praise Yahweh for His goodness, and for His wonderful works to the children of men!