Traditionalism

From the November 1897 issue of the Christian Science Journal by


Traditionalism, in religion and out of it, has ever been the foe of progress. So far as it has been able it has put limitations upon Truth. In its ecclesiastical phases it has attempted to place a final definition upon God, draw a line over which the Infinite might not pass, and circumscribe Him within the narrow compass of its own conceptions. If not in express words, this phase of traditionalism has declared, in substance and effect, about as follows:—

“God shall do what we have heretofore been accustomed to have Him do; nothing more. He shall not violate the traditions of the past nor trench upon the established lines of human action. He must continue to be the same God our fathers had; no more and no less. He has been defined for us by the Councils of the past, and that definition is official and final. It must not be changed. God is immutable; the same yesterday, to-day, and forever. That immutability as officially fixed must not be interfered with by modern intermeddlers. The character and attributes given God by the Councils are unalterable. His scope and power were then and there established and they must neither be enlarged nor diminished. The traditional past has fixed all this. Let there be no presumptuous unsettling of this authoritative action. They who seek to give God greater power than He was officially decreed to possess are unholy blasphemers, disturbers of the peace and security of the people, a menace to our Christian civilization and well-ordered religion, and innovators of our long-vested rights. Away with them. Their God is not our God, — if, indeed, they have a God.

“Our God permits us to believe that He has sent sickness into the world; that He recognizes sin and death as part and parcel of his creation. He permits us to believe in the reality and eternity of matter with all its resultant effects. He permits us to deny the unity and allness of Spirit, while attributing to Him all power and all glory. It is more natural to believe in death as the inevitable than Life as all. It is more natural to believe in the admixture of Good and evil than Good as the only reality. It is more natural to believe that Truth and error commingle than in the omnipotence of Truth. It is more natural to believe in the co-existence of Love and hate than in the exclusive power of Love. Hence we prefer our traditional God, who permits us this liberty of thought. It is easier to let traditionalism settle all these questions for us than to worry over them ourselves. Therefore we stand upon our traditional prerogatives. It is much less troublesome for us to believe in duality than in unity. And although we continue to use the word universe because tradition has given us this privilege, we shall also maintain that the universe is double and not single, because traditionalism has so decreed. We are not responsible for the seeming inconsistency. Even though our premises be faulty and our logic lame, we shall continue to advocate the propositions, that while it is true there is but one God and He is all-powerful, there is another power beside Him, namely, evil, dividing empire and rulership with Him, and, even if holding disputed sway, nevertheless exercising power; that Truth and error are inseparable, eternally commingling and battling with each other; and that Love and hate are co-existent and co-eternal, travelling down the ages hand in hand into the vast forever.

“Our traditional God is a liberal God, a merciful God, and Him we delight to worship. Therefore, subject to the above limitations, and some others, we recognize His all-power, unity, wisdom, and presence, joyously exclaiming in the exuberance of our adoration: ‘Who is so great a God as our God?’ “

The non-ecclesiastical phase of traditionalism thus, in substance and effect, animadverts: —

“Our God interferes not with our comfort, peace, or happiness, as we understand these things. He permits us to select our own religion, our own church, regardless of its teachings; our own pastor, without reference to whether he preaches truth or error; our own physician, whether he is the best or the poorest, whether he kill or cure. We are at perfect liberty, so far as our God is concerned, to exercise our own judgment in all these matters. We may love and worship our God while pandering to every desire of the flesh, every whim, caprice, foible, social fad, or what not, in total disregard of resulting effects either upon ourselves or our neighbors. Our God permits us to gratify our worldly ambitions, accumulate all the wealth we can or desire, carry out all our selfish aims and ambitions without reference to the rights, wishes, or happiness of our neighbor. If, in process of time, we become repentant therefor, we have only to ask our God’s pardon and obtain it, continuing our mode of life, forsaking not our sins. If, as the result of sinful and irregular habits, we get sick, we have but to go to our physician for healing. His remedies will heal us physically, regardless of mental or moral conditions, no matter how directly the sickness is the result of our sin.

“Such a God we can adore. Such a God we can live in the utmost harmony with. We want no other. He is good enough for us. Let us alone, you who preach a different God; we care not to hear of Him. We are abundantly satisfied with the fatness of our present house. We wish no better.”

The combined phases of ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical traditionalism, may be summarized thus:—

“As to the matter of healing disease, God may heal in the ‘regular,’ the well-recognized and traditional manner, but not otherwise. He must do His healing through the means prescribed by the educated physicians under the regulations of our legislatures and medical boards or boards of health. Thus only can He heal sickness. No more direct means than these may He exercise. Prayer and Faith are not to be tolerated in connection with healing disease. The Almighty dare not thus tread upon tradition or trample upon inherent rights. He may be Almighty provided He confine His almightiness to legitimate and recognized uses. Here we draw the line. Here only do our rights and privileges as mortals cease.”

Is this brief sketch of traditionalism overdrawn? If we rely upon suppositional words, we may answer, Yes. If we rely on acts, and much that is said, we may emphatically answer, No. In fact, our sketch is not more than a vague hint at the long train of drawfing effects growing out of mortal mind traditionalism. All we have said, and vastly more, is summed up in the words, “anthropomorphic God.” A God of human creation. A God suited to human desires and human convenience. God as a magnified human personality.

Is i t strange that the one true God has, in all ages, thus spoken in sharp rebuke of such a creation?

“There is a conspiracy of her prophets in the midst thereof . . . Her priests have violated my law. and have profaned mine holy things: they have put no difference between the holy and profane, neither have they shewed difference between the unclean and the clean . . . And her prophets have daubed them with untempered mortar, seeing vanity, and divining lies unto them, saying, Thus saith the Lord God, when the Lord hath not spoken . . . Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath: their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, saith the Lord God” (Ezekiel, 22).

“Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them” (Ezekiel, 34).

“Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups . . . Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition” (Mark, 7).

Traditionalism has sought to stereotype the Bible as well as’ Deity. It has defined its scope and meaning, and tolerated no departure therefrom. But notwithstanding its bold assumptions, it has not succeeded in obscuring the Light shining through the pages of the sacred Word. It is coming more and more to be understood that the Bible is a book of infinite meaning, treating of an infinite subject, of infinite unfoldment; that in its deepest import it is related to the eternal, and that its manifest purpose is to impart infinite Truth to finite comprehension. By parable, allegory, illustration, and rich and varied object-lesson in prose and poetry, it reaches around the entire circumference of human conditions, and to the utmost boundary of the universe and man. In the law of “Thou shalt,” on the one hand, and of “Come” on the other, it elucidates the full intent of Divine Love toward His children.—His infinite ideas.

God, as Infinite Truth, is a perpetual revelation. No limitation can be placed on Infinite Unfoldment. No church can encase infinite Truth within its portals or confine it to its altars. No creed has ever placed a final definition upon God. No dogma has drawn a line over which infinity may not tread. No class or sect has successfully said to God: “Thus far, and no farther.”

How impotent, then, is traditionalism! It can impede the progress of poor, struggling mortals by temporarily binding them, but it cannot “stop the eternal currents of Truth,” nor thwart the ultimate Divine purpose.

Are we, as Christian Scientists, in danger of running into the error of traditionalism? Are we growing into habits of empiricism or crystallized definitionalism? Are we fixing boundaries upon the infinite teachings of our “Key to the Scriptures,” and judging and counter-judging others from the standpoint of our definitions?

Let us seriously ponder this subject, and if we detect a tendency toward traditionalism, such as we were, more or less, instructed in under former conditions, let us promptly separate ourselves from such tendency. If w e hear a brother advance a proposition concerning the teaching of our textbook, not in strict accord with our views, let us not be too ready to cry, “Error,—our text-book does not teach that.” Our brother may be right and we wrong. We have caught but a small glimpse of the infinities of our text-books, the Bible and “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” and we shall do well to be modest and meek in our conceptions of our own understanding, as well as Christianly tolerant of our brother who may see farther, or not as far, as we. Let us sincerely strive against falling into the relative errors of the old theologies and systems, becoming harsh and intolerant in the letter and lacking in the Spirit. Let us listen with attentive ear to the repeated injunctions of our text-books on this subject, giving earnest heed thereto, as well as to the oft-repeated implorations of our beloved Leader, whom it is mockery to call “our Mother” if we heed not her loving behests.




Print this page


Share via email