On the Apostolic Tradition

12-9-2021 2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5

It’s very important to recognize that the Church of the Thessalonians had begun to wane away from the faith that they had received. St Paul hadn’t been to the Church in almost a year, and they had begun to be shaken by speculation about the second coming of Christ, with some of them even stating that the day had already come (2:2). These false prophecies are very detrimental to the Church, leading many to either complete abandonment of the faith when these false prophecies fail to come to fruition, or even for those who do believe that they end has already happened feeling as though it is too late, so why even bother trying. And what we find happening at this point is that, because of these false teachings, many begin to grow despondent and give up hope, either in the second coming, or in the Church itself.

And, unfortunately, we find this happening so often in our time as well. I, in my 45 years alive, have lived through no less than three periods where I’d heard from very prominent people that “the end is here.” I’ve heard prominent national leaders referred to as “the Anti-Christ,” reducing the meaning of the word to nothing more than a derogatory term thrown in the direction of anyone whom people disagreed with. More importantly, I’ve seen it thrown at people who disagreed with the political positions of the Church. But, consider what this means to people who are outside of the Church. We’ve used these terms and these expressions so much, they no longer hold the foreboding power that they once did. If the “end is here,” then how do we explain that 20 years later? If “the Anti-Christ” is the president, how do we explain the world not ending after his presidency? In making these words and expressions cliche, and wrongly prophesying the end-times, we’ve destroyed many people’s faith in the Church; and not only the faith of unbelievers. So many Christians have turned away from the Church because they truly believed when some televangelist said that the world would end on New Years leading into the year 2000 (as an example).

And this is what St Paul is addressing to the Church of the Thessalonians, and therefore is a warning to all generations. “Stand fast and hold to the traditions you were taught, by word or epistle.” The epistles and the gospel give us signs and warnings, but they directly state that we will not know when the end-times are coming. It’s important to note here the differentiation between the apostolic tradition which was taught and handed down, versus the traditions created by man here. See, there are so many who read the Holy Scriptures, however, they go into it with an idea in their mind and just seek passages to justify (usually) sinful behavior. And unfortunately, it is very easy to do that. I’ve always said that if you choose a sin or a behavior, I can find a passage that could be taken to justify it. Just remove the tradition, the teachings of the Fathers, and the context and you can always find a sentence here or there to justify anything. And that’s the problem. Once you abandon the apostolic tradition which has been given to us, it’s very easy to pick and choose what verses will justify an opinion, a belief, sexuality, a lifestyle. Which is the exact reason that, yes, it’s imperative to read the Holy Scripture, but it is equally imperative to read it through the lens of the Holy Fathers, of the Church. Paul was specifically addressing the second coming and teaching them the true signs of it; however these lessons are fully relevant in our generation as we continue to divide the Church based on manmade decisions, traditions, doctrines.

He concludes this brief passage by seeking the prayers of the Church that the word of the Lord would run quickly and be glorified, reaching as many as possible with the true teachings. He also concludes with a warning, reminding that there are wicked and unreasonable people who, without faith, would seek to stop the word from spreading. Those in power who serve the evil one and seek to prevent the true teachings of Christ from being taught. And he have to remember that this letter was written to a Church, thus all of the warnings must be applied to the Church as well. Throughout our history, there have been people in the Church who have also done these same things. They reinterpret the teachings of Scripture to justify their own positions, rather than drawing from the Fathers and teaching the true lessons of Christ. They protest a lot of the teachings that were the foundation of the Church and have lead so many people astray.

There are actually two warnings in this passage that St Paul has imparted though. The first is that when you deviate from the apostolic tradition, it is unavoidable that you will end up with a thousandfold divided Church, with each interpretation claiming to be the true Church founded by Christ, and yet each pastor/priest/preacher interjecting their own personal opinions into that Church. We see this a lot in our culture. Just consider, if you don’t like the lessons of one Church, or it’s positions on things, you just ride down the street to the next Church and try that one on instead. If that doesn’t work, you can either continue searching or just go home and become your own Church. Which leads to the second dire warning. When the Church abandons these apostolic traditions, it divides itself to the point of inner conflict that drives away those who might come. Consider an unbeliever who is interested in attending a Church, newly discovering the faith. He goes to three different churches and hears three conflicting messages. This is often what happens when we abandon the traditions of the Church. And at that point with an unbeliever, we become the enemy of Christ rather than the Body of Christ. In seeking to find a Church, he instead finds three examples of why he shouldn’t turn to Christ. If we abandon the traditions then we have no foundation for our teaching aside from our own personal interpretation of the Holy Scriptures. We become the enemy of Christ because we have abandoned the teachings of the Apostles, handed down from Christ Himself and to the Church.

Let us instead join ourselves to Him, clinging to His teachings and warnings which we have received through His Church. Let us cling to the Holy Scriptures, to the traditions of the Church Fathers, to the teachings of the Body of Christ, which is the Church. Let us remember the important of the Apostolic traditions and discard the traditions of men which ultimately lead us away from union with Christ and with the Church. There is sacrifice, there is work, and there is suffering to be in this union, to be a true Christian; but through it all, we will persevere, we will be strengthened, and we will live in union with Christ, in accordance with the will of the Father, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit. “Many false prophets will rise up and deceive many, and because lawlessness will abound, many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:11-13). Let us be warned against those who deviate from the teachings of the Church, and the many false prophets.

Christ is in our midst.

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