Skip to main content

Tradition Doesn’t Solve the Problem of Christian Unity

December 18th, 2016 | 1 min read

By Jake Meador

Philip Schaff on how appeals to tradition, contra the supposedly divisive and schismatic principle of sola scriptura, doesn’t actually do what its proponents think it does:

“By rejecting tradition, which imposes definite rules and limits on the interpretation of scripture, we throw open the door to lawless subjectivity. This is shown by the actual state of the protestant world, as rent into various conflicting parties, which without exception appeal to the scriptures in support of the most opposite doctrines and principles.” Here indeed a disadvantageous side of Protestantism is brought to view, which we are constrained to acknowledge with deep sorrow, as will appear here-after. Still however, whilst we readily allow that the curse of sects is to be ascribed, in large part, to the contempt of Church authority and the abuses of protestant liberty, we must decidedly reject the allegation, that tradition alone, and that in the Romish sense as an infallible judge of scripture, forms a sufficient remedy for the cure of this disease. The prescription at best leaves us where we were before, if it bring us not into a plight still worse. For tradition itself is capable also of various interpretations, and to a greater extent indeed than the bible, in proportion as the writings I which is to be found are of greater compass. It is prodigious injustice, to ascribe all clearness to man’s word, and all darkness to the word of God. The history of the Church besides informs us plainly, that different sects have stayed themselves on tradition as well as upon the holy scriptures.

Jake Meador

Jake Meador is the editor-in-chief of Mere Orthodoxy. He is a 2010 graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln where he studied English and History. He lives in Lincoln, NE with his wife Joie, their daughter Davy Joy, and sons Wendell, Austin, and Ambrose. Jake's writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Commonweal, Christianity Today, Fare Forward, the University Bookman, Books & Culture, First Things, National Review, Front Porch Republic, and The Run of Play and he has written or contributed to several books, including "In Search of the Common Good," "What Are Christians For?" (both with InterVarsity Press), "A Protestant Christendom?" (with Davenant Press), and "Telling the Stories Right" (with the Front Porch Republic Press).