VI - Unwritten Tradition and its Reliability:

Among the first things to take into account with regards to the transmission of information in written format in eras prior to the invention of the printing press was the amount of time involved in the endeavour. For writing was not as easy in apostolic times as it is now with our modern printing presses and word processors. Instead, there was far more time involved. This author has read scholarly estimates that it would take a couple of minutes (estimated time two to four minutes) just to clearly write one character with an old pen on parchment back in the days of the Apostles. The Epistle to Philemon is one of the shortest in the Bible but if Paul worked on it nonstop from start to finish it is estimated that it would have taken him over four hours to write. Think about that for a moment: four hours (possibly five) to write a single chapter epistle that is about twenty-five verses and can basically fit on one printed page of the Bible. What about the longer works such as Hebrews, 1 Corinthians, or Romans??? Romans is the longest NT book and by the same accounts if Paul worked on it nonstop two to three hours a day six days a week until he finished, Romans would have taken him almost four months to write. In a situation such as this an author would not write about issues that did not pertain to the topic of discussion in some form or another. Not only that but there would certainly not be precious time and parchment wasted discussing doctrinal issues where there was no controversy to address concerning them. To do such would be superfluous. This is the most glaring flaw of the presupposition of Sola Scriptura (its absence from Scripture itself excluded of course). In essence, the Sola Scriptura adherent looks to the Bible to do what it was never intended to do. This goes hand in hand with modern man's skepticism about the reliability of unwritten traditions and their reliability in long-term transmission. One of the major criticisms of scholars who deny the accuracy or the truth of the Gospel accounts are the natural result of the Protestant mistrust of the accuracy of oral transmission carried out to its logical conclusion. To quote Catholic writer 'Matt1618' on the matter:

The ones who are skeptical of the reliability of the oral tradition in relation to the church and scripture is most exemplified by Rudolf Bultmann, and modern scholars such as Dominic Crossan and E. P. Sanders. The traditions may have started with the historical person Jesus, but the church was in effect unorganized and the tradition was shaped by the needs of the people. The oral tradition’s concern was not about history, but in building up the faith of the community. The traditions about Jesus became uncontrolled and unchecked. By the time that the stories of Jesus were put into writing, the authors of the gospel wrote things that actually had no concern for actual history. [1]
This is the undeniable and logical sequence of denigrating the oral transmission of knowledge in ancient times. However, those who make this claim reveal themselves to know very little about non-written formats that were used to pass down teaching when writing was not so prevalent. Or to again cite Matt's essay:
[N.T.] Wright [in his work Jesus and the Victory of God, (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996)] also alluded to authors such as Gehardsson and Riesenfeld who suggest that Jesus taught his disciples fixed forms of teachings which were formal and controlled. The apostles learned directly from Jesus, and passed it on to leaders who would follow them and pass it on to others, in a formal, scholastic way; however, this tradition could only be passed on to the laity via these leaders to assure reliability. This tradition was tightly controlled. This formal, tightly controlled tradition assures the reliability of the gospel according to these authors. [2]
The NT authors hint at this type of fixed form in several spots (see 2 Tim. 1:13-14 and 2 Tim. 2:2-3 for two such examples). In providing some support for this contention, Matt cites the example of Kenneth Bailey whose unique observations on this matter bear some serious consideration:
Kenneth Bailey did a detailed study of the Middle Eastern culture to examine oral traditions and their reliability. As Wright notes, there are both informal, uncontrolled traditions that people such as Bultmann profess, and formal controlled traditions in the Middle Eastern culture; however, he found much more prevalent a way not found in either Bultmann or Gehardsson: informal, and controlled traditions. Bailey proposes that the informal, controlled traditions lay the groundwork for the Synoptic Gospels.
Bailey notes that in studies often the modern Western researcher can posit the tradition of the transmission of the Rabbinic schools or project some other tradition method modeled after the researcher’s own inherited Western experience or imagination. Bailey correctly notes that often the Western cultural models and mental attitudes is imposed upon the Middle Eastern cultural world, and thus a great deal of subjectivism is often involved (Kenneth Bailey, "Informal, Controlled, Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels" Asia Journal of Theology, 5.1 (1991)…
Bailey identified five types of material preserved in oral traditions for common people, with varying types of controls of the transmission 1) Middle Eastern people express their values through proverbs, the creating and preserving of wisdom and sayings; 2) Story riddles - a teacher is presented with an unsolvable problem; 3) poetry - a distinct unlettered form of verse. The person who recites this is called a Sajali; 4) parable or story; 5) Well-told accounts of the important figures in the history of the village or community (Bailey 41-42).
Bailey identifies three types of flexibility exercised by the community in these five types of traditions: 1) No flexibility - Proverbs and poems (1 and 3 above). There are reciters who are bound to repeat word for word proverbs and poems. If the reciter quotes a proverb with so much as a word missing, he subjects himself to public correction, and thereby to public humiliation. Exact memorization of these types of traditions are taken for granted, with no changes in wording allowed.
2) Some flexibility - The telling of stories and parables (4 and 5 above). In a story some flexibility is allowed, and the order of events could be reversed. The flows of the story and its conclusion have to remain the same. The summary punch line is inviolable, as are the names of the characters in the story. Any proverbs within the story have to be repeated verbatim, otherwise the teller would be rejected. The story teller has a certain freedom to tell the story in his own way as long as the central thrust of the story is not changed (Bailey 42-44). To change the basic story line while retelling the account is unthinkable. Historical narratives important to the lives of individuals and villages also fall into this second level of flexibility that provides for both continuity and freedom for individual interpretations of the tradition. Flexibility is possible but authenticity is assured. Many of the Synoptic Gospels narratives and parables would fall into this category of flexibility.
3) Total flexibility - This is the type that Bultmann and Crossan assert is standard, where the substance of things are changed. Here is where exaggerations are possible. Bailey does admit that that this does occasionally happen; nevertheless, Bailey found that this only happens in jokes, casual news of the day, and material that is irrelevant to the identity of the community and is not judged wise or valuable (Bailey 45).
Bailey’s conclusion is that the informal yet controlled oral tradition "accounts for both event and interpretation, continuity and discontinuity, fixity and fluidity, and it is our suggestion that it can provide a methodology with which to perceive and interpret the bulk of the material (Synoptic Gospels) before us (Bailey 51). [3]
Matt noted in his essay that Kenneth Bailey actually lived for 30 years in the Middle Eastern culture studying it before writing about it. Because of this, his observations deserve much more weight than critical scholars who have not even a smidgen of the direct exposure as he did to the culture. This is important because the Middle East culture where Bailey resided is in many areas unchanged since biblical times. Upon completing this essay, a read of Matt's entire work would be beneficial to the reader. It presents an interesting look at a subject that is so often misunderstood by people with a modern low-context writing mentality. As he noted in the essay "when the only way of transmitting information is limited to oral tradition, tremendous deeds can be accomplished". Indeed some of Bailey's finding shatter the common presumptions of those who question the mental retention of our ancestors. (Such as illiterate people who had entire books of information memorized as a result of repeated exposure to the oral transmission of the stories, etc.) This would also explain the relative indifference of the early Church in canonizing the Bible. This was not complete after all until practically the dawn of the fifth century. In fact, if not for the problems of multiple forgeries reaching epidemic proportions in the fourth century, the Church may well have never have settled the extent of the canon. After all, why worry about the canon when in some ways the fixed forms of oral transmission were more reliable then the written documents??? Moreover, this was at times the case in ancient cultures - a point, which undermines the entire argument for Sola Scriptura at its very foundation.

We live in a low context society, which uses writing as our primary mode of communication of information (referring to information of importance of course). We are low context because we write in a manner that presupposes that our audience knows little if anything about the topic of discussion. We also have for the most part horrible memory retention and have become dependant upon writing in a manner that societies before the invention of printing never had. How many of us have become relatively lazy with our spelling and punctuation with the advent of Microsoft Word and its spelling, grammar, and punctuation checkers??? The same principle is at work: the reliance on them has made us less efficient in this regard. This is what writing has done to the modern mentality since we cannot possibly memorize the entire Bible or large parts of teaching in a non-written manner we err in presuming that our ancestors could not either. The writers of Scripture lived in an orally predominant high-context culture where writing was a secondary mode of communication. Their memories were far more retentive than ours are today. After all, with so much more information conveyed in unwritten formats (that today we confine to written mediums) this should not surprise. The presupposition at that time when writing was that your audience already has a foundation in the fundamentals of what you were writing. This was especially the case if you knew those whom you were writing to such as Paul to the different communities that he founded. The various epistles themselves allude to this a number of times (i.e. 2 Thess. 2:5). Sola Scriptura is the supporting pillar of Protestant theology. The following statement can sum up the primary argument advanced by its proponents — be they Reformed, Evangelical or Fundamentalist. An associate of this author (and an occasional "sparring partner" who is a very articulate and intelligent Reformed thinker) made the following statement when this issue was discussed some time ago in a dialogue:

The problem is, of course, that the medium of oral transmission is much less trustworthy than the medium of writing. The old analogy of passing even simple messages around a circle of people and seeing how incredibly distorted they are upon reaching the last person is quite applicable here… [4]
The serious anachronistic flaws inherent in the paradigms of those who assert this position should now be evident to the reader. We have just looked into the background of the earlier pre-print press paradigm and it was nothing at all as Sola Scriptura proponents' claim that it was. In failing to consider the sitz im leben of Apostolic times, those who defend Sola Scriptura, do so on a principle that was non-existent in earlier times. They have to thus ask themselves if they are really building as the wise man of the Gospels did on a foundation of rock (Matt. 7:24-25, 16:18; Luke 6:47-48). Or are they instead choosing for the foundation of their beliefs a weaker shiftier foundation of sand (Matt 7:26-27; Luke 6:49)??? This author asserts that it is unquestionably the latter and will demonstrate this not merely claim it is true.

VII - The Rule of Faith (Part III):

As the principle of the unreliability of non-written preservation of truths was non-existent in the pre-printing press era, the methodology that is predicated upon this non-existent principle (Sola Scriptura) is logically false. The WCF speaks of the Scriptures in the following manner:

Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 1:
VI. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man's salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men. Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word; and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and the government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed. [5]
These passages while certainly sounding noble on paper have some serious ecclesiology problems to them and not only because they are very nebulous. Greg Krehbiel summarizes the problems with this approach in his work The Cheshire Christ. Greg moved from Evangelical Protestantism to Reformed Protestantism probably in part, because he recognized that truth must logically have coherence to it. As there is greater coherence in church government within the confessional Protestant paradigm (compared to the more radical offshoots of the "reformation"); ergo it has a greater claim to being the truth than freewheeling Evangelical models of government. However, even in the Reformed paradigm Greg found that Sola Scriptura runs into trouble when the rubber really meets the road. This happens because it is not possible to escape the issue of authority and a visible Church to maintain it in some form or another - when it comes to determining whose positions are orthodox and whose are not:
How, after all, was the Christian Church to know which positions were orthodox and which were heretical? "By comparing them with the Scriptures," the Protestant thunders, and I say, yea, and amen, but that's not the issue. Of course all doctrines must be compared against the Scriptures. The question is who is to do the comparing and give the authoritative answer? When the Protestant says, "we have to check church decrees against Scripture," that's like someone saying that we have to check laws against the constitution. Sure we do. But who does the checking? Every citizen? Every lawmaker? Does he then make his own decision and set up his own country?…
If [in a dispute] Presbytery concludes A and I conclude B, then what do I do? Scripture says, "obey your leaders and submit to their authority," and the decisions of the first council of the church were sent to the people to be obeyed (Acts 16:4). So does that mean that God protects the Presbytery from making an error in a way that he does not protect me? Or does that mean that I am to obey Presbytery, whether they're right or not? And if I choose to go my own way, no matter what Presbytery says, then what's the point of a Presbytery, or a denomination, or a council? Everybody just does what he thinks is right. If you happen to agree, fine, go ahead and team up with like-minded folk, and if you don't, split. But what about "one faith, one hope, one baptism, one church"? I wanted to find a solution to that problem. Who is authorized to make these judgments? [6]
There is no point to claiming that the church is authoritative if someone can decide to obey it only when they want to. This problem also affects both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church communion in part (each group having its liberals who engage in "Sola My Will" and 'traditionalists' who engage in "Sola Tradition" where they interpret Tradition for themselves). However, the difference is that the problems are not institutionalized in the Orthodox and Catholic churches the way it is in the Protestant denominations who (despite perhaps intending otherwise) ended up building their movement on a rejection of authority. Apostolic ecclesiology recognizes that the Church's authority supersedes the individual and where there is conflict in views it is the individual who gives the benefit of the doubt to the Church rather then assuming it for themselves. Meanwhile, confessions such as the WCF give the impression that anyone can figure out sufficiently what they need through "a due use of the ordinary means" (whatever that means):
Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 1:
VII. All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them. [7]
The problem with ecclesiology in Protestantism is the Achilles Heel of that movement. The reason is there is no way to legitimately insist on adherence to church authority when the very movement was founded upon a rejection of that same authority to begin with. In every generation, the dissidents of the various Protestant churches can claim to be the next Calvin or Luther and be out to "reform" their respective ecclesial communities. The obvious response by the communities (to preserve themselves) is to make the same types of authority claims over their rebels as the authorities they rebelled against in the previous generation made against them. This chain goes all the way back to the original "reformers" and their rebellion against the Catholic Church who likewise told them to 'submit to your leaders' How then can Protestantism have any claim to being a unified witness for Our Lord Jesus Christ??? Which group among them can claim to have an authority above others and how can they maintain this claim when schism within Protestantism is not only institutionalized but occurs with a frightening degree of regularity???

At bottom, the WCF statements sound nice but there is a serious lack of Scriptural and historical evidences to support it. Did not the Apostle Peter state in no uncertain terms that it was holy men "moved by the Holy Spirit" who spoke for God (2 Pet. 1:19-21)??? Did he not further state in the verses that followed this statement that there would be (as there had already been) false prophets and lying teachers who would bring in sects of perdition and who would speak evil of the way of truth??? How are such teachers to be detected without private individuals resorting to the very interpretation that Peter specifically spoke against??? If we look closely, the Apostle Peter's exhortations are the very antithesis of the Westminster Confession of Faith and very much akin to Greg's observations about the necessity of church authority. Peter warns that it is "holy men of God moved by the Holy Spirit" who discern prophecies (interpretations) of Scripture not individuals. Later in the same epistle the Apostle revisits this theme in even more precise words:

And account the longsuffering of our Lord, salvation; as also our most dear brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, hath written to you: as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which there are certain things hard to be understood, which the unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, to their own destruction. You therefore, brethren, knowing these things beforre, takee heed, lest being led aside by the error of the unwise, you fall from your own steadfastness. [8]
2 Peter is probably the most ignored epistle in the Bible by Protestants (along with the Epistle of James). They are consistently explained away in their literal import to support Protestant systematic theology rather than Protestants conforming their beliefs to the literal words of Scripture. (A point that this author demonstrates meticulously in his essays on the Real Presence, Justification by Faith, and other projects.) St. Peter warns that no prophecy of Scripture is made by private interpretation and that it is holy men of God moved by the Holy Spirit who interpret Holy Writ for the faithful. This would logically apply only in situations of controversy but it has to apply at some level for Peter warns of lying teachers and false prophets who would lead people astray by speaking evilly of the truth. The best way to speak evilly of the truth is to take the truth and pervert it for after all "one man perverts the Scriptures by his hand, another by his exposition" (Tertullian: De Praescripto). Consequently, the Scripture are twisted to the destruction of the unlearned and unstable: a very serious and usually unheeded warning among our Protestant brethren (especially among Evangelicals and Fundamentalists). Those who would ignore the holy men of God moved by the Holy Spirit are not stable individuals regardless of their degree of learning. In addition, Protestant methods of discernment at their core are question begging because in every case the claim that "we follow authorities as long as they teach in accordance with the Scriptures" is made. Since the interpretation of the Scripture is in almost every situation the locus of the dispute, this qualification is nothing but a tautology since neither party will actually admit to be improperly interpreting the Scripture. Therefore another essential ingredient is needed and that is a common sense in which important passages are understood in their primary sense. This sense is what Apostolic Christians refer to as "Tradition".

The Catholic or the Orthodox apologist (or the High Church Protestants) who make an appeal to Tradition are scoffed at and dismissed out of hand by the bulk of Protestants. It is rather ironic since Protestants fail to realize that calling into question the authority and inspiration of Apostolic Tradition is the hallmark of a Johnny-come-lately to the Christian scene. Since tradition is both commended and condemned in the Scriptures, the use of the same word to describe two completely different elements is perhaps not the best use of terms. However, since Protestantism is the late arrival on the Christian scene, it is they who should conform their understanding to the apostolic paradigm and not the other way around. This means making the crucial and often misunderstood distinction between inspired Tradition and uninspired tradition. The former is unchanging in its essence (large T: also known as the Tradition of God). However, the latter (small T: also known as ecclesial traditions) are customs, devotions, or practices which are changeable as times, circumstances, and other criteria warrant it by those with the authority to make them. The Fathers of the Church did not have to make such a distinction as this but then they did not have Protestants in their times which warrants making such a distinction as is done today. No doctrine after all (or term) is framed until there is a dispute. Moreover, before the "reformation" the inspiration and authority of Tradition was not questioned. The rejection of a sizeable part of God's Word that results in our Protestant brethren's confusion. They cannot agree on what the Bible says because they do not realize the necessity of "on account of so great intricacies of such various error, that the rule for the right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard of Ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation" (Vincent of Lerens: Commonitory Ch. 2).

Almost all Christians (Catholics, Orthodox, and the bulk of Protestant groups) consider the groups before the sixteenth century that rejected Tradition as an inspired authority as heretics. Therefore, as the "reformers" rejected this apostolic principle outright, the burden of proof is not on those who make an appeal to Tradition. Instead to those who affirm that every item of necessary Christian belief is contained in the Bible in an explicit manner without recourse to Tradition (the fallacy of which will be demonstrated later on). It is pointless to claim that "well good and necessary consequences can be used also" because these are nebulous terms, which beg the question. The Orthodox and the Catholic can (through Scriptural deduction) point out evidences for doctrines such as the Real Presence and Apostolic Succession. Likewise, other passages that witness to the doctrines of Sacraments and other apostolic distinctives and claim to be using "good and necessary consequences". The Protestant for the most part would disagree of course but that is the whole point. One side claims to deduce one thing from the Scriptures and the other side denies it and claims to deduce its doctrines in the same manner. The whole exercise is arbitrary and as B.C. Butler noted, there are some serious problems with this assertion which it seems that its propounders never stop to consider:

If we take the New Testament books as they are regarded by unbelievers, they are a collection of 4 fragmentary records of Christ’s life and teaching, death and resurrection; along with an obviously very inadequate sketch of the early years of the apostolic age, some letters, a discourse in the form of a letter (Epistle to the Hebrews), and a ‘prophecy’. They are documents illustrating, in a rather haphazard way, the early years and beliefs of a religious society which looked back to Jesus of Nazareth as its founder. Nothing suggests that this collection of documents, none of which perports to be a compendium of doctrine, contains everything that the Apostles learnt from Christ or that they considered important. Jesus is recorded as having told his followers to teach all nations to observe what he had taught them; but not as having told them to consign it all to writing. If, on the other hand, we take a believer’s view of these books, then they are of course inspired, and have therefore, along with the Old Testament, a unique status in the literature of the world. But the doctrine on the inspiration of Scripture does not involve a belief that Scripture is our sole available source of Christian truth. And, hackneyed though the argument is, it must be pointed out that it is by Tradition and the authority of the teaching Church that we know both the number of the inspired books and the fact of their inspiration. Considered from this angle, Scripture is itself a part of Tradition and its claim upon us part and parcel of Tradition’s claim upon us…
I would go so far as to suggest that this exclusive appeal to Scripture, adopted by the early Reformers as an expedient in their controversy with the Church, would of itself, if strictly adhered to, tie Christianity to the written word in a way inimical to the true life of the Spirit. Scripture tells us that the presence of this Word in the world is perpetuated by and in - not primarily a set of books, but - a society that represents him so adequately that it is called the Body of Christ. Christ ‘lives’, not in the pages of the Bible taken by itself, but in the living memory and thought and love of the fellowship of those who share a common faith in him. Part of that memory and thought is enshrined in the New Testament, but it is a living memory, a living thought, a living love, in so far as the New Testament itself lives in the lifestream of the Church, a living fellowship of ‘members of Christ.’ [9]
As noted earlier, the most common and underlying justification given by Protestants who tout Sola Scriptura is the assertion that tradition is incapable of being passed on intact outside of the Bible. From the standpoint of unwritten fixed forms of transmission - be they oral or in the form of church ritual - this view has been discredited by modern research into ancient cultures. The Catholic Church in Vatican II's Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum (on Divine Revelation) speaks of the handing on of Divine Revelation in the following manner (the relevant footnotes that Orthodox Christians would concur with are put in brackets):
[The Gospel] had been promised in former times through the prophets, and Christ Himself had fulfilled it and promulgated it with His lips. This commission was faithfully fulfilled by the Apostles who, by their oral preaching, by example, and by observances handed on what they had received from the lips of Christ, from living with Him, and from what He did, or what they had learned through the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The commission was fulfilled, too, by those Apostles and apostolic men who under the inspiration of the same Holy Spirit committed the message of salvation to writing.
But in order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, "handing over" to them "the authority to teach in their own place" [St. Irenaeus, Against Heretics III, 3, 1 c. 180 AD]. This sacred tradition, therefore, and Sacred Scripture of both the Old and New Testaments are like a mirror in which the pilgrim Church on earth looks at God, from whom she has received everything, until she is brought finally to see Him as He is, face to face (see 1 John 3:2).
And so the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved by an unending succession of preachers until the end of time. Therefore the Apostles, handing on what they themselves had received, warn the faithful to hold fast to the traditions which they have learned either by word of mouth or by letter (see 2 Thess. 2:15), and to fight in defense of the faith handed on once and for all (see Jud. 3) [Cf. Second Council of Nicea]. Now what was handed on by the Apostles includes everything which contributes toward the holiness of life and increase in faith of the People of God; and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes. [10]
The honest Protestant who loves God and desires to follow Him should take a serious look into the claims of the Apostolic Churches about there is an existing tradition since Apostolic times that has been handed down within Revelation. It is a Tradition, which constitutes a part of Revelation. An existing tradition not of men but of God that parallels the Scriptures and in fact is what witnesses to the authenticity of the Scriptures as well as their inspiration and authority in the first place. This is why the very idea of separating Scripture from Tradition to an Apostolic Christian is a ludicrous proposition. To undermine the authority of the Church and Tradition is to undermine the very authority of the Scriptures to which Christian's appeal. The post-Apostolic non-Scriptural writings of the Fathers witness to elements of this Tradition (to which Scripture reveals in varying degrees of clarity) for one of the facets of Tradition is the proper interpretation of Scripture to begin with. Another form of transmission in a "fixed form" is the ecclesiastical worship, prayer, and ritual of the Church. This is an area that (to varying degrees) Protestants have difficulty with and which will be addressed next.

VIII - Ritual and Liturgy:

One particular division that bears mentioning is between Evangelical/Fundamentalists and other Christians. There is often an antipathy towards any formal ritual or "prayer forms" as a form of expression among many Protestants of the Evangelical-Fundamentalist camp. This is directed not only towards Catholicism or the practices of the Eastern Churches, but towards even mainline Protestant churches such as the Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, or Presbyterians. While not applying the same degree of ritual as the Catholics/Eastern Churches the "mainline" Protestant churches do use liturgy, other form prayers, and ritual in a manner that the Evangelical or Fundamentalist finds uncomfortable or suspicious. While beyond the scope of this paper to address adequately, it is an area that will be touched on in brief using some of the work of Greg Krehbiel (who was at one time a committed Evangelical Protestant):

It is traditional in most mainline churches for the congregation to pray the Lord's Prayer in unison, out loud, during the worship service. Evangelicals (of the non-denominational variety) don't like that sort of thing. To the Evangelical mind, in order for a prayer to be sincere and genuine, it must be spontaneous. Repeating a prayer over and over again is the kind of "vain repetition" Jesus warned against. He wasn't instructing his disciples to say this particular prayer, they argue, but to pray in this way.
This preference for spontaneity affects a lot of things in the Evangelical church. David Wells has summarized some of them in No Place for Truth: Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?
But we’re talking about prayer. The first thing I realized was that "spontaneous" prayer isn't really that spontaneous. If you listen to the prayers of the members of a particular group, you'll find repetitive phrases and patterns. This is especially true in prayers for a particular circumstance, e.g., grace at meals, putting the kids to sleep at night, or the prayer before or after a sermon.
It seems that we fall into patterns whether we like it or not. The question is then how to deal with that. Are patterns a bad thing that should be avoided? Are they some fleshly (unspiritual) habit of the mind that we have to be on guard against? Or, are we fighting against God's design -- or our own nature -- when we fight against patterns? (Thomas Howard's book, Chance or the Dance, is very instructive on this issue.)
As a Presbyterian, the answer to this dilemma had to come from Scripture alone, and it is there that I found the solution.
Scripture itself uses repetition. Look at Psalm 136, which begins…
Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good, For His loving kindness is everlasting…
"For His loving kindness is everlasting" is repeated in every verse. Almost -- gee, this isn't very Evangelical -- almost as if it were used in a litany, with the leader saying one part and the congregation repeating the refrain…
As I continued to study this subject, I realized that the Evangelical view focuses too heavily on the individual. It's very hard for lots of Evangelicals to get together and have a prayer meeting, because, basically, they just have a lot of individuals praying. (The ultimate manifestation of this is a charismatic prayer meeting, where everyone is praying at the same time and nobody knows what anybody else is saying.) It's not quite coming together to pray. It's more, I pray, you say amen, then you pray and I say amen. [11]
"It seems that we fall into patterns whether we like it or not. The question is then how to deal with that." In short, Evangelicals have that problem with ritual. Ritual is not bad in and of itself and just because the Pharisees were guilty of overt legalization does not ipso facto mean that all ritual is bad or unprofitable. God used ritual and mandated it in the OT; thus, it cannot be bad in and of itself. Likewise, God mandated certain rituals in the new dispensation that must be followed. The point in raising this area of division is to address the unreasonable (and unbiblical) view that Evangelicals have with ritual. Church worship is corporate not just personal. Before criticizing their fellow Christians in these areas the Evangelical and Fundamentalist should be very careful not to judge by exterior appearances (1 Samuel 16:6-7; Matt. 21:18-19; Mark 11:12-14; Luke 13:6-9). Yes it is true that a ritual can give an exterior appearance of piety to someone who is not at all pious. Nevertheless, a Christian should always presume that the exterior acts of piety of another Christian are genuine unless circumstances to the contrary become evident that this is not the case. Anything less is to be deficient in charity which as the Apostle Paul noted is the greatest of virtues and without it all other virtue is non-existent (1 Cor. 13).


[1] 'Matt1618': From his essay "The Reliability of Oral Tradition" (c.1997)

[2] 'Matt1618': From his essay "The Reliability of Oral Tradition" (c.1997)

[3] 'Matt1618': From his essay "The Reliability of Oral Tradition" (c.1997)

[4] Small excerpt from a dialogue with Reformed Protestant Tim Enloe (circa late 1999)

[5] Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter I, Paragraph VI (c. 1646)

[6] Greg Krehbiel: "The Cheshire Christ" pgs. 258-260 (c. 1999; rev. 2000)

[7] Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter I, Paragraph VII (c. 1646)

[8] 2 Peter 3:14-17

[9] B.C. Butler: "The Church and Infallibility", pgs. 31-33 (c. 1954)

[10] Vatican II: Dogmatic Constitution "Dei Verbum" §7-8, (c. 1965)

[11] Greg Krehbiel: "The Cheshire Christ" pgs. 153-156 (c. 1999; rev. 2000)

Additional Notes:

The citations from 'Matt1618 were taken from his essay "The Reliability of Oral Tradition" were obtained at the following link: http://

The citations from the Westminster Confession of Faith were obtained at the following link:

The citations from Greg Krehbiel's work "The Cheshire Christ" were obtained at the following link:

The biblical citation was originally taken from an online Douay-Rheims Bible no longer available on the Internet. However, the Douay Rheims Bible located at the following site is similar in many ways to the one originally used:

The citation from B.C. Butler was taken from his book "The Church and Infallibility: A Reply to the Abridged Salmon" - Sheed and Ward, New York, 1954

The citation from the Second Vatican Council's Dogmatic Constitution "Dei Verbum" was obtained at the following link:

©2001, "Christian Unity and the Role of Authority", written by I. Shawn McElhinney. This text may be downloaded or printed out for private reading, but it may not be uploaded to another Internet site or published, electronically or otherwise, without express written permission from the author.

To all visitors Grace of Christ to you!

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