To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.
-II Thessalonians 2:14-15
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.
-I Corinthians 11:1-2
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us.
-II Thessalonians 3:6
Within the full expression of the Holy Orthodox Christian Faith throughout all of history and time and the outward expression of Virtue, the Holy Orthodox Church has often found Herself at odds with popular culture, whether on the college campus or in the modern workplace, concerning a myriad of issues including but not limited to worship and morality. As cultures continue to change around us, many of them will not only find themselves perpetually in opposition to one another, but also to the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Holy Orthodox Christian Church.
In regards to the Holy Orthodox Church, She has always sought to follow faithfully Jesus Christ, whom is Her loyal Husband and Bridegroom, having been and continuing to be guided by the very Power and Authority of the Holy Spirit since the glorious day of Pentecost. And it is on this point that we must place some healthy emphasis.
So often, in the Orthodox Church, we refer to the importance of Tradition within the expression of Ancient and Timeless Christianity. However, we receive much criticism from those outside of Orthodox Christianity that proclaim quite self-righteously that all tradition is evil and not to be trusted, a position clearly in opposition to Holy Scripture, which, as indicated above, is clearly Biblical and Scripturally sound. However, how do we determine what the Traditions of the Church are and how do we insure that they have are not the “traditions of men,” which Jesus Christ clearly warned us about (and which are obviously different than the ones St. Paul are actually encouraging)?
Well, first, they have to be consistent with the Holy Scriptures, consistent with the Revelation of the Holy Church, and consistent with the teachings of the Holy Fathers which are consistent with the other two. For the Holy Orthodox Church makes no argument that favors either Scripture or Revealed Tradition, nor does it simply embrace something like Scripture and Tradition, but it is rather more nuanced and brilliant (as would be the Body of Christ), in that it proclaims the importance and balance of Scripture in Tradition, relying on the concept that both of these necessary components constitute Divine Revelation, both work together, simultaneously, and seamlessly in revealing the will of the Father, following faithfully Jesus Christ the Son Whom is worthy of worship, guided perpetually by the Holy Spirit!
So what does this have to do with the Holy Spirit, the Traditions of the Holy Church and controversial issues? Everything!
Today, everywhere, at our jobs, on the college campus, within our homes and on television, we are constantly bombarded by modernistic ideas, thoughts, and whims of popular culture, which are always shrouded in terms like sensible, level headed, consenting, and prudent. If we include expressions like, “polls show” or “the prevailing consensus is,” we can then easily work our way into discussions and arguments advocating for the “change of outdated and antiquated traditions of the Holy Church.” Many of these new ideas and thoughts, however, in light of the Ancient Church, are usually anything but.
And it is here that we find a fundamental problem as Orthodox Christians in a modern world, the problem of determining whether or not we as individuals really wish to be Orthodox Christian. For Orthodox Christians actually believe that the Church has truly been guided, since the day of Pentecost by the Power, Action, and Descent of the Holy Spirit, and willingly choose to go on this journey with Christ, wherever it takes us. That means that at times our teachings may appear popular (regarding the poor and those in need) and but often appear unpopular (morality and sin). Make no mistake about it, Orthodox Christianity by today’s standards is the counter-culture and has always been fighting “the man” who is the prince of this world, and we will be hated for it.
So why has the Holy Spirit allowed the church to perpetuate and offer certain teachings, objectionable by todays standards, for nearly two Millenia? Well, first, we only find some of these ancient teachings objectionable because the ways of the world are always alluring and the world is constantly seeking to change both how we worship and what is permissible to believe, based on worldly concepts, not based on any Revelation (keep in mind that if the Church were to “change” in order to adjust to popular cultural norms, the church would not increase its membership nor gain popularity as has been proven time and time again by modern Christians bending to every cultural whim, losing numerous, irreplaceable followers in the process).
The reason the Orthodox Faith does not conform merely to modern adjustment and popular inclusion is not because the church is not reasonable, thoughtful, or guided by prayer, but because there has been no Holy Revelation given by God to alter those teachings, which is the only proper means by which new illumination through God may come.
If there were real, incontrovertible evidence of God’s Revelation regarding controversial issues that we wrestle with today, then they would not be controversial for Christians (at least for Orthodox Christians), for we would follow His Holy Will regarding them, even if they were unpopular. If Jesus Christ Himself proclaims or shares by way of the Holy Spirit His Will, we will follow it. Where Jesus does not expressly teach on a certain subject, we always have and always will trust the revelation of the Holy Spirit, revealed by the will of His Holy Bride (the Holy Orthodox Church), to whom He is bound with through one flesh, to guide across space and time regarding what His concrete and revealed teachings are.
Christ nor His followers were ever concerned with upsetting the apple cart or violating cultural norms or advocating against the status quo. Anyone who implies that Christ did not address certain issues because of societal pressure or cultural norms, with all due respect, is either ignorant of scripture, willfully ignores scripture for the benefit of their own argument, or simply deconstructs the witness of the Holy Spirit to the church through the Holy Councils and the fullness of the works of the Holy Fathers (something one is free to do in the world, but not as a faithful member of God’s Holy Church).
It is absolutely true that Christ did not address every sin as some kind of “list of do’s and don’ts” (it seems the Lord never addressed directly the pesky issues of money laundering, pyramid schemes or even pedophilia, yet we all know that they are wrong and stand strongly and vehemently against them). However, the church, by the power and influence of Holy Spirit, has always called certain human behaviors sin and will always continue to do so, no matter how full or empty our churches become. If we, as Orthodox Christians, are permitted by God to understand and comprehend certain behaviors or lifestyles differently than the church has always witnessed up until now, that Divine Truth can only come by Divine Revelation, and no other way.
We do not preach the Gospel to fill churches, but do so out of love and obedience to Christ our God, in accordance with His will and Scripture in order to share the Gospel message, unadulterated. The Holy Spirit, through the Church, through Her (the Church) Bishops, through Her Priests, and through Her Laity, always has, always will, and always must live by Divine Revelation of God’s Word, God’s Will and God’s Intent, offered by His Merciful and Loving Divine Revelation alone! Without new Revelation, then there really is nothing new to teach (possibly a different way of seeing of it, but not a new teaching)! Anything else would be a man made tradition, not a Holy Spirit inspired one, something that Jesus Christ did warn us about.
If the Church sees fit to alter or understand in a new way an Ancient Teaching of the Holy Church, that teaching must come by way of the Holy Spirit through Divine Revelation, affirmed and instructed by the Collegiality of Her Bishops, bolstered by the Holy Scriptures, through whom the Divine Truth has been Divinely revealed. Modern popular and cultural consensus regarding God’s revelation might make for interesting chit chat at a coffee house and can even be helpful in understanding the dominant culture. However, they are not necessarily the tools of the Holy Orthodox Church nor constitute in and of themselves Revelation of the Holy Spirit, they never have been, nor will they ever be (unless the Lord reveals it as something new). If there is a change in the air, it must come by the breath of the Holy Spirit alone, it will be revealed to His Bishops, to His Clergy and to His Faithful, and the church will obey the will of the Lord in love and adoration, unbridled in Her devotion to obey God’s perfect will.