The curiously titled Concise Reformed Dogmatics by J. van Genderen and W.H. Velema has become a favorite of mine. (I say curiously titled because it weighs in at 922 pages – though it does have some 2000 fewer pages than Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics!) I was rereading some portions of his chapter on Holy Scripture and appreciated how he described the proper relationship between Scripture and tradition:
[T]he canonization of Scripture implies that the church drew a clear and pure line of demarcation between the time of the apostles and the era of the church. The fixing of the canon implied that in the future other traditions, not documented by the apostles, would not be made normative. It may be added that this also implies that varying traditions must be assessed against the norm of Holy Scripture.
Nevertheless, the confession of the sufficiency of Scripture does not imply that all traditions must be considered useless. The churches of the Reformation also recognize elements of tradition. But these are not norms for faith and life, although they can be expressions of faith, ways in which people portray their response to the Word of God. In this sense traditions are both useful and necessary. We agree with Bavinck that tradition is the means by which all the treasures and possessions of our ancestors are transmitted to the present and future (cf. R.D., 1:492-94). There is indeed a variegated Reformed tradition. There is tradition in our confession, in our worship service, in preaching, in theology, in devotional literature that is nurtured by Scripture. But we may never absolutize this tradition, no matter how familiar and dear to us. The stream of tradition must always lead us back to the source that is normative: Holy Scripture. Traditions become dangerous whenever they are translated from forms into norms. That can happen with established opinions as well as modern provocative views.
My only nuance would be to speak of this in terms of fallible “normed” norms (tradition) and the infallible “norming” norm (scripture). Tradition does have a normative quality, but only subordinately so; it has a ministerial role rather than a magisterial one.
Rev. R. Andrew Compton
Christ Reformed Church (URCNA)