This letter appears in the diary of a man who served in the Mormon Batallion and pioneered in Utah and Nevada.
He had written to the First Presidency to request clarification of a practice that he perceived to be out of harmony with scriptural injunctions. He received this letter in reply:
Elder Warren Foote, Glendale, Kane County.
Dear Brother: President Geo. Q. Cannon has handed me your letter of 3rd inst. With regard to the question you there raise, I believe I can best answer it by repeating a maximum [sic] of the Roman Catholic church on disputed points, that, “The practice of the Saints is the best interpretation of Scripture.” So in this case……….Your brother, Geo. Reynolds
What interests me about this letter is that everybody involved was a contemporary of Joseph Smith. It is hard for me to imagine him citing “the way we’ve always done it” as an authoritative source for doctrine or practice. And yet, within a few decades of his death, the notion of traditional practice had taken root.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I think it can often be a very good thing. There is certainly no reason for each generation to have to re-invent the wheel. But it still seems odd for a church that was barely 50 years old to attempt to emulate the practice of a faith that has been around for centuries and had enough time to actually develop traditions. The restoration began as a repudiation of false traditions, and with the promise of new revelation. Whenever we see the word *tradition* in our restoration scriptures, it is almost always preceded by either *vain* or *foolish*, which leads me to believe that our relationship with the way things have always been might be more contentious that it is for some others.
Among other Christians, claims to authority take different paths. For most Protestants, scripture is supreme. Catholics honor precedent and have a strong respect for church tradition. For LDS people, we claim both scripture and tradition, and also add ongoing revelation. It is an interesting balancing act.