I am in the Doctor of Ministry degree program at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Last summer, one class was taught by Dr Andrew Purves, a Presbyterian from Scotland who is quite the scholar in Patoral Theology and, with Thomas Oden, one of the few in that discipline defending the "classic tradition."
Dr Purves was surprised (as was the Episcopalian priest in our class) when I and another man reacted vociferously to this statement in Purves' magnum opus: "Philipp Melanchthon, the German reformer, called these secondary doctrines adiaphora..." (Purves, Reconstructing, p. 17) Our claim was that the term adiaphora had nothing to do with a division within doctrine, but rather addressed issues related to church/state relations and liturgical ceremony.
Clearly, other protestants have learned a different definition than we Lutherans. If we should slide into the scholasticism of "primary" and "secondary" doctrines, or "eseential" and "non-essential" doctrines, we would never think of using a term that means "things indifferent" to describe those so-called "secondary" or "non-essential" doctrines. Yet it shows how a word can be picked up, redefined, and then put back into service in a way that is (a) contrary to its original use and (b) unrecognizable to those who first used it (in this case, Melachthon and the other Lutheran confessors).
I was reminded of this friendly academic exchange when I read, in one of the comments on my blog, a statement by a gentleman who quoted this statement from the Tractate: "No one should... burden the church with traditions, nor let anybody's authority count for more than the Word of God."
The context makes it quite clear that Melanchthon's use of ecclesiam traditionibus (ecclesiastical or churchly traditions) refers to regional customs rather than to the Tradition and, in fact, to innovative traditions; and furthermore, that Melanchthon is not opposing Tradition to the Scriptures but rather these innovative regional customs to the faith once delivered. It's Melanchthon's student, Martin Chemnitz, who helps us see these distinctions.
My point then is simply this: Just like this summer with the word adiaphora, so the word "traditions" has been picked up, redefined, and then put back into service by this gentlemen in a way that is (a) contrary to its original use and (b) unrecognizable to those who first used it (once again, Melachthon).