Someone once said, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. I so much appreciate what that means.
Many times, younger generations want to weed out anything that feels like tradition. They overcorrect and don’t realize the meaningful aspects of corporate faith they’re missing. Tradition has great value and adds life to the church today. On the other hand, older generations often want to hang on to what they know. Under the guise of tradition, they stifle the Holy Spirit’s inspiration.
Neither group is listening to the Spirit. And the church suffers.
Both groups need to reject traditionalism because it isn’t about faith. More often than not, it’s about control. An older saint once politely instructed me to, “not bring drums in my church.”
Traditionalism is an attitude that centers on the desires of a group of people. Those desires may involve Jesus, but they aren’t grounded in him. I learned that through hymns. Oh, many of the hymns are Christ-centered. And many people have learned that many hymns teach theology and faith. Early on in my pastoral ministry, I asked some people what theology they learned from hymns. Their responses were generic enough to show me they loved the tune more than they paid attention to the theology. Traditionalism.
When most people talk about tradition, they don’t go back far enough.
Tradition, then, is not merely what I used to do that I still like to do. Tradition shapes and forms the church’s faith more than that. It doesn’t merely fill our time. It influences our character and speaks to our reality. We remain in communion and conversation with the church of old through tradition.
Once, I arranged for our church to sing the psalms. The response was not great. Someone muttered the question of where I got that idea from. I gladly showed them the instructions already printed in the back of their hymnal. We also talked about how people of faith have done that for generations.
That also speaks to those who think we have to find new, innovative ways to be church today. Relevant is the keyword. But we don’t need to try every idea and replace every old form of worship and ministry. In fact, the more in tune we are with our faith tradition, the more new life and creativity will grow from it.
As Solomon completed the temple of the Lord, the writer of 1 Kings 6 made sure to let us know how long it had been since the Israelites came out of Egypt. Those who fled Egypt would have marveled at Solomon’s temple. That’s a direct line for Solomon and anyone reading to the long faith tradition from which they came–480 years!
But God also told Solomon it was his responsibility to keep God’s commandments. If he did, God’s promise made to David would be established. So, for Solomon, the tradition of his father and generations of people that followed after Egpyt informed what his faith was to be now.
That’s a real tradition. And that’s what we can use to deepen our walk with God and strengthen our ministry as the church.