In a prayer meeting this morning, someone related a conversation with a pastor who asked for prayer as he tries to lead his church away from its traditions. Coming from a background that eschews many of the traditions associated with a formal church setting, this is something I’ve often heard before. We say that tradition stifles the freedom that is supposed to be part of the worship experience. We say that tradition stands in opposition to God. We point to Jesus and His criticism of the Pharisees for putting their traditions in the place of truth and love.
Some would say that we merely excuse disorder. Their criticism is not without merit. Most of the time, all we’ve really done is given free reign to emotional incontinence and replaced the old traditions with an equally rigid set of new ones. They permit freeform expression, but deny the value of silent contemplation. There is a place for both.
Tradition has value when it helps us to remember things that are important. When Jesus came and fulfilled the law, he removed the need for the traditions written down in the law. They were there to point to Him. He left us with just two. The early disciples would hardly recognize what we have done with the breaking of bread together that we now call communion or The Lord’s Supper, but baptism seems to have remained what it was, at least for those who immerse. In sharing a meal together we celebrate the unity that comes by the body and blood of Jesus. In baptism we symbolize the death of the old self and the resurrection to new life available because of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection. We publicly proclaim that we now belong to Him.
Tradition only becomes a problem when it becomes the objective. We are to serve the Creator, not the creation. We should be especially wary of our own creations. Our traditions in whatever form they take can become our idols. That’s when it’s time to burn them.
So when I hear someone say that we need to jettison our traditions, I’m inclined to agree, but I also have to ask, “with what do you intend to replace them?” If it’s just another set of traditions, no thanks.