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Vantage point


Tradition in the church

You have probably heard this quote: “Traditionalism is the dead faith of living people; tradition is the living faith of dead people.” Both forces are at work in the church today.

I firmly believe in the value of godly traditions. Too many of them are being jettisoned in our current, major cultural shift. But I do not believe in a hollow legalism that fosters only pasty-faced Christianity devoid of spiritual vitality.

Christians need to shun legalism — that brand of traditionalism that would reduce Christianity to a set of rules. Legalism has never done any good. But believers need to embrace the great traditions and examples, passed on by our godly forbears, that cause us to desire to lead holy lives that are pleasing to God.

“Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. … For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:1,13, NKJV).

The Jaroslav Pelikan quote at the beginning of this column is more self-explanatory in its complete version: “Tradition is the living faith of dead people to which we must add our chapter while we have the gift of life. Traditionalism is the dead faith of living people who fear that if anything changes, the whole enterprise will crumble.”

As in every generation, we must relate to the culture in order to reach those in it. But we dare not become so immersed in culture and so enamored with innovation that we lose our spiritual moorings. And while tradition is a good thing, we fail when we elevate the way things were done in the good old days above the church’s primary mission of reaching souls.

The good and godly traditions of previous generations deserve honor. And the spiritual vitality of young believers should evoke joy. Let’s see if we can get the two together.

Ken Horn

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