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
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.
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