Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The "Tradition Idol"

I recently read a novel called “Outcasts of Skagary” by Andrew Clarke, which by the way is a very good read! As in most novels, the first couple chapters are spent setting the story line and characters. The first theme I picked up on was that the people of Skagary were in effect, worshipers of tradition. “Skagars” were subject to scorn or outcast if they did not adhere to traditions handed down through the generations.

I’ve been thinking quite a bit lately about tradition and how we in the church tend to “worship” tradition. How often, especially in church, do something a particular way because that’s the way it’s always been done? At many evangelical churches, we have a particular way in which we conduct our worship services. Many of the things we do during the services are things that have been done a particular way for very many years. The music taken from a hymnal and was accompanied by either organ or piano. Hymn singing was followed by a sermon preached from behind a pulpit. After the sermon there might have been a closing hymn, such as “the Doxology.” And most people showed up for church wearing their “Sunday best.”

Now we fast forward a few years. Someone, usually a Pastor, welcomes members and guests. After a couple announcements, the Pastor prays as the ushers prepare to pass the offering plates. Then after a few minutes of “meet and greet” time, the Worship Team comes up to the stage and we begin leading the congregation in singing. The music is either original worship songs, or new arrangements of old hymns. Either way, the music is lead by a band consisting of guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, piano and some vocalists. When the music is finished, the Pastor comes up for some teaching from God’s Word. As the Pastor teaches, he often moves around the stage. After the teaching (preaching) time, the pastor often does an “alter call” in which he invites people to come forward to pray or to be prayed for. Sometimes the Worship Team leads in a closing song.

Though I can’t speak for all churches, I can attest to a certain amount of resistance to this newer, more modern way of conducting worship services. I’ve heard complaints about the music style or the preaching style and I’ve also heard of complaints about the way people are dressed. One Sunday, after doing some southern gospel style music, an elderly woman in the congregation shouted, “Now that’s the way church is supposed to be.” I would call this an attitude of “tradition worship.”

Whenever we begin to see attitudes that say the old way is the right way; or the way we’ve always done it is the right way; or the old fashioned organ playing, hymn singing music is the right way; and all other ways are wrong, I think we're crossing over into tradition worship. I think we need to be careful that we do not become so hung up on tradition that we would consider any other way would be wrong. Remember, Jesus said in Matthew 6:24 that “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Look, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t honor certain traditions. Tradition has its place in the church. For instance, the observance of Communion is one tradition that should remain unchanged because it is commanded by Jesus Christ himself. What I am saying is that when tradition becomes an “idol” we need to search our heart and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any hard-heartedness in our attitude and to change our heart if we are indeed worshiping tradition.

In the land of “Skagary” the elders were so adamant about following the traditions established in past generations that they were willing to even kill the outcasts to avoid losing their power and to keep the old traditions from being abolished. I do not mean to say that we’d be willing to do the same, but I do wonder how far we’d be willing to go to keep old traditions alive. Interesting to think about is it not?