Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What About Tradition?

The idea of tradition can be, and often is, a controversial subject among Christians. Still, it is a fact that all Christians observe and follow some type of tradition in what they believe and in their forms of worship. Let's look at one modern evangelical tradition, as an example of what I mean.

Baptists, and many other evangelical churches, have a tradition in which, at the end of their worship service, they have an altar call. This a tradition. The altar call after a worship service is a fairly recent tradition, and dates back only to the 19th century. Still, it is a tradition that many, if not most of the people in those churches where it is practiced, can not imagine Christian worship without it.

If you were to suggest to Southern Baptists that they do away with altar calls, I believe you will find that most Baptists would not even consider such an idea. As far as they know, and most of them probably believe, altar calls have always existed in the church even though it did not exist as a part of worship for the first nineteen hundred years that Christians have been gathering to worship the God of Scripture.

The altar call, after a worship services, is the invention of 19th century American revivalists preachers, yet it has become a very important tradition in American Evangelical forms of worship.
In the Bible we find tradition treated both negatively and positively. Traditions can be both a hindrance and a help in our Christian walk. Jesus repeatedly berated the Pharisees because they had “made void the word of God because of your tradition.” Yet Paul repeatedly tells those who received his letters to continue in the "traditions" that they had learned from him.

As human beings, it is impossible for us to avoid tradition in both our faith and our worship. The question is, how do our traditions line up with the word of God?” Are our traditions in accord with His Word, or are they making His word “void” as many of the traditions of the Pharisees had done?
Most Christians today don’t have a clue about what their own traditions are. They don't know where they came from or why they developed. It is all to human for all of us just to assume that “our way” of doing or saying this or that is the correct way. It is also natural to believe that our way is the way Christians have always done it.

It is normal to think that way. It is also normal to be wrong when you think that way.
For many of us, the only “old time religion” we know is what we have seen practiced in our own lifetime. We take for granted that this is right, because it is what we have experienced and all the people we worship with agree with us.

We Christians are in the “New Covenant” and this New Covenant was given to us more than 2,000 years ago. It is not something that began recently. The Christian Church has is a long history and we are poorer disciples of Christ when we know so little of the history of His Church, which is the body of Christ.

Our faith, our worship and our Scriptures did not appear to us out of thin air. They all have a history. There are traditions to all that we believe and do. It would be good to know the history of Christ's Church and when and how our traditions have developed.

St. Paul and Jesus had things to say about tradition, what would they think of your traditions or my traditions? Do any of our traditions make " void the word of God" like the traditions of the Pharisees?

Coram Deo,


Andrew Guidroz II said...

Although I don't believe Baptists have altars, I think it is "altar call" rather than "alter call".

I find it interesting ... the concept of an outward show of faith (the altar call) butting up against an inward conversion. Similarly, within the Catholic faith, you see a debate over the concept of "active participation" of the congregation. Does the phrase imply that the congregation must "move around" or is it about being more focused and attentive spiritually during services?

As always, I enjoy your postings.

Cajun Huguenot said...

Oops. My bad. Thanks for the correction. I will correct that now.
I appreciate your comment, and I am glad to know that you visit here.

Civis said...

CH: You know "Alter call" kind of fits.

I like you post. I think it is an interesting practice to read the writings of the early church (in addition to the New Testament that is). It seems to me that, when you look at what people in the early church wrote, it is plain to see that either much of modern Christianity is human tradition (i.e. not the type to which we are told to "hold fast") or the church against which we are told the gates of hell shall not prevail, went south awful fast.