All those posts you have read on what is wrong with the church and why we are using our young people have a common thread that runs through them – something is wrong with the way we are doing things and if we don’t make some changes then we are going to die
a slow and painful death to old age. What you end up with is a dichotomy of change and tradition.
Tradition is seen as the root of many of our issues (which has some merit) and so tradition is given a black eye (in many cases unnecessarily). Change is attractive because you are no longer at the mercy of past decisions on how things will be done. Instead you get to sit in the driver’s seat and map out what the future looks like. That kind of unchecked authority can be intoxicating.
There are a few things that anyone in a position of authority (whether an elder, minister, deacon, etc) needs to realize regarding change and tradition:
- Change is not inherently good - Change is attractive but unstudied, un-prayed, un-fasted, un-counseled change can result in complete disaster.
- Tradition is not inherently bad - Traditional can have a healthy impact on a group of people. Traditions give us a sense of normalcy and consistency that over time can help affirm central aspects of our faith. No matter how hard you try to reject tradition you just end up with more tradition. Tradition is inevitable, realize the merits it brings to the table and utilize it.
- Let neither become an idol – The moment we make change the standard (the thing to be achieved…edgy for the sake of being new and fresh and not because it is any more life-giving, Christ-affirming or Spirit-led) we make change an idol that is an end to itself and will ultimately result in a church that loses its way and identity. The moment we make tradition the standard, traditionalism sets in. Traditionalism is when we take a tradition (a practice adopted in a negotiable area of faith) and make it non-negotiable, on the level of authority as scripture. It becomes the only holy way we can do something and to disagree on it is sin.
- Change/Tradition and Authority – Both change and tradition, when made the standard, are wicked slavemasters. They are unrelenting, unbending, and impossible to negotiate with. They take authority from Christ and place it on us…deciding which things are binding and which are not. If you get caught up in an unrelenting push for change…when no old way will do it is a contest you will never win. When you get so bogged down by tradition that you cannot even begin to envision a different way of doing something it is also a contest you will never win and will often result in a paralyzed, fearful church where the work of the Holy Spirit is stifled if not rejected all together.
Change and tradition are powerful tools. They must be understood and used in ways we believe are honoring of Scripture and ultimately glorifying to God. They can be a help or a hindrance. They can be an idol or an asset. The difference is in how we value them and use them and how we allow scripture to inform that process.