Tradition gets a bad wrap and that is a shame. Tradition, by itself, is neutral…it is neither good nor bad. What we do with tradition is what moves tradition from neutral to either positive or negative. There are many examples of positive traditions in Christianity but like with anything…the same things that can be powerful and positive…with enough twisting can become negative and harmful.
Tradition gone bad moves from tradition to traditionalism. What is the difference? Traditionalism is tradition + binding authority. It is the idea that a decision made years ago on a negotiable, neutral decision becomes non-negotiable and non-neutral. It is tradition seen as the only right way to do it (authority). Traditionalism is a powerfully negative force that shackles the church, suffocating the church in a straight jacket of how “we have always done things.” The truth is, in the realm of tradition…there is no such thing as “we have always done it this way” because by its very nature, all tradition got started as an innovation that, done enough times, eventually became calcified into hard and fast rules that are not to be violated.
So let’s stop assuming tradition in and of itself is automatically negative. Let us embrace the traditions that are life-giving and beneficial to faith and worship. And let us identify traditionalism for what it is and call it on the carpet when it rears its ugly, life-draining, head.