The church over years has gone through various deaths. There are three main things that are killing the church of today: the tongue, complacency, and tradition.
The tongue is the deadliest thing that has occurred in the church, but tradition runs a close second. There is nothing wrong with tradition as a whole. It is what tradition becomes and how we begin to view it when it begins to reveal its deadly side.
Tradition is when we go through symbolic actions or thought processes that have been passed down to us over time. These can involve family functions, religious thoughts, and even political stances. Traditions are important to most cultures as it maintains the past and keeps history alive. But when does tradition become deadly?
Why Is It Done?
One red flag for tradition is when no one remembers why it is being done. No one remembers, but heaven forbid if anyone does not follow tradition. Tradition itself becomes the ruler and not the thing it is symbolic of. Have you ever seen Fiddler on the Roof? My family loves that movie. One of the lines that stands out is when the main character, Tevye, is talking about the traditions of his religion. “Why do we do it? I don’t know, but it’s tradition!” He says this over and over in the musical number he performs. The meaning of the tradition is lost. The very purpose of the tradition is gone from memory. Then why even do the tradition? The reason a tradition is started especially for cultural or religious purposes is for very specific reasons and the tradition is to remember it. For a Jew, the Passover Feast is to remember the last plague on Egypt and the exodus that occurred shortly afterwards. If no one remembers why there is lamb, why there are bitter herbs, and why there is unleavened bread, why even have the Passover? The intent of the meal was not to get together with friends and get drunk. The purpose was to remember a miracle and a blessing.
Another warning of tradition becoming deadly is when the tradition supercedes anything else. When a person is in the hospital dying of cancer, do you insist on still having the holiday meal at their house just because it always has been? My mother had a chance to help those that were homeless the year my father passed away. She went down to a soup kitchen and helped out. My sisters were all upset because Thanksgiving was not the same. It had to be at her house. The thought that someone was giving of their time to help those in need was pushed to the back. Tradition had to be upheld. My husband’s grandmother had to have the family gathering on Christmas Eve. Once many in the family began to get married, other family’s traditions had to be accounted for. Compromises were made. To her that was unacceptable. Tradition had it at her house on Christmas Eve; therefore, everyone else was to change their traditions. Relationships were damaged.
Traditions can be fun to create. My family has a tradition of hanging out with my husband’s parents on New Year’s. We watch movies all night, eat boiled shrimp, and an absolutely delicious cheesecake. We have done this for sixteen years. That is our tradition. But what if someone needed us on that night? Would we be willing to change our night for an emergency? Yes. The tradition is fun and we always look forward to it, but the world will not end if the tradition is not upheld.
How Tradition Kills
How do traditions kill the church? By the church refusing to change or compromise on them. As I stated earlier, traditions are usually created for a particular purpose. It is usually done to remember an event, a person, or to keep a family or culture connected. I also mentioned the Jewish Passover as an example. What if something happened that prevented them from celebrating on that day? Maybe it was a natural disaster. Something came up that absolutely prevented the feast from occurring. Will the world end? Is everyone going to hell now? No. In fact, this very situation is addressed by God in the Bible.
In 2 Chronicles chapter 30, there is a recounting of a king of Judah named Hezekiah. There were some issues preventing the nation from celebrating the Passover when it was traditionally held. Hezekiah was concerned that the feast had been neglected in the past and not carried out as directed in the Torah. He called for all of Judah and Israel to come together in Jerusalem to observe the Passover as it had been done in the past. His thoughts ran along the theme of better late than never. When the actual feast occurred, not all the rules and traditions could be observed due to time and resources. Hezekiah prayed, “May the Lord, who is good, pardon everyone who sets his heart on seeking God — the Lord, the God of his fathers — even if he is not clean according to the rules of the sanctuary.” He knew that every requirement was not met, but the people’s hearts were right. They were coming humbly before the Lord and were remembering His love for His people. Surely that was enough? It was. “And the Lord heard Hezekiah and healed the people.” It was what was in the heart that mattered. They got the point of the feast and did not just do the feast because it was time to do it. They did it out of love and obedience. They did it to remember the love of God by passing over the homes who honored Him and kept death from their door.
The point of the tradition should be observed over the tradition itself. When my mother was feeding the homeless, she was honoring the true meaning of Thanksgiving. Having the meal with the family at the same house every year, kind of falls short of the heart of the holiday. Why do we have a church service on Christmas Eve? Just because you always have? Or because it was the night before a miracle? Are we honoring the fact that we just do it or honoring the importance of that day? What if we had the service on Christmas Day instead? Is there a law that says it has to be? What I am trying to get across is that it is not the act that should be the focus but the heart of it.
Tradition becomes the law in churches. So many times I have heard people make statements that certain traditions were straight from the Bible. When asked, they could not say where they were located. They are not in the Bible. They are tradition. Is the act wrong? Not the ones I heard, but the level of reverence the acts were placed was wrong. My father would give me “THE” stare when he saw me wear pants to church on Wednesday night. He did not go as far as thinking that my soul was in danger, but I knew many who would think that. Not everyone owns a dress or a suit today. Financial situations sometimes do not allow that. Is the tradition of wearing our Sunday best to be so enforced that we exclude all those that cannot afford something better? The heart of the tradition was to “clean” ourselves inside and out and come before the Lord. Would the Lord prefer us to be clean only on the outside or is He more concerned about the inside? (In no way am I saying that any outfit goes. Modesty and discretion should be observed in or out of the church building.)
Tradition. Does it rule the church or does Christ? Does the tradition cause conflict and complacency? Or is the tradition observed in the manner intended by looking at the heart of it? When the act takes precedence over the heart, tradition is wearing the death mask.
How do you overcome the deadly aspects of tradition? By no means, do you throw out all traditions. They were created for a purpose and the heart of it should not be disregarded. When you are faced with tradition, ask yourself why you are doing it. If you do not know, look into. Maybe the tradition needs to be changed slightly to be more reflective and better understood in today’s world. Maybe the people involved need to re-educated on what it all stands for. When you are faced with altering the tradition, do you go into a panic attack? If so, reflect within yourself why this tradition is so important to you. If God asked you to change the tradition, would you fight Him on it? Then the tradition has become deadly. Re-evaluate your traditions before they corrupt. Traditions are not bad, it is only what we do with that destroys.