Tradition. Is it valuable or should we discard it in favor of the ‘new,’ the novel? In the formation of our spiritual life should we be always on the lookout for the next revival, a fresh word from the newest ‘prophet’? Can the experience of people who lived centuries ago guide us in our pursuit of God in 2017? The answer to both of those questions is yes! What role does tradition play in forming our understanding of life, about God?
My formative years were lived in a revivalist church where we hardly thought of the traditions of Christianity. We were excited by what God was doing in the world right now. The fervor and excitement was wonderful, but the excesses were numerous as each preacher tried to find some ‘new word.’ Many spun off into speculative even silly error.
When I speak with those who were raised in churches that were locked into tradition a common complaint is about practices that made the Gospel hard to understand, obscured by words and in forms of another era.
Without the benefit of tradition, those things learned by previous generations and passed down to us, we have to start from the beginning, making many of the same errors, rebuilding many of the same arguments. We can gain much from the collective wisdom of our fathers. Without a fresh experience of God’s Presence in our lives, our faith will die, becoming ritualistic, disconnected from the daily choices that we face.
The inspired Word tells us to “Stop at the crossroads and look around. Ask for the old, godly way, and walk in it. Travel its path, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Jeremiah 6:16, NLT) At the same time, God reminds us that “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NLT) We are informed by those who walked with God in the past, and the Spirit is doing a fresh, new work in us today. We both forget the wisdom of the Church and lock ourselves into the past to our peril.
The strength and weakness of our American way of life is our love of the new, our common failure to appreciate the wisdom of the past. We are enamored with youth, giving scant value to old. Remember that famed slogan of the 1960’s that told the hip generation – “Never trust anyone over 30.”? Those who adopted it as their own threw away traditions and values of their parents. America plunged headlong into the chaotic social revolution that has brought us the confusion in which we are living a half century later. What might the world look like with new respect for the wisdom of the past matched with the innovations that a new generation brings?
As Christians, we must marry what our fathers learned, gleaning from their experience, while seeking God for His revelation for our time. Here is a word from the Word addressing both veteran Christians and those new to faith. May God help us to find the Truth.
“I am writing to you who are mature in the faith because you know Christ, who existed from the beginning.
I am writing to you who are young in the faith because you have won your battle with the evil one.
I have written to you who are God’s children because you know the Father.
I have written to you who are mature in the faith because you know Christ, who existed from the beginning.
I have written to you who are young in the faith because you are strong.
God’s word lives in your hearts, and you have won your battle with the evil one.” (1 John 2:12-14, NLT)
Father, teach us to be grateful for those who have gone before us
And to look eagerly to what You would do in our time.
Make us wise and yet ready to continue to learn of new ways of faith.
Make the Way clear. Steady us.
May we leave a clear path for those who come after us.
In Jesus’ Name. Amen