“Don’t just talk of turning to God; you’d better bear the authentic fruit of a changed life. Don’t take pride in your religious heritage” Luke 3:8a (Voice).
The context for this scripture is John the Baptist’s strident response to the crowds of people who came out to him for baptism because it was the popular, traditional thing to do. There is no ambiguity in John’s response!
Traditionalism, what is it? Well, it is perhaps best understood as a slavish and wooden adherence to the doctrinal or moral formulations of the past. In contrast, tradition is the living and active process of passing on the Christian faith and is not independent of scripture.
As churches comprise a collection of people, it is perhaps only natural that congregations tend to develop traditions – their patterns and ways of doing things. However, the danger is that as these traditions get handed down from one generation to another, what was initially thought of as one way of doing things becomes viewed as the (only) way we do things. Thus, the tradition(s) become increasingly ingrained and frequently start to be taught and accepted as a matter of right and wrong.
Consequently, such tradition(s) become increasingly difficult to question, revisit or change. Any attempts to question why things are done this way are met with intense hostility and bitter resentment. Little or no thought is given as to whether such traditions are effective or accomplish their original purpose. When an individual Christian, a church congregation, or a denomination develops such a mode of thinking, they fall prey to traditionalism.
We shouldn’t be surprised that there is a fear of abandoning “traditional” structures in many of our churches. Many people have a misguided perception of safety that is customary – as it were a sense of security and comfort in the predictable. In a similar vein as one commentator put it, a cemetery is also calm and peaceful; there are no surprises there – only DEATH! However, outside-the-box thinking is imperative for a spiritual breakthrough and revival.
“Tradition worshippers” derive their “reassuring” sense of well-being from their regular, predictable routine(s) and habits. So, in a manner not unlike Adam and Eve, who hid from God amidst the trees in the Garden of Eden, multitudes of people today “hide” from God in the programmes of their churches. For them, anything outside of their “religious box” is viewed as a potential menace – even Almighty God!
It’s a very sobering fact that God’s chosen people, the children of Israel, rejected Jesus, God’s only Son, their long-promised Messiah because He did not fit into their “box”. They, particularly the Pharisees, elevated their many traditions way above God’s commandments and had become hard-hearted and stiff-necked. Tragically, they didn’t have ears to hear – no capacity to discern God’s voice. These preconceived notions had been passed down the generations, and since their hearts were closed, the Spirit of God passed them by. So, being bound to the past, they missed out on the biggest event in the history of the created universe.
We do well to ponder the fact that most of Jesus’ harshest rebukes were for these Jewish religious leaders. They had elevated their religious traditions above God’s commands and inflicted their traditions upon others. This is a primary reason why Jesus frequently healed on the Sabbath day. He was using the opportunity as an object lesson to point out the fallacy of their thinking.
Now revival and change are virtually synonymous terms, and both cut straight across the grain of traditionalism. There is absolutely no way that true, authentic revival can occur without major changes, disrupting and reordering church life. A contemporary commentator succinctly put it this way,
“God is no traditionalist. While God is orderly, He is always fresh and vital… If a church can run according to forms and traditions of men, it will run without the presence and power of God … Is it any wonder the love of tradition is an enemy to revival? Revival and new life go hand-in-hand … Let every church realize that the inordinate love of tradition is a great opponent to revival … What many traditionalists really oppose is not change but observable improvement… It is the bringing in of new life and new ideas that they resist so strongly… When a church slays the love of tradition, a major obstacle to revival will be slain with it.”
Consider and Reflect
In these verses from the Letter to the Philippians Paul (formerly Saul) clearly realised from his own CV (before his Damascus road conversion), that the inordinate love of tradition cannot be tolerated in the Christian assembly.
“I was born a true Hebrew of the heritage of Israel as the son of a Jewish man from the tribe of Benjamin. I was circumcised eight days after my birth and was raised in the strict tradition of Orthodox Judaism, living a separated and devout life as a Pharisee. And concerning the righteousness of the Torah, no one surpassed me; I was without a peer. Furthermore, as a fiery defender of the truth, I persecuted the messianic believers with religious zeal.
Yet all of the accomplishments that I once took credit for, I’ve now forsaken them, and I regard it all as nothing compared to the delight of experiencing Jesus Christ as my Lord! To truly know him meant letting go of everything from my past and throwing all my boasting on the garbage heap. It’s all like a pile of manure to me now, so that I may be enriched in the reality of knowing Jesus Christ and embrace him as Lord in all of his greatness.” Philippians 3:4-6 (TPT)