When Tradition Gets in the Way of Purpose


I remember sitting in a business meeting in a particular Baptist church where the bulk of the meeting was a discussion on whether to move the coffee pot/dessert area to another location in the Fellowship Hall. There were two sides to the discussion: 1) those who said the coffee pot/ dessert area has always been where it is, and 2) those who said the coffee pot/dessert area is not covered in God’s Word, therefore it does not matter.  The fact was the area where the coffee pot/dessert area was located was in the worst possible location in the Fellowship Hall. People who were going through the food line were running head on into people who were going through the coffee/dessert line. After a long, tension filled debate; the decision was made to leave the coffee pot/dessert line where it was because that is where it has always been.

The reality is when we get used to things being a certain way and doing things a certain way, those things can become a sense of security to us. If they become divisive and stand in the way of practicality and mission, they can actually become an idol to which we pledge our allegiance. God said, “You shall not have other gods (idols) before Me.” Other gods can include traditions in the church which we hold sacred, but actually have no spiritual value.

Most traditions in the church DID start with a sense of purpose. Many traditions were actually very successful in helping the church achieve its purposes. However, what helped the church achieve its purpose in one era may actually stand in the way of accomplishing its purpose in another era. Pulpits used to be very large because they were used more as a desk while preaching because people expected the preacher to “shout out to them.” Part of this was due to the fact there were no microphones or sound systems, so the preacher yelled in order to be heard. Today we usually stand behind a small lectern because people expect the preacher to “speak with them.” We no longer need to “yell over people” because we have technology that enables us to “speak with them.”

Back in time, academia was considered to be a very important part of a minister’s qualifications. The more academic degrees a pastor had, the more credibility people lent to him. This is the reason many of them wore a robe. Today people are more interested in whether a pastor is authentic, transparent and relational – characteristics that a robe tends to deny by its very nature. In the old days, a preacher was considered to be a few levels above the common people on the clergy/laity ladder. Not so today.

Many years ago, the organ was considered to be a secular musical instrument – bordering on being pagan. It was used to announce the arrival and subsequent parade honoring a secular king. When the organ was first introduced to the church, it faced great resistance. Back in the 90’s into the early 2000’s, people no longer listened to organ music as a general rule. Electronic keyboards became the instrument of the day. The same organs that faced resistance when they entered into the church were now creating resistance when they left the church.

Thinking about these things leaves me to wonder what the church would be like if we became as passionate about our “relationship with God” as we are the “traditions of the church.” What if we defended spiritual truth with the same vehement attitude with which we tend to defend our traditions? What if we manifested the same level of passion in worship as we do when discussing whether to move the coffee pot/dessert area or leave it where it has always been?

Really, what is more important – our long lived traditions or our eternal mission?



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