“But we always have turkey for Christmas dinner!”
“But we always have pistachio pudding salad (the traditional dish when I was a kid) for Christmas dinner”
“But we always open one present on Christmas Eve!”
“But we always go see Christmas lights on Christmas Eve!”
Whenever someone tries to replace, remove, or reform a tradition, the change is probably met with a “But we always…”
What is your “always”?
Do something two years in a row and you’ve got a set-in-concrete tradition.
Traditions are not just a holiday thing. They are a theology thing.
Tradition. There’s a whole song devoted to it in Fiddler on the Roof.
Tradition. It was the context of many of Jesus’ collisions with the Pharisees (Mark 7:1-8).
Tradition. It has been the context of many of my own church collisions in my early years pastoring:
*Singing songs that weren’t in the Baptist Hymnal.
*Bringing a guitar and drums to the Sunday morning service.
*Replacing the denomination’s Adult Sunday School curriculum with a study of Charles Swindoll’s “Improving Your Serve.”
I could go on…
More recently, and more importantly, I’ve been dealing with traditions of what to think, what to believe, how to see God, how to see others, how to see myself.
There are traditional ways of doing and there are traditional ways of thinking.
Both need to be “examined.” Hold on to that word – “examine.”
First, let’s examine why we hang so tightly to traditions. Why does the mantra, “We’ve always done it that way” fit so many so well? There are two reasons:
1. We are copycats. We tend to follow the crowd in both doing and thinking. Instead of thinking for ourselves we want to be told what to think. “Welcome to church. Leave your brain at the door,” is the culture of many. We count on pastors to tell us what to believe. We follow their words in an automatic and robotic way. Pastors count on people to not question what they’re told. Pastors can have an exalted opinion of themselves.
Be a free-thinker! Jesus told his followers that the Holy Spirit is their teacher (John 14:26). You’re walking around with the teacher within! Listen to the Spirit.
John writes that “the true light gives light to everyone” (John 1:9). Did you catch that? “Everyone” Yes, me. Yes, you. Wake up to the light. Be aware of the light. You have in you the light of understanding.
2. We are scaredy cats. Our world can be scary, stressful, uncertain. Having traditions, when we do the same things over and over – like shampoo, “Rinse and Repeat” – we know what to do, when to do it, how to it, gives us a comforting sense of control and stability. But is the comfort an illusion? A shadow? Is there something more solid to which we can hold?
Let’s examine the traditions themselves – not just the traditions of putting trees in our house or hanging our socks on the fireplace – but the tradition of thinking a certain way, of believing a certain thing.
Ask questions about, critique what you believe and what you have been taught.
Paul tells us to “examine the preaching” (1 Thessalonians 5:20-21).
Does it pass the test?
Here’s the test:
When it comes to hearing a sermon, Paul says, “Examine it and hold on to that which is good.”
Listen carefully. Listen critically. Give it a test. A beauty test.
The Greek word translated “good” (kalos) means “beautiful.”
Does the preaching pass the “Is it beautiful?” test. The test is not, “Is the preacher beautiful?” (I’m glad because there’s not much I can do about that!), but is the preaching “beautiful?”
Kix Cereal is “kid tested and parent approved.” Preaching is to be “beauty tested.”
When listening to teaching/preaching, if it’s beautiful, hold on to it. If it’s not beautiful, let it go.
Traditions are about:
- Priority – what/who is first in my life?
- Authority – what/who will have authority over my life?
Jesus calls us to connect with something bigger than our traditioins. He calls us to connect with love. When traditional thinking, traditional views, clashed with love,, Jesus always came down on the side of love.
Healthy religion always pulls us away from traditions of exclusion to inclusion, from scarcity to abundance, from a God with only enough love for my group to a God for the universe.