The Baptist Beacon
By Michael Adamson, Avon Indiana
Family gatherings have been an important part of my life, since I can remember. Nearly every major holiday, (and many minor ones as well) were mentally set aside on individual agendas as a time when the entire family would get together. The tradition we established provided a wonderful time of family fellowship at regular intervals throughout the year and was actually more special to us than the observance of the holiday. The holiday became the excuse to follow tradition.
Our family, like many others, has grown to the extent that the family gathering tradition of my youth is no longer held in the same regard as it once was. It was painful for me to accept the inevitable change. However, as my own family has grown, I have come to realize the tradition was special because of what we had made it, nothing more and nothing less. It was special to our family, during that time, specifically for the reasons we attached to it. Although we do not follow that tradition with any regularity today, the memories of that time provide wonderful moments of reflection for me and my brothers and sister. But, realistically, those times meant very little, if anything, to anyone outside the family.
Other families build traditions in their own unique ways and for a variety of reasons. Some of those traditions are likely not as pleasant as our family get-togethers were. And, I dare say, everyone reading this article can think of something they do for no other reason than for tradition's sake. If you ask folks why they follow a particular tradition the answer is likely to be, "Because we always have."
If we examine the nature of traditions, we usually find there is basically no harm in most of them. By most accounts, traditions reflect an expression of those things we value most in life. The problem arises when we confuse the reasoning behind our actions resulting from traditional beliefs. This is especially true when we look inside the Church.
Are your customs based on your belief (doctrinal tradition), or is your belief based on your customs, (traditional doctrine)? It is an interesting question and the point the question poses is easily missed unless you give it more than passing consideration. Some might say the distinction I am making is non-existent, believing doctrinal tradition and traditional doctrine to be completely synonymous. I will argue that thought beyond grammatical differences, but we need to examine some definitions first.
Doctrines are strong beliefs. We have doctrines for just about everything, but especially regarding the interpretation of the Gospel. For Missionary Baptists, these established doctrines are the fences we comfortably reside behind. These beliefs govern our view of the secular world and our judgement of the beliefs of different denominations.
Traditions are customary practices. There are traditions for our worship service, the number of songs we sing (and the type), the number of times we pray, the frequency of our meetings (full-time, half-time, etc.), the number of revival services we have and who we call to assist. There are traditions for handling discipline, collecting offerings, conducting Sunday School, and the list goes on and on.
Traditions are comfortable and, as creatures of habit, we all practice them in our Church services. In most cases the traditions we follow provide a logical sense of order to the service. But we have grown to expect that order and there is a tendency to feel dependent on all the dressing we go to such great lengths to provide. Are we attempting to make the service instead of allowing God to direct it through the Holy Spirit?
I am not attacking the traditional service, only encouraging you to consider what constitutes the service, the doctrine or the tradition? Churches have found themselves on shaky ground when time-worn practices, however well-intended, come to be regarded as necessary ingredients for the worship of God. More than one traditional doctrine has fallen when a congregation has been challenged to provide the scriptural proof necessary to uphold it.
Traditions can represent huge stumbling blocks if we do not recognize them for what they are. The battle between doctrine and tradition will likely continue, but talking about it in your local congregations will heighten your own awareness concerning this subtle enemy within our ranks.