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The Tradition Temptation
LIKE MANY EVANGELICALS, I grew up in a church that objected to "tradition," which we associated with dead orthodoxy. A furor erupted in the church office when the new, young associate pastor suggested that the Sunday worship folder contain a minimal order of worship. We disdained formality and embraced the spontaneity of the Spirit in worship. Or so we liked to think. The associate pastor's suggestion was rejected on the ground that printed orders of worship led to liturgy and liturgy was tradition. Some in the congregation whispered that the associate pastor was losing his zeal by attending seminary. The young minister yielded, but he pointed out that he was giving in to their tradition of rejecting liturgy and embracing informal, unplanned worship. He also said that since our worship services were pretty routine, we should help visitors by printing our normal order and then allow the Spirit to move within it.
The associate pastor's argument didn't sway the congregation, but it planted new thoughts about tradition in my mind. Had we developed our own traditions, including a tradition of rejecting whatever we perceived as the traditions of other churches that were not "full gospel" (as we called our type of church)?
Like the church I grew up in, numerous evangelical churches like to think that tradition is a Spirit-quenching fire extinguisher. But the matter of tradition is more complex than my home church imagined at the time, and I have come to appreciate much of the tradition handed on to us from the church's past. Nevertheless, I am troubled and remain concerned when evangelicals start touting "tradition" as a way forward in our faith, as many are doing today.
Let me be fair: I recognize that a completely traditionless ...1