Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Is tradition a stumbling block to growth?

It is always interesting to see what the crazy new style of uniform the Oregon Ducks football team comes out with. The helmets they wore at the Rose Bowl were wild, very futuristic.  The Ducks have worn 12 different uniform combinations in 12 games and 7 different helmet styles.  I guess they took the "uniform" out of their uniforms. And it is catching on with other teams. I hadn't given much thought of it being anything more than a Nike commercial for their gear. I'm more of a traditionalist because I'm not crazy about them. I didn’t like it when my alma mater, Baylor, started wearing different uniforms other than their traditional green and gold.

However, I’m told that this is more than about innovative uniforms; it represents a movement in college football to forsake tradition in the name of winning. The theory is that teams focusing a lot on tradition and keeping the status quo like Penn State and Texas A&M actually are at a disadvantage. The logic is that tradition focuses on the status quo, not changing, and to get better we must change. Progress demands change, which tradition disdains. The Ducks and other teams that follow suit are forgoing tradition to focus more on whatever it takes to become a better team. The new uniforms appeal to the 17 and 18 year old athletes and actually become a recruiting tool to help them be better.

I'm not sure how much validity there is to all of this in college football. It has helped raise the Oregon program to a high level.  But it got me thinking about tradition and the church and whether or not tradition can hinder us as individuals and churches to be what God wants us to be and do.

There certainly has been a great tension in the church throughout the ages between tradition and progress. The Catholic Church has gone so far as to elevate tradition equal to scripture in forming doctrine. While the protestant denominations don’t take it to that extent, most all embrace tradition and have a difficult time with any sort of change.
Could this focus on tradition actually hurt believers and keep us from being all God wants us to be and do? Is tradition a stumbling block? Hebrews 12:1

My thoughts:
1) Tradition helps us remember what is important and plays a key role in instilling in us our faith and values. It is what unites the Jews and helps them remember what God has done for them. The Lord's Supper is one of our traditions that help us "remember" what Jesus has done for us.

2) Tradition can hinder our growth when we place an inordinate amount of time on it. God's work in our lives includes justification (past), sanctification (present) and glorification (present and future). I believe the church has been set back because of an obsession more with the past than the present and yes, individuals have suffered much because of it. Even today Christians have a tendency to want to study more than apply the word. We can easily get caught up with the past and even the future while neglecting the present.

3) If we use tradition to help educate, instill, and celebrate our purpose and our values and give the right amount of time and emphasis to it, this will free us up to be flexible when it comes to determining the path to accomplishing our purpose. Our methods can and need to be dynamic in this ever-changing world in order to best make disciples. The church has lost ground in its purpose of making disciples and in order to be the influence it should be in this world, there needs to be a reemphasis and refocus on how best to accomplish that purpose.  As Hebrews 12 states, our focus should be on Jesus.  My thought is not the Jesus on the cross, but the Jesus who is alive in us, working to make us like him.

Your thoughts?


Daniel Camaforte said...

A tradition is basically a condensed solution that is repeated and adopted due to it's success on handling all sorts of complex issues and pratices, considering Its cultural relevance influence and correspondence. Make something new is not necessarily the best thing to do. As so it is life itself. we must motivate a racional dialogue between tradition and reality, and, at the same time, we must discern what is tradition, traditionalism and just, as we say here, a "fashionism".

AaronHenninger said...

good thoughts John. i think we need to be more specific on what we call "tradition". the definition for this word is rather broad, especially in the Church.

if we define "tradition" as the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice, then the Christian faith is by definition a tradition.

if we define tradition as a customary or characteristic method or manner, then we have some room to talk.

here's an example, taken from your post, the Lord's Supper is a "tradition" that the Lord himself passed on to his disciples and thus was passed down to the Church, which is a foundational aspect of the faith.

the various "tradition" of how and when Churches observe the Lord's Supper is what i believe could be the point of discussion.

the "tradition" of the Christian faith has little room for variation. however, the "tradition" of practicing methods of the Christian faith has a lot of room for change, improvement and cultural relevance.

just some thoughts...

John Walters said...

Interesting comment. I am cogitating the idea of Christianity being a "tradition". Was it God's intent to make our faith a "tradition"? The essence of our faith is our on going relationship with the living Christ. I certainly believe the traditions and practice of those, help us to remember our faith and establish our values. But my question is, how do those traditions impact my growing relationship with Christ? Can they hinder it?
Do Christians substitute the practice of tradition for a dynamic faith that lives out the word of God in our culture and world?

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