There’s a well-known story about a newly appointed minister preaching on his first Sunday at the church. “My vision” he announced “is to bring this church into the twentieth century!” Someone in the congregation shouted “Pastor! Don’t you mean the twenty first century?” Not realising what he was saying, but wanting to sound confident, the minister replied “I’ll do it one century at a time, if that’s OK with everyone!”
Here’s a question: are we stuck in any traditions of yesteryear?
This was highlighted to me again very recently when I was speaking one Sunday morning at one of our churches. A youngish man had just presided over breaking of bread and, when he had finished, he handed over to me to preach.
As soon as I stood and looked at the faces in the congregation I could tell that something wasn’t quite to the liking of everyone there. And then I realised what it was: the young man had forgotten to cover over the thimbles and the Hovis with the embroidered white cloth. Sacrilege!
Sometimes, we get stuck with what seem, frankly, to be bizarre traditions. For example, every year on December 24 at 3 pm, half of Sweden sits down in front of the television for a family viewing of the 1958 Walt Disney Presents Christmas special, "From All of Us to All of You.". It’s not bad, or wrong; it’s just strange!
Not everything traditional is bad: for me, breathing is a tradition which I intend to keep doing for many more years! The challenge we face is when we find we have embraced ‘traditionalism’. Let me give a few possible examples:
The Bible version we use in public worship (health warning: some readers are about to get upset!). Why, oh why would we read out from the Authorised Version when we gather together?
The day and the time we hold our services.
Our preaching/teaching style.
Our evangelistic practices.
The liturgy most of us use in our services (by the way, if you don’t think you have a liturgy, write down over several weeks what happens when in your church service and note how similar it is week by week).
Sometimes, the clothes we wear to church, or the way we expect the pastor to dress.
As I’m sure you know, the seven last words of a dying church are “But we’ve always done it this way!”
Way back in the dim distant past, I began my ministry with Youth for Christ. The motto for many years was “Anchored to the Rock: Geared to the Times”. I might want to add that we need to be geared to the geographical/social area in which we are doing church as well as the times in which we are living.
This month therefore, I want to make another request to all of us: let’s remember that we are operating both as individuals and corporately as missionaries in Darkest Britain. Many of the areas I mentioned earlier in which we have become traditionalists would not be issues if we were in some remote foreign land where the Gospel had not penetrated! We would make sure that we contextualised the Faith for those we were trying to reach.
Having said all the above there are some definite areas of our lives where we need to remain totally traditional. Let’s make sure that:
We remain traditionally holy, becoming more like Jesus.
We remain traditionally passionate about the Lord and the Lost.
We remain traditionally biblical in faith and practice.
We remain traditional about regularly gathering together as the people of God.
Most of us do not like change, but it might be worth a few moments of reflection concerning whether we do need to change some of our long-practiced traditions for the sake of the Gospel!