As congregations journey towards God’s preferred and promised future, the question must be asked: how do they deal with their tradition? Tradition here in the sense of broader theological tradition, but also in terms of their congregational habits and customs. Various possibilities exist, e.g.
- Part of our Protestant heritage is to be apprehensive of tradition. Church tradition, it was feared, might overrule Scripture as the dominant force in the life of the faithful;
- Modernity shames the past, therefore future possibilities and new developments always seem to be better. Progress is the name of the game. To be old and traditional is almost to be backward, and to be closed to exciting new possibilities.
Against this background I listened attentively at prof John de Gruchy, emeritus-professor in Christian Studies at the University of Cape Town, lecturing today (23 March 2010) in Port Elizabeth at a seminar for pastors. He spoke at length about tradition.
Tradition, he said, is what is handed down to us; we all stand in a particular tradition. It points to the Holy Spirit leading us over centuries in the truth. How do we understand truth? How do we built on what was given, revealed to and confessed by earlier generations of faithful people? Our identity and ethos is shaped by our tradition. The ecumenical tradition is what binds all Christians together.
Tradition not only represents the handing down of faithful responses to the Word and the Spirit. There is also customs and cultural hindrances towards the gospel in our tradition.
Tradition needs to be feared when it boxes us in, when it is hindering new life. The Charismatic tradition can be seen as a reaction to us boxing the Holy Spirit in. We will ignore the challenge to our boxing-in at our own peril.
How do you discern where tradition plays which role in the church – life-giving or boxing-in? Certain indicators helps us, says De Gruchy, mentioning two:
- When the church is not on a mission as a reconciling community, proclaiming the good news and living in the dynamics of being good news to others;
- When church-life becomes a closed system, focused on itself, such as the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century. read more…