Many in contemporary churches brush aside tradition – myself included. We pride ourselves on rejecting ancient practices in order to remain relevant in an ever changing world. We upgrade our sound systems, preach through catchy sermon series, and capture the emotions of those in our churches.
None of that is bad, but I would argue we are making a grave mistake by blindly discarding the value of tradition.
When it comes to Christianity, tradition has numerous benefits. Although you may not find all traditions life-giving, it is foolish and arrogant to assume that those in more “traditional” churches somehow love Jesus less.
Below are some of the benefits of tradition:
1. Tradition connects us to a “cloud of witnesses”.
The writer of Hebrews refers to a “cloud of witnesses” in Hebrews 12:1. This cloud of witnesses is a reference to those who have gone before us. Specifically, the writer encourages us to consider these faithful saints who have endured the hardship of life and finished the race successfully. According to Hebrews 12:1, looking to these faithful men and women will enable us to:
- Throw off everything that hinders us in our own race.
- Kill sin which entangles us.
- Encourage us to run our race with perseverance in the midst of trials and persecution.
2. Tradition prevents chronological snobbery.
The phrase “chronological snobbery” was first coined by C.S. Lewis. According to Lewis, this special type of snobbery is defined as, “the uncritical acceptance of the intellectual climate common to our own age and the assumption that whatever has gone out of date is on that account discredited.” We cite technological and intellectual advancements and neglect to study ancient material since we do not find it “relevant.”
The opposite is often true.
If something has been around for hundreds (or even thousands) of years and people still talk about it, it holds immense relevance and truth for the 21st century. Rather than accepting the next self-help book because it is on the best seller list, acquaint yourself with the classics. By reading classic Christian literature and even the church fathers (writings from early church history), you will gain a deep appreciation for the person and work of Christ which extends across generations.
3. Tradition exposes cultural idols.
When we come to Scripture, we do not come with a blank slate. Some people erroneously claim that we should allow the Bible to interpret our theology rather than allowing our theology to interpret the Bible. That sounds great on paper but is impossible in practice.
All of us, whether we admit it or not, bring assumptions, experiences, and cultural assumptions to our understanding of God and Scripture. The same way a fish does not know what water is because it is surrounded by it, we do not see our cultural idols because they are deeply embedded in our being.
Reading the works of those who lived in different periods of time with a variety of backgrounds will help us see the “water” we swim in. God will use the writings alongside of Scripture to expose the disgusting idols we willingly sacrifice our time, finances, and abilities to.
I would encourage you to read a Christian author this month who lived outside of the 21st century. Below are some of my favorite authors whose works of literature are considered classics. Some are older than others; all of them will add great value to your life.
- Jonathan Edwards
- C.S. Lewis
- Thomas Aquinas
- John Bunyan
- John Calvin
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer