During the Lenten season I am often drawn to think more about tradition. Lent itself is after all a Christian tradition. And we have all sorts of traditions in the church. Just think about it or a while. Most of the people who read this blog could roll into any protestant church in the United States and feel like you know what is going on. Whether it is simple things like wearing your Sunday best or standing during communal prayer, the church is full of traditions. And some of these are very necessary to the survival of the church, while others…hmmm.
My wife was having a discussion with some of the ladies from our church yesterday when this very topic came up. They were discussing Francine River’s The Last Sin Eater and how Francine River’s urged the readers at the end of the book to follow Christ and “be rid of our secrets, our traditions, our ignorance and our fears.”* But the question arose, “are we supposed to rid ourselves of all of our traditions?” By no means!
Tradition in the church is ultimately the legacy of the church. Our traditions often communicate our story. And our story forms us. So what happens when traditions differ between generations? This is where the “holy tension” comes in. The church is a beautiful living organism that will sometimes need to move and grow through it’s traditions. Some we need to continue to cling to, as they help tell our story and some we can leave by the wayside in lieu of making the gospel culturally relevant. For instance, in 1 Corinthians 11:1-3 Paul praises the Corinthian church for holding to the tradition of women covering their heads in church. For most of the modern church, we have realized that this is a tradition that does not affect our laity except in helping them to understand that modesty is something that should govern apparel for worship. So the tradition we can leave behind, but the heart of the tradition still has relevance.
And this is where the holy tension plays out in the life of the church today. What traditions do we cling to? Where do we carry on the tradition or look to just live out the heart behind the tradition? This is the reason that inter-generational dialogue and interaction is so important in the church today. Without the voice of the saints, how will the younger generation know how to weigh tradition and truth. We must continue to hold to this holy tension as generations learn from each other and we tradition ourselves into the story of Christ.
* The traditions referred to in the book The Last Sin Eater were traditions born out of ignorance rather than being informed by Christian tradition of orthodoxy.