For some, those words placed next to each other feel like a pinched nerve.
For others, they’re like a battle cry for the preservation of your generation.
But, whose right? When it comes to church tradition—should we trash them in the name of contemporary culture, or herald them as an honorable heritage?
Probably both, or at least that’s what I have discovered over the years.
For example, if your preference is a clean shaven preacher in a tie armed only with the KJV—well that’s fine, but just understand: that’s not authoritatively binding, that’s a generational quirk. And, as the generational shift continues to happen in the local church over the next decade; it’s probably wise to let quirks go for the sake of reaching the next generation with the Gospel.
However, I don’t want you to think that I am just giving a roast on traditional, so called ‘old-fashioned’ ideas. Sure, I have trashed some over the years that led me more into a spirit of legalism, than into intimate fellowship with Christ.
But, there are some traditions that I have learned to treasure.
And so, just as I plead with ‘old-fashioned’ Pharisees to trash their generational quirks in the name of passing the torch on to succeeding generations. So, I also wish to plead with my fellow millennials and Gen Z brothers and sisters—let us treasure what ought’ to be treasured.
Here are three ‘traditions’ I learned as a kid, that I have come to treasure in my twenties.
1. A fearful reverence for the Word of God.
I can still hear the evangelist say it now, ‘Please stand in reverence for the reading of the Word of God.’ I’m sure the riches of this didn’t permeate my heart as a young child, but I grasped early on that the people I went to church with respected the Bible. Years later, now as a 28 year old seminary student who ministers in a local church, I’m plumbing the depths of this tradition. It drives my preparation for preaching. It causes me to tremble as I approach the pulpit to proclaim the truths therein. It causes me to set my alarm early in the morning just so I can read it in the still quietness of the day’s early hours. It’s what presses me to devote much effort in cramming as many verses into my mind to be committed to memory. Even more, In ways God used it to instill an unique Chanel desire to preach and proclaim it.
I’ve thought about standing the next time the Bible is read. Some of the kids around me probably wouldn’t have a clue what I was doing. Perhaps it will resurrect the tradition. I hope it does. I’m so thankful for the little country church that taught me respect the Bible at a young age. For ultimately, God has used this peculiar tradition to show me the depths of His precious treasures over the previous years.
2. The richness of the hymnal.
I recently told a friend, “I just don’t get the premise of the so-called worship wars. I think it’s absolutely stupid that people get involved with that.” I stand by that statement—even if you disagree, but I plead you to at least hear my reason.
For all those who want to scrap the hymnal, you need to learn to treasure it. And, for all those who want to scrap all the contemporary music, you need to get over it and listen to the lyrics being proclaimed. [Disclaimer: I am aware that some contemporary music proclaims lyrics that are not consistent with biblical truth. I’m not advocating for those songs, but for the genre of contemporary Christian at large which does have songs that are biblically faithful in the lyrical content.]
Here’s my suggestion. You need both! Oh brother, there are few songs that herald the majestic greatness of God as does Luther’s A mighty fortress is our God (1529), and I am unable to find a tune that rejoices over the sovereign Grace of Jesus as does Augustus Toplady’s Rock Of Ages (1763). At the same time, is it not wonderful to sing about the Lord who is the King of my heart (2017) and about the love that ran red for sinners (2014)?
You see, if you will pay attention, what I think is most often the major difference between old songs and new songs is that matter of transcendence versus immanence. God beyond us and God amongst us. While the hymnals tend to herald the majesty of God, the contemporary songs tend to rejoice over His closeness made available to His people through Jesus Christ. From this perspective I find reasons to sing both, melodic hymnals and contemporary jams, to the praise of His glorious Name and grace. And so, I’m thankful for the tradition of singing hymns that I was raised in. We could have sang some more contemporary songs, sure. But, I ain’t mad about the hymns.
To those who trash the hymnal, I plead with you—don’t. Get an old hymnal, sit down in the worship space at your church, and begin to read through the thoughts of those who came before us. I suspect you will discover a rich resource of theology just oozing in deep adoration for the Lord. I suspect, if you actually would sit down and read a hymnal, and stop worrying about the pace of the drums, then you would learn to treasure that which you wanted to trash.
3. A constant fellowship.
Sometimes, I think we just got together with folks for the sake of getting together.
You know what I mean? It wasn’t business. It wasn’t technically “church” related, even though everyone involved belonged to the church. There was no agenda, no aim, and no ulterior motive. We just got together with the people of God that we are going to spend an eternity with.
In today’s fast-paced, I’m too busy for that, shut-my-garage-door-culture, I think we can really learn from this tradition. And, can I just add this? After a year-long pandemic where I’ve been told by all kinds of people that it’s just not a good idea to get together with my church family—I’m over that. I understand, it was for precautions and I respect that, but this year has reawakened and renewed my sense of the importance of Christian fellowship. I love the church I serve at, the people here are absolutely amazing; they have loved on, rejoiced with, cared for, wept with, and watched over my little growing family in a God honoring way that I will never forget. It’s not a chore for me to fellowship with them, I love to fellowship with them.
Though the last year has reawakened the importance of this practice in my heart, I can’t deny that the foundation wasn’t being laid through all the fellowship hall meals, potlucks, holiday dinner, every Sunday trips to the Mexican restaurant, and all the other countless times that we just got together. Good memories. And, over time I have come to treasure the tradition of a constant fellowship that has been passed down to me.
I understand why some younger folk look like they have a pinched nerve when they hear the word: tradition. But brothers and sisters, as a 28 year-old minister, I not only say that some traditions are worth treasuring—but I will go one step further. I pray that I also teach succeeding generations to treasure them too!
So, which ones should we trash or treasure?
The criteria for my evaluation of traditions is focused on what the so-called tradition emphasizes. If the tradition leads me to exalt in Christ, then I embrace it. If the tradition is about man, then I count it as manure. If it’s tied to truth then I treasure it, but if it taunts grace, then I trash it.
Make it your aim to glory in the grace of Jesus and the traditions you should trash will reek. Make it your aim to honor the Lord and the traditions you should treasure will shine like gold in your heart.
Soli Deo Gloria.