Here is a warning that is worth taking to heart: "Beware of establishing traditions in the Kingdom of God." Why? Because God is the only being in all of History that is the "I Am." Everything else is "i am." As a Pastor who serves in a Wesleyan-Methodist denomination, I've seen how great moves of God in the past become monuments in the present. I have seen people passionately defend traditions more than faith itself. I have heard language that treats methods from the first Methodist movement as if they were more sacred than scripture, and more desirous than the very presence of God.
All traditions begin as powerful experiences:
Consider the hymns. If you were to investigate the stories behind them you would discover that the authors of those songs were inspired through deep pain, great joy, passionate experiences, revival fire, and the like. People were touched in the moment and the song caught on. From that moment, of a soul being stirred by a particular experience and the expression of that experience, the human tendency is to reproduce that experience over and over again.
All traditions are fed by seeking repetitive blessings from old wine and old wine skins.
Once the fire is birthed in our hearts from a particular experience we seek to make it a tradition. Like an addict we seek to relive the same-old-high over and over again. The problem is, we're seeking the "high" from something "low." We're seeking a spiritual experience from earthly things.
Manifestations of God's Movements are Evidence of True Spirituality, but not spiritual in and of themselves.
The hymn is only the manifestation of a spiritual work in the heart of the author. Every form flows out of an encounter with God. The encounter is not in the form, the encounter is with God Himself. Because of this truth, all Christians must be careful not to worship objects of any kind, events, locations, people, art-forms and the like.
If a person knows God ... really, truly knows God... worship and experiences with God can happen in any location at any time, in any way. God becomes the constant for our lives and the rest is just stuff.
The truth is that many churches have this unspoken rule: You can worship God with us as long as you do so in the framework of our traditions. Traditions are not only old, they are new things as well. New songs and new methods can become just as addictive as old forms and methods.
Traditions cause division.
Traditions in the familial sense, cause division even though many would argue that they cause unity. Think about a newly married couple who faces their first Thanksgiving holiday as husband and wife. Whose family tradition will they honor? Will they go to the husband's family gathering or the wife's? Who will they say "no" to and how much guilt will be heaped on them for not honoring the family tradition? Are not our families worth more to us than our traditions? Is your family a family because of the tradition, or was the tradition just a manifestation of the mutual love you share? Evelvate the love and crucify the tradition.
The same is true in churches. Worship was never intended to be traditional (whether old or new) it was intended to be sacrificial and spiritual.
In the end, the simple solution is the have clear understanding of what is truly important. Worship God and God alone. Enjoy the manifestations that are birthed in the community of faith through moments of rejoicing, pain, revival and so forth. The moment they happen, beware of establishing a tradition.
One glaring example is the song "The Heart of Worship." It has a powerful story of how a worship leader wrestled with their own modern-day traditionalism and returned to true worship. The result? A generation of song-followers who worshiped the song. We must be very, very careful of our tendency toward traditionalism in all its forms.
Here is how we get from life-giving God experiences to death-inducing traditions:
Brett Heintzman is passionate about the spiritual formation of God's people. These writings are designed to draw us close to God and to help us live out of the riches of His presence. It's all about being in the world but not of the world.