Over the years, I’ve noticed something. People like to complain about change. It doesn’t matter the setting--business, government, family, or even the church. Whether you are six or sixty, change never comes easy. People are simply resistant to innovation. That’s human nature. However, complaining about the lack of change is also human nature. In seminary, I remember several student pastors lamenting congregations that seemed devoted to the old ways of doing things. Occasionally, I have heard preachers in the pulpit complain about parishioners who say, “We’ve never done it that way before.” I have even heard of a denominational official who wrote that sentence on a banner declaring them “the seven last words of the church.”
Although traditions from the past can easily become idolatries of the present, I still welcome a congregation with a healthy skepticism about change. We share some very old beliefs. Every Sunday we proclaim Jesus lived, died, and rose again. If someone offered an alternative, I would be the first to say, “We’ve never done it that way before.” Innovation for the sake of innovation is dangerous. We should never forget what God has given and the men and women of faith who came before us.
Nonetheless, I am not arguing for a faith which is stagnant. Traditions worth preserving should equip us for the future. Like the writer of Hebrews, we should see the Church Triumphant as a source of encouragement: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb 12:1).
Making the choice between tradition and innovation takes discernment. We love and respect our children enough to give them the best of the past. We should also love them enough not to give them our stale prejudices. As we enter a new year with new resolutions, my prayer is that we will act with discernment building up the body of Christ. Then, let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Grace & Peace,