1 Corinthians 11:2
Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.
Our culture has institutionalized the tradition of anti-traditionalism. Yesterday’s clothes are outmoded; yesterday’s ideas are prehistoric. Each new generation is expected to originate something totally new. Beanie babies have come and gone; Tickle me Elmos have lost their flare; and Cabbage Patch dolls are a long forgotten craze.
Unfortunately the Church has imbibed much of this cultural food. A couple weeks ago Steve was kind enough to pass along a Religion piece from the Wall Street Journal on the experience of one Trinity Church in Connecticut. Trinity was founded by folks who were dissatisfied with the traditions in the churches and who wanted something new, something hip, something relevant. But now, ten years later, they’ve found that they have their own traditions. The Journal remarks that “these churches were founded by people in rebellion against established institutions. Ten years down the road, they have become the establishment.” Consequently, the pastor of Trinity has decided to step down. “You don’t want to become ossified,” he says. “You have to keep thinking freshly on how to do church.”
Contrast this way of thinking with Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians in our text today: “Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you.” Paul praises the Corinthians not for their novelty but for their faithfulness to that which they had been taught. Paul, and the rest of the Word of God, teaches us to value a godly inheritance – to take what is given in one generation and prize it and pass it down to the next generation. To tell our children and grandchildren the wonderful works of God so that they in turn can tell their children and grandchildren.
Popular culture, by design, rejects this idea–it plans for obsolescence. Who could imagine making special note in one’s will of your Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle Collection? Or your Garth Brooks CD collection? The idea seems absurd because these things are not meant to be handed down. Products and performers in pop culture are expected to have their day in the sun and then disappear, to be replaced by another. For this reason, it is critical that our worship not reflect the pop culture mentality, not reflect an opposition to a godly inheritance.
One way that Classical Protestants have endeavored to cultivate a love for godly inheritance is to focus on those traditions in the history of the Church which highlight and exalt Christ, that celebrate the course of His life. Among these is Pentecost Sunday, the day on which we celebrate that Christ poured out His Spirit upon the Church to equip her for her worldwide mission of discipling the nations and bringing all men to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
It is because of Pentecost that the disciples were emboldened to preach the Word of God despite opposition. It is because of Pentecost that we have the New Testament. It is because of Pentecost that our fathers and mothers throughout history have endured torture and death for the glory of Christ. It is because of Pentecost that teachers continue to instruct God’s people. It is because of Pentecost that the Gospel has spread throughout the earth. And it is because of Pentecost that in years to come all the rulers and citizens of the nations shall come and bow before Messiah and acknowledge His greatness. So what better thing to do than to celebrate such an event?
Traditions are not bad; traditions are inevitable. It is when our traditions undermine or distract from what is biblically important that our traditions are destructive. The Pharisees were wrong not because they had traditions but because their traditions obscured and undermined the Word of God. Likewise, many traditions within Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy obscure and undermine the Word of God rather than clarify and exalt it. But the traditions of modern evangelicalism are also destructive – the tradition of anti-traditionalism, the constant tumult, the overthrowing of older generations because younger ones always know better – what do these things have to do with the Word of God?
As we gather to worship, therefore, let us do so with joy, celebrating the great work of the Spirit of God who was poured out upon the Church at Pentecost. And the first thing the Spirit does in bringing us into the presence of our thrice holy God is awaken in us a sense of our own sin – in particular, our sin of obscuring and undermining the Word of God through our traditions. Let us kneel and confess our sins to Him.