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Church traditions

There’s a saying that in an Anglican Church something becomes a tradition if it has been done four times—and then it is nearly impossible to change. All churches have traditions, even those who maintain that they have free-flowing worship. Indeed, the structure in some “contemporary” churches is even more rigid, and the words even more repetitive, than those in many “traditional” churches. There certainly is something good in orderly worship. The Apostle Paul was concerned that speaking in tongues was leading to chaotic gatherings that did not lift up the whole congregation and did not bring glory to God. He therefore counselled the Church in Corinth to conduct their services more orderly (1 Corinthians 14).

A Priest’s Handbook states that “liturgical celebration implies order if it is to be faithful in proclaiming the unity of celebration. Chaos does not celebrate. Chaos says ‘no’ to God. Likewise, spontaneity that is not grounded in the Incarnate Word is meaningless, for it is through the Word that ordered creation came into being and is redeemed in the fullness of time. Liturgy which does not seek to celebrate the glory and perfection of God is not true celebration.” That is a particular view of liturgy and worship, which is probably more prevalent in the high church tradition.

I think somewhat more highly of spontaneity and do accept that not everything has to be ordered. God can speak to us in ordered and spontaneous moments; we can respond to God in ordered or spontaneous ways. We all experience those moments differently.

The extent to which we follow traditions is not as important as following Jesus. Being disciples of Jesus in this world and joining with others to celebrate God’s goodness and being encouraged together is the important part. Traditions may help or hinder. In traditions we can recognise the rich gifts we have received from those who have walked in faith before us, but also sometimes limiting, meaningless rituals.

We all, as the Church and individuals, are endangered by nominalism—that we continue with Christian symbols and words, but without our faith having life-changing effects. Throughout our life we often go through phases when we just drift along, when we are close to nominalism; but hopefully we also experience times when we are more passionate about the good news of Jesus.

Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.