As good as our traditions might be, sometimes they become a trap. I need to examine some of my own traditions that might trap me. I have traditions because of family, past experiences or denominational attachment. Some of these place God in a box of being a God of “then but not now.” Hezekiah (II Kings 18.5) showed great courage to put away a tradition that had been embedded in the soul of the nation for decades (Num. 21.4-9). I hope I have the courage to be like him in my walk with God.
There is great surprise and amazement in examining traditions. Some need to be kept. Some need to be abandoned. Let me share some traditions that I am wrestling with right now:
• Time of worship service — At one point in my life, I assumed God had commanded that we worship at 11 on Sunday morning. What a surprise when I went to a service at 8:15 a.m., then to Sunday School after that! Wow, I was awake.
• Preacher attire — As a young Christian, I assumed preachers were born in a black suit. They came straight from the factory dressed that way. I saw a preacher the other day without a tie. He probably did not get the memo. However, he preached a great sermon in the worship time. I also heard a superb sermon from a pastor in a pulpit robe. I saw a cowboy church preacher in boots and blue jeans, with a really big belt buckle. Mercy me — what a wide choice of preacher apparel!
• Pews in the church house — The first time I worshipped without pews was an uncomfortable experience for me. However, there is no requirement to sit in rows facing forward. Some congregations choose chairs for worship. They place them in a semi-circle. Making eye contact with other congregants is a good experience for me. This encourages me on to do the work of worship. I like both. I don’t have to have it one way or the other as my tradition.
• Other music instruments — This is a fact of my life — the piano and the organ have always been on certain sides of the auditorium. What challenged me last month was the orchestra in the service. It not only had drums, but it also had strings, brass, reeds and cymbals. I tapped my foot — only one foot — during worship! Worship music is at times acapella. The point here is the worship of God, not the instrument.
• Liturgy — Our kind of Christianity prides itself that we are not liturgical. What happened to me in a recent service was this — they received the offering just before the benediction! What were they thinking? I heard responsive readings and prayers. It touched my heart as we said aloud together the Model Prayer. Don’t tell anyone, but in my private devotions, I have begun to read aloud some of those readings in the back of the hymnbook.
• Hymnbooks/screen hymns —This is a tough call. I don’t read music so I don’t know what those little markings on the pages indicate. I know what I like to sing. I know my comfort zone in worship. There are others who are in worship with me who might enjoy some other music process. I think I might be open to some movement in this area. I know when I get to His presence I will sing, and sing with great gusto. Why shouldn’t I practice that now?
As I consider my walk with God, I’m simply “thinking out loud here” regarding a few traditions that might trap me. We all have them. I am looking at mine. If I need to abandon some of my traditions, let me be like Hezekiah!
Lord Jesus, call to my mind those traditions that trap. If I need to, may I smash that tradition! Set me free! May I find fresh worship with You and You alone. May I find that bonded link with You while it is today!
(Originally published in the June 18, 2008 issue of the Baptist Trumpet.)