Saturday, February 09, 2008

Sitting Light to Tradition

Genesis 12.1-4a
One of the problems often faced by congregations in traditional churches is that the church members cling to the ways of their ancestors. They stick rigidly to patterns of worship and organisation which suited their parents and grandparents, who were often members of the same churches, even when these aren't suitable tools for reaching out to their contemporaries and making new Christians. These churches are in maintenance rather than mission mode. Like King Canute, they want to hold back the tide of change washing through the world around them and keep things as they used to be.

Holding back the tide makes a fun game on the beach, but it's no way to run a church and it isn't what God wants us to do. Like Abraham, God wants us to go where he tells us to go, even if it means leaving cherished traditions behind in order to connect with the people around us in new ways. That's the only way our churches are going to be blessed.

Romans 4.1-5, 13-17
In a series of complicated arguments, Paul makes the case that what counts is not sticking to tradition or doing the right thing - in this case keeping the Jewish Law - but being faithful to God. If the Jewish Law were crucial to being put right with God, what hope would there be for people who have never lived under that Law? Yet, Paul notes, Abraham was promised that he would become the father of many nations, not just of one nation. This is because keeping things the way they used to be is not part of the believer's mission. Trusting God, and putting our whole lives in God's hands, as Abraham did, is all that matters.

John 3.1-17
Here John is even more specific than Paul, although elsewhere Paul says exactly the same thing. Believing in Jesus and being filled with his Spirit is what trusting God really means. Of course, traditionalists would argue that they too have put their faith in Jesus and in the unchanging Gospel values which are enshrined in their traditions. But 'the wind blows where it chooses, and [we] hear the sound of it, but [we] do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.' We can't pin God or Jesus down to some fixed set of traditions which we happen to like. While it is true that the essential truths of the Gospel, such as John 3.16, remain unchanged for all time, we have to be ready to follow where the Spirit leads us and the Spirit may take us in new directions in order to communicate the eternal message that God 'gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish'.


Micky said...

I'm always nonplussed by our inbuilt resistance to change. Without change we die, literally and metaphorically. Perhaps when the whole world seems to have gone mad people hope that the church will remain an island of unchanging predictability - if so we are not true to the challenge of Christ (and we are also every so slightly boring...!).


I agree absolutely - with your analysis of why church members resist change and why they are mistaken.