Monday, July 25, 2011

The Sin of Traditionalism?

Tradition has its place.  After all, I'm a historian, so by my own professional training I have committed myself to the study of the past.  Tradition provides a foundation for who we are and what we do in life.  As a Christian, the traditions of baptism and the Lord's Supper have provided me with an anchor.  The faith that we embrace is a "tradition" passed from one generation to the next.  Consider the way that Paul laid out the message he was sharing with the churches he had founded:
3 I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, 4 he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scripture. (I Cor. 15:3-4 CEB).
This message goes on from there to include the full accounting of the death, resurrection, and appearances.  For Paul this is the summary of first importance.  We are heirs of that story, but what if tradition turns into traditionalism.  That is, what happens when what once was done becomes ossified and it becomes an idol that keeps us from embracing God's calling in the present moment?   

While tradition has an important place in our lives, could traditionalism, the holding on to outworn practices and beliefs, be sin?  I raise this possibility advisedly, because I don't want to suggest that because someone prefers an older style of music or is resistant to a particular innovation that I or another person brings into the community is a sin.  Still, Bruce Epperly raises the point in his study of Process Theology, and I think it's worth considering.  He writes:
Sin may also involve the turning away from God's aim at creative transformation by holding on to outworn traditions.  In seeking to preserve a particular tradition or way of life, we may be standing in the way of the future God intends for us and our communities.  We may be stifling the imaginative and innovative possibilities that are part of what it means to be created in the image of God.  Process theology recognizes the importance of tradition and the preservation of the values of our faith and culture, but these are always subject to transformation in light of changing social and cultural situations.      (Epperly, Process Theology, p. 88).
 As we seek to heed God's call to bear witness to God's grace in both word and deed so that the world might experience God's transforming grace and love, how do discern where and when "we have sinned" by turning away from God's aim?

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