Summary: #5 of 7 on Worship. This sermon looks at our worship traditions and how to avoid traditions becoming traditionalism.
In Spirit and In Truth
A Series on Worship
#5: Traditions of Men
What if a first-century Christian happened to come into our assembly? What would seem strange to him?
• He would be surprised to see that the church owns a building. They didn’t have buildings in the first century.
• He would never have seen a pulpit or a communion table. These things seem so normal to us. We see this furniture and we say, "Oh, it’s a church building."
• He would marvel at our communion trays. He would look for the loaf of bread (not the matzohs or the wafers). He would think that the wine tasted a bit watered down.
• Our Bibles would seem strange, since he would never have seen God’s scriptures in a single volume. They had scrolls for individual books, but they didn’t have them all together.
• And songbooks! He would never have seen music written out before. Nor would he have heard anything that sounded like our songs. Their songs sounded more like chants. They sure didn’t have four-part harmony.
Is it possible that a few things have changed since the first century? Sometimes when we think of Paul meeting with the church in Troas, we imagine them all sitting in pews with songbooks and Bibles. It didn’t happen. I want to talk some about tradition. Whether we like it or not, we are a people full of traditions. A tradition is just an accepted way of doing things. It is neither good nor bad in itself. It’s just a way of doing things.
Some special worship traditions
• The “five acts of worship” -- we talked about these last week
• The invitation song -- that’s a tradition. It’s not in the Bible.
• The “magic” closing prayer -- a closing prayer can transform a worship assembly into a meeting of the church. You can do something after this prayer that you can’t do before. Can you show me any biblical basis for that? It’s a tradition.
• Congregational singing only -- you can have a quartet after the magic closing prayer, but if it’s before... sorry. It doesn’t matter that from what we can tell from the Bible and from history is that they didn’t always all sing at the same time, our tradition tells us that we have to do it.
• Removing hat for prayers -- we remove our hats when we pray to God, but we can sing the same words to God with our hats on.
• Standing up for prayers -- it’s a tradition.
• Ending prayers with “In Jesus name, amen.” -- Jesus did say to pray in His name, but did He say to end our prayers with this formula?
• Preacher raising hand and kneeling to pray -- You might want to argue that this last one isn’t our tradition… but it was 60 to 70 years ago. Church of Christ preachers, at some point in their sermon, would kneel and raise their hands to pray. Many still raise their hands when baptizing someone. It used to happen every time.
We have our traditions, don’t we?
Let’s talk about what’s good about traditions. We’re used to saying that we reject all traditions and that all traditions are bad, but that’s not true.
• They help us know what to do. If we didn’t have traditions, every Sunday when we came together, we would have to decide how to do our worship service. As someone said, that would eventually become a tradition in itself. We have the tradition of using a song leader. It’s a good tradition. It helps us to organize our worship.
• They provide a connection to the past. There is a saying that I love: “We are where we are because we are standing on the shoulders of the previous generation.” The fact that we can look at something and criticize is only because someone has given us the education to be able to analyze it. Traditions are a necessary link with the past. It would be very difficult to start everything over again. What if we had to decide again how to distribute the elements of the Lord’s Supper? We could waste much time in replacing something that already functions very well.
“Tradition is the living faith of those now dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of those still living.” Jaroslav Pelikan, _The Vindication of Tradition_
Let’s look some at traditionalism.
• Traditions can bind unnecessarily
18 Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. Some people came and asked Jesus, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?” 19 Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them. 20 But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. 21 “No one sews a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the new piece will pull away from the old, making the tear worse. 22 And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.”