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Church Idols – Tradition

March 26, 2014

A while back I wrote several posts under the overall title “Church Idols,” Each focused on a different topic and addressed an issue, or an approach to an issue, which is idolatrous. I promised I would return to the series with additional topics at a later time. Now is that time.

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Much of any religion is based on tradition. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are steeped in tradition. Yet tradition can become such a burden for these faiths at times. In this case, I will address how tradition can be an idol in the churches in the Christian faith.

Tradition is not always bad or idolatrous. Yet the church needs to guard itself from allowing tradition to usurp the Bible, and God, in the direction of the life of the church. The traditions of a particular church are frequently defended when a change is proposed. You can almost predict the objection and argument preparing to happen when change is proposed. There are several typical options which may cause this reaction.

First, tradition for the sake of tradition: “We have always done it this way and we will continue with it because that’s what we do.” This is downright idolatry. It does not allow for change or course correction, whether God led or not. By holding to long help traditions just because they exist is saying this is the only way God will, or can, operate.

A second way we see tradition fought for because of a personal involvement in the development of the issue. An example for this is, “My grandfather started this, my father continued it, and I will continue it as long as I live.” This is not only idolatry of the tradition, but of the people involved. Again, it fails to acknowledge that there is the possibility that there is a better or more effective way, to do the task.

A third type of type of idolatry of tradition is actually a power protecting position. For example, if a way of doing an activity in a church is railed against by one particular person, and they have a key position of authority or leadership in that area, they may be claiming tradition and not realize they are trying to secure their position of authority. Usually in a group or congregation decision making committee, the other people will understand what is happening and deal with it appropriately. This can also happen when someone, including the pastor, puts a new process or program in place and refuses to change it despite its failure, and then there is idolatry of the new tradition in an effort to protect their position.

Not all church traditions are bad. There are some which have developed and sustained the church for centuries. Other traditions were instituted in Scripture. So not all traditions can be idolatrized, but we must be on guard. We must realize there are some long help traditions which are no rooted and Scripture that must be dismantled. The church must get rid of the golden calves of poor traditions if it wants to move forward.

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