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Friday, 5 December 2014

The glory of tradition!

I cannot believe I am writing this....
I don't know of anyone who is more against tradition than myself. I see red every time someone says "this must be done this way, because we've always done it this way." I want robust - which means biblical - arguments for doing things.

The New Testament has no traditions
The genius of the Gospel is that it can find a home in any culture in any age. And thus there are no traditions for worship in the Scriptures.

"But what about 'when you come together, everyone has a hymn, a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpreation' (1 Cor 14:26)?", I hear someone ask.

If anyone thinks this verse is the last word on corporate worship traditions they are making two mistakes. The first is a failure to note the difference between the descriptive and the proscriptive. Paul is not saying, "this is how to worship", he is not issuing a command (proscriptive), he is simply describing what they do (descriptive). The second mistake is a failure to set this letter in its historical context. The first believers had no NT (perhaps a letter here or there), they had no complete and final revelation. For that reason, the church was instructed by divine revelations, as through tongues: that's why Paul includes in their tradition, revelations, tongues and intepretations. Once Scripture had been completed, the church had the complete and final word of Christ which is able to thoroughly equip the man or woman of God for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17): I don't need a prophecy to guide me today, I have God's certain Word along with his glorious Spirit. 

The requirements/principles of the New Testament
The New Testament gives us broad outlines and principles, but by the genius of the Gospel it does not give us any of the little context-specific details that mark all man-made religions, such as pray five times a day, etc.

The guidelines of Scripture are broadly and briefly that church life ought to include (there are too many verses to include here by way of justification):
  1. fellowship
  2. breaking of bread
  3. apostle's doctrine(preaching)
  4. mutual building up
  5. singing God's praises
  6. prayer
  7. disciple-making/evangelism
How these are put together, is left utterly to the culture in general, and then the leaders in specific to determine.

Enter, "tradition"
So elders then must work out how these different elements can combine in a way that honours the Lord and builds his people up. And once these traditions have been established, they ought to be open to change, but only slowly and carefully and prayerfully. Why slowly and carefully and prayerfully? Because unity is perhaps the first requirement of corporate church life: woe betide the leaders who introduce division on account of rapid change.

Tradition is a wonderful thing, it enables a specific church to fulfil its Christ-given requirements to the sheep and a lost world in a stable framework which builds unity.

100,000 traditions
All this means that there will be an innumerable number of different, but authentic church combinations of 1-7, which are all capable of building up the flock. 100,000 good traditions!

Our tradition
At Manor Park for example, we have the following tradition for the 7 elements above; we think it is a robust, biblical and a Holy Spirit directed tradition.....
  1. how do we do 'fellowship'? We have an opportunity every Sunday to drink coffee with each other after morning worship, we meet in home groups each week, we have an evening Koinonia meeting, plus other opportunities to share with one another
  2. how do we do 'breaking of bread'? Once every month on a Sunday morning, once a month at Koinonia and sometimes in a home group
  3. how do we do 'apostle's doctrine'? Preaching every Sunday!
  4. how do we do 'mutual building up'? At home groups and other opportunities to meet such as Koinonia, spontaneity opportunity is there at home groups and Koinonia
  5. how do we do 'singing God's praises? Home groups, and Sunday mornings too
  6. how do we do 'prayer'? Sunday mornings, home groups and monthly day of prayer
  7. how do we do 'disciple-making and evangelism'? Through the home groups and through numerous evangelistic opportunities that we take, whether mission to farm workers, monthly guest services, Christmas service, you name it...
We judge this by the Scriptures to be an excellent (but not perfect!) tradition, wholly suitable for the building of the saints, and faithful to the Spirit.

What if you don't like our tradition?
If someone came to us and said "I don't like your tradition", our response would be three-fold: (i) show us how it fails to fulfil the Scriptures, (ii) it's not the only way to do things, we are the first to admit, but it is our way, (iii) if you don't like it, you are unlikely to change it, unless God calls you to be an elder, so it is best to find another church: we bid thee God-speed.

For a radical antitraditionalist, that's quite some blog!

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