Thursday, May 5, 2011

Tradition in Churches

Yesterday, we looked at tradition in meetings. In that situation, relying on tradition can be useful because it allows the meeting to run smoothly even when there are people involved who haven’t spent a lot of time planning for the meeting. This is especially important when the president is elected at the beginning of the meeting, as sometimes happens. But churches also have traditions. Once again, some traditions are good, while others make us wonder why we’re still doing them.

I grew up in a small church. Like many churches, we would take up the offering just before the preaching service. That tradition was good in that we needed to take up the offering sometime and we might as well do it when people were expecting it. The church was small enough that they only needed one usher. He would carry the plate around to the various people, then he would place it on the table in front of the pulpit. Finally, he would cover it with a smaller offering plate we had. If he couldn’t find that, he would pick up a large print adult Sunday school quarterly and cover it with that before he went back to his seat. Why?

It turns out that even though the building is now air conditioned, there were many years in which the only means of cooling the building in the summer was to open the windows. At some point, they installed a large fan at the back of the building. In those days, the breeze coming through the windows was enough to blow the money around, so rather than go chasing the money during the sermon, they would cover the plate. The need is no longer there, but the tradition remained.

Many churches have the tradition of spending a few minutes before the first song greeting each other. If it’s truly a tradition, this may have been going on for several generations of church leaders and no one knows who started it or why. The great thing about this activity is that it serves as an icebreaker. It ensures that people greet those who are visiting in the services. It also helps with the problem of overcrowded pews. A person might not like it if someone comes in and has to sit right next to him, because it invades his personal space. But get them to shake hands and speak to each other and that personal space shrinks because now they are friends.

Churches also have traditions they pass down in doctrine. We’ll look specifically at the dancing tradition tomorrow, but there are many doctrines that churches members are taught to the point that they know what the church teaches, but they may not know why. One example is the issue of open or closed communion. The Bible does give us reason to oppose one and support the other, but many church members are unable to relay the reasons their church believes what it does. The same is true of things like baptism or why we accept baptism from some churches but not others. Church members may know what we do because they’ve seen it happen, but not all have taken enough interest in the subject to understand the why of the tradition. So tomorrow, when we get back to the topic of dancing, which is what started this discussion of tradition, we’ll be looking specifically at why Baptist churches have opposed dancing.

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