More on Tradition

Tradition is an important part of our history and social fabric. It provides guidelines for acceptable social interaction and for extending and receiving hospitality. I know that in Minnesota we are known for our long farewells. In fact, YouTube videos have been made which poke fun at us for this. Search online for “How to Talk Minnesotan – The Minnesota Long Goodbye” for a good example. As a Minnesotan, I was a bit surprised at how farewells were made in Nigeria. More often than not, when a discussion was done, the visiting people simply got up and walked out without saying goodbye or shaking my hand. What was normal and traditional for me was not in their culture.

This article is a wrap-up of our focus on the traditions of Lent. Traditions do not need to be the same at all times and in all places. This is a principle of the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions. The intent of this article is to further explore our understanding of tradition in a balanced way.

The Augsburg Confession talks in article 18, paragraph 72-75 about releasing church members from unjust burdens (that is Traditions). Here the early Lutherans recognized that some traditions had lost their meaning, some had been adopted based on erroneous ideas (that were not Biblical), and they pointed out that traditions had also changed over times, as the church canons indicated. Paragraphs 68, of article 18 says that, “No Harm is done to the Conscience even though traditions may go out of use.” Our Lutheran Confessions and theology allow for using different forms and styles in the delivery of the Gospel. For example, we use the piano, guitar and organ at Mt. Calvary for singing. At All Nations Lutheran church in Tamale, Ghana, they used drums and a type of tambourine. We call this contextualization.

The other side to this discussion is to remember what happened in the young Lutheran Church in Wittenberg when Luther was absent. Luther had failed to recant of his beliefs at the Diet of Worms in April of 1521. Consequently, his life was in danger and he went into hiding at the Wartburg Castle for almost a year. During this time he came out of exile only once when one of his colleagues, Rev. Dr. Andreas von Karlstadt, began to preach a radical program of iconoclasm. This is the belief that religious imagery and art is a violation of the first commandment which forbids the worship of idols or false God’s. Karlstadt’s movement then moved on to involve smashing of statues and the destruction of images at the local churches by mobs. Karlstadt also prohibited a number of traditional ceremonies. Luther came out of hiding, went to Wittenberg, and quelled this movement. Luther preached a series of 8 sermons and maintained that keeping items and customs of church tradition was not to be classified as Iconoclasm because, with proper teaching, people could be made to understand that the proper use of religious art as something that could enhance worship without being worshiped itself.

My recommendations on any traditions, at any level—be it work, family, friends, clubs or church—would be as follows. First, make the Bible your authority in guiding you to understand any traditions (Sola Scriptura). Be sure traditions are in accord with God’s will and His teachings. Be sure traditions serve the preaching and teaching of Word of God, and have not simply taken on a life of their own or are contradicting anything in the Christian faith. Our observance of any tradition should be also governed by Biblical teaching on our Christian Freedom and not binding it, as well as not abusing that freedom if those weak in the faith misunderstand our actions based on it.

Don’t prematurely judge or quickly dismiss an old or established tradition. Ask yourself whether or not it still serves the purpose intended. Also, ask yourself whether or not, with proper teaching, it could be restored to usefulness. Still, don’t be afraid to dismiss or change traditions that are misunderstood, have outlived their usefulness, or lost their meaning in today’s context. The message we may be intending to send, by the use of some traditions, may not be the message that is received by others. Finally, don’t be afraid to take on new traditions, after researching them. If they are in accord with God’s Word, and better serve the Gospel (Sola Gratia) and the Great Commission of reaching others with the Gospel and an invitation to believe in Christ (Sola Fides), it is okay. I leave you with these verses to guide us in our understanding and use of tradition;

Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; -2 Corinthians 10:5

For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. -1 Corinthians 2:2