“Tradition” is the opening number for the acclaimed Broadway musical, Fiddler on the Roof. In the song, the main character, Tevye, explains the roles of each social class (fathers, mothers, sons, and daughters) in the village of Anatevka, and how the traditional roles of people like the matchmaker and the rabbi contribute to the village. The song also sets the major theme of the show: the villagers trying to continue their traditions and keep their society running as the world around them changes. (From Wikipedia 4/08)
Much of what Jesus faced, with regard to opposition toward him, was that of tradition. What Jesus taught confronted the Jewish tradition head on. It was the ultimate game of “chicken” – who was going to flinch first? Certainly not the Messiah, so the Jews, steeped in tradition, dug their heels in at every opportunity and continued to put themselves – their eternal destiny – in jeopardy.
In the US, people do not cling to tradition or traditional beliefs as much as they do in other societies. Consequently, we often think that “making disciples” is a matter of leading people to a saving knowledge of Christ and then turning them over to some type of Sunday morning “educational” structure that is somehow going to equip them as followers of Christ. We give them a set of rules and modicum study of the Word and hope for the best.
Naturally, as men like Barna, Hull, and Hybel** can testify, that type of disciple-making is akin to no disciple-making at all. Nevertheless, if growth in church attendance is up and Sunday School attendance is up, what is being done must be working – Right? The old “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality.
The “tradition” of the Church can be just as stifling as the Pharisees tradition toward the Law, the LDS tradition toward their “book”, the natural man’s tradition toward his favorite activities.
In the Gospel of John chapters 7 & 8, Jesus has an on-going exchange with the Pharisees and religious leaders. For a full week, or more, during the Feast of Booths, he dialogues with them and yet, they cannot, will not, come to an understanding. An understanding of who he is and what his mission is. Some are said to “believe in him” (John 8:30), however Jesus knows that their tradition is interfering with true belief, saving belief. This becomes evident with the exchange that follows from verses 31-59.
I often think that I do not have many traditions. But I do. My biggest one is my daily routine and lifestyle. Disrupt it, or schedule something that conflicts with it and I find it hard to justify abandoning my routine. I can do it, but I feel tremendous guilt when I do. Trivial perhaps, nevertheless, it is built in to my being and I find it hard to be flexible with regard to it. It handicaps me in many ways.
“Tradition” – the world changes and traditions find it difficult to keep up. Yet, in order to be a follower of Christ we are called to deny ourselves (and our traditions), take up our cross daily, and follow him. Both the “denying” and the “taking up” call for discipline and total commitment to the Christ that calls us.
Father, may I be found faithful in my following.
** Barna’s Book “Growing True Disciples”, Hull’s books “The Disciple-Making Church” and “The Complete Book of Discipleship” and Hybel’s “Reveal” study and book.