A few months ago I visited a rapidly growing church in South Carolina that is primarily attracting young adults to their worship services. It was an exciting experience and I wrote about it in my blog the following week. That blog was recently published in the Baptist Courier, which is the official newspaper for the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Though many in South Carolina read the article and rejoiced that God was doing such a powerful thing among young adults in their area, one pastor wrote to say he disagreed with my observations. Though I want to be careful not to judge my brother in Christ, his comments highlight what I see as a disturbing trend developing in some traditional churches. I call it "tradition idolatry."
When I refer to tradition idolatry what I mean is the tendency to assume that following one's religious traditions is that same thing as following God. Don't get me wrong, many cherished church traditions are very meaningful and it would be sad to see them neglected. But cherished traditions are not equal to Biblical mandates. Churches must never give up biblical mandates, but they may alter their traditions many times over the lifetime of a congregation.
After all, most traditions in churches were simply products of their time and were convenient ways to do things when they were developed. Times have changed but in many churches, the traditions remain. For example, many traditional churches have Sunday morning worship at 11 AM. That was a time that worked well for the farmers that made up many congregations when American culture was more agricultural oriented. But that particular time slot is not as convenient as it once was, yet the tradition remains in many churches. Churches that forget the point of worship, which is to honor and glorify God in spirit and in truth, and instead focus on the time slot are in danger of practicing tradition idolatry.
Perhaps the time slot is not important to some churches, but what about the instruments used in worship? Certain instruments were popular a generation ago, but different instruments may be popular today. The point is not the instruments themselves, but how those instruments are used to glorify God. More traditional churches may use a hymn book while less traditional churches may project the words on the wall. Both are products of the times and neither is mandated in Scripture. What congregations need to be taught is how to worship with a heart that is focused on God not on self. While traditions may have an allure of "godliness," they are often simply catered to "self" because we feel comfortable with our traditions. Sadly, when people choose to follow their traditions instead of following the Bible, the boundary of tradition idolatry has been crossed.
Churches that have begun to hold to their traditions more than to timeless Biblical principles cannot expect to be blessed by God. God has never blessed idolatry, nor will He ever bless it. Let us each examine our hearts to see where we are placing our trust. Is it in the traditions of men or in the Word of Truth?