Tradition!

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Corinthians 9:19–23, NIV 1984). 

My Musings – Today I want to talk a little about tradition.  To help set the stage, consider the following about the the musical Fiddler on the Roof.

“Tradition,” is the opening number for the 1964 Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof. Overall, the song sets up the major theme of the villagers trying to continue their traditions and keep their society running as the world around them changes. (Wikipedia).  Here is an excerpt from the song.

A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask, why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous? We stay because Anatevka is our home… And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word… Tradition.

Because of our traditions, we’ve kept our balance for many, many years. Here in Anatevka we have traditions for everything… how to eat, how to sleep, even, how to wear clothes. For instance, we always keep our heads covered and always wear a little prayer shawl… This shows our constant devotion to God. You may ask, how did this tradition start? I’ll tell you – I don’t know. But it’s a tradition… Because of our traditions, everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.

Tradition. Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as… as a fiddler on the roof!

The world around us is changing, and it is not for the better.  For that reason, the world needs the Church perhaps more now than ever. How then do we appeal to a world so desperately in need of what the Church has to offer, but who by and large consider the Church irrelevant? I believe there are at least two guiding principles.

  • Substance – We must continue the uncompromising and faithful proclamation of God’s Word, not only in the preaching, but also in the content of the songs that we lift in praise and worship. This connects us to our past. After all, Jesus Christ and His Word are the same yesterday, today and forever.  We do not tickle itching ears with what they want to hear, rather we continue speaking the truth in love.  Substance is not tradition, it is what makes the Church relevant.
  • Style – We must move forward with a style that is attractive and welcoming to those who will comprise the future of the Church This connects us to the future. This is the path that is necessary to ensure that the light and substance of what we have always proclaimed continues to reach future generations.  Hanging onto old styles is tradition.  Tradition will only help us “keep our balance” for a while.  Tradition will only keep our local churches “running” for a while.  Meanwhile, the world around us continues to change in a downward spiral as we stubbornly (and selfishly?) cling to tradition.

The song goes “how did this tradition start? I’ll tell you – I don’t know. But it’s a tradition.”  Perhaps it started when a previous generation unselfishly let go of their tradition for the sake of something greater.  Perhaps they valued substance over style.  “Sounds crazy, no?”

My Advice – Sometimes, hanging onto tradition is “as shaky as… as a fiddler on the roof!”  Like valuing style over substance — while the world around us goes down in flames.  Reminds me of another fiddler.