Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Interesting Answers

The other day I asked a question on my Facebook, "Which Christian (or other religious) tradition are you part of?" It was a follow-up question to, "What Church are you a member of?" The answers I got were kind of surprising. In retrospect I guess they shouldn't have been, given the Christian circles I run in, but they were really fascinating.

Notice that the question asks, "What Christian tradition....?" The word was chosen carefully, as the different threads of the Christian Tradition guide our actions, language, and beliefs as we try to live out the Gospel in this world. Out of 16 actual responses (one person hit "submit" twice), 7 people essentially said, "I'm not part of any tradition..." and then had various reasons after that.

What's interesting in just about all those responses is that people read "tradition," and then mentally translated it as "denomination." That is, however, specifically what I didn't ask. "Tradition" is the living-breathing story of the "Great Cloud of Witnesses" as we are guided and led by the Holy Spirit to Incarnate the presence of Christ in this world (actually, that language shows what Tradition I lean towards). A "demonination" is often (not always) nothing more than a self-serving bureaucracy. While the Christian Tradition inevitably is expressed through institutions (and that's not a bad thing) - what alarms me is how Protestant Christians (and if you look at the answers, it's always the Protestants) have equated that the living Christian story (Tradition) with denominations and said, "They don't matter."

In so doing, we unknowingly become part of a tradition known as "independent churches." Without an awareness of the fact that we are part of this particular tradition, we become defenseless against the short-comings of the tradition we are part of. What's worse, we lose the ability to learn from the Christians of the past. Devotional practices, the dogma of the creeds, and their reflections on the nature of the Church all get cut off from us as we drift in ecclesiastical independence - the "great cloud of witnesses" literally evaporates. Oops.

Dogma didn't drop out of the sky. Our worship practices didn't drop out of the sky. Heck, the Bible didn't drop out of the sky. These come to us through the great Tradition and are filtered to us through the smaller threads (the tradition) we are part of and swim in. We need to re-capture that understanding - so that we can re-engage the great cloud of our brothers and sisters who worship with us around the throne of grace. If we have no tradition, then we have no past - and without a past, we have no future.

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