Tradition in Worship

So I mentioned in the Tempestuous Worship post the other day that I think there is a role for tradition within contemporary worship.

First of all, lets blow some preconceptions out of the water.

The majority of people think that the “younger” generations want an all new, hyped up, super modern form of worship. WRONG. The majority of people also think us charismatic Christians want nothing to do with traditional forms of worship. WRONG. People also like to think that those of us with any interest in the alternative worship/emergent church movements are a bunch of hippies who’ll run a mile if you show us traditional texts/vestments/structures. WRONG.

And I can say that it is wrong because, as one of all of the above (young, charismatic and fascinated by alternative worhsip), I can tell you that I place a great deal of worth on tradition.

In my practical theolgoy lecture this morning, my lecturer shared this quote from Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, which I think about sums up what I want to say:

Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living

The Vindication of Tradition, 1984

I am not advocating doing things the way they have always been done because that’s the way we’ve always done them. But I do believe that the worship heritage of our forefathers and mothers has a lot to offer us; and we have the responsibility of keeping our history alive, of breathing new life into it, so it will not be forgotten.

No matter how contemporary/cool/informal your way of practising church is, you will be engaging with some form of tradition. The simple act of gathering together is, in itself, an ancient practice. If you partake of the eucharist, you’re using a two thousand year old tradition. If you’re singing songs together, reciting creeds, standing as the Bible is carried in/out, listening to someone preach . . . the list goes on.

There’s something wonderful about using the prayers of people who lived long before you and which you know have been said by possibly thousands of other believers. Re-interpreting an ancient practice is exciting and inspiring. And using the practices of a tradition/denomination other than your own can be revealing and unifying.

After years of the church thinking its not what people wanted of them, there’s something of a liturgical retrieval and revival going on. People want church that looks like church because the thing they value most is authenticity – they want you to be what you say you are and not try to be something you’re not. Church needs to stop trying to be cool, or new, or different and just be faithful to God.


2 thoughts on “Tradition in Worship

  1. Och, I was all ready to disagree with you…and then you quoted Jaroslav Jan Pelikan!

    I guess I’m somewhat biased. I’ve never made the distinction in my head between tradition and traditionalism. Which is bad on my part.

    Although, using the prayers of historical people doesn’t sit well with me. I’m sure they’re brilliantly worded and full of awesome metaphors and packed with emotion. But, would using someone else’s words and not your own feel a little false? I’m not accusing anyone of fake-praying, but that’s how I’d feel if I was praying using such a method.

    • but when you can agree with their sentiment and the words become your very own, there’s a new kind of weight to them.

      I’ve been using written liturgy for my morning prayers since Christmas and I love it. You should have a look at the Northumbria Community Daily Office, and give a try for yourself!

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