Article: “Words About Tradition”

Written by Pastor David Steffenson, Rochester MN  | 

The NALC is unapologetically “Christ-centered, Mission-driven, Congregationally-focused, and Traditionally-grounded”. What does it mean to be grounded, anchored, in Tradition? It means that we have reverence for that which came before us; not mere nostalgia for what is old, or a commitment to the relics of the past. Tradition is that which is carefully, reverently, handed down to us and on to others. Tradition, by definition is an inheritance; the earth, if you will, which houses the hidden treasure—the Christ, the pearl of great price (Matthew 13). G.K. Chesterton penned these memorable words about tradition: “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who happen to be walking about.”

The Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians writes: “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared…” (I Corinthians 15). We give what we got. Tradition is a reminder to us.

St. Paul reminds us that Tradition is God-given, and always in accordance with the Scriptures. It is not our task to reinvent or revise the Gospel Tradition, or to give it an upgrade or a facelift. God commissions us to carefully preserve and pass on the Sacred Tradition, as we would a keepsake, because it has value. Tradition is what we received, in which we find our standing. It is the solid and fertile ground beneath our feet. The Gospel Tradition is of first importance. The kerygma, the essential, non-negotiable core of our proclamation is “Jesus, crucified and risen for the forgiveness of our sins”. By the grace of God we are what we are, and God’s grace to us is not in vain.

Tradition is about stability, not rigidity. Perhaps you’ve heard the spoken words, “We’ve always/never done it that way.” Tradition gives us boundaries. It’s not a noose around our necks. I grew up with family traditions and I’m sure you did too. We always had soup on Christmas Eve and then we attended the late night candlelight Service. Traditions are like liturgy, they bathe us. Traditions are like comfort food, they feed us. Congregations have traditions. The traditional Lord’s Prayer, a favorite liturgy, or contemporary versus traditional worship; perhaps communion twice a month or every Sunday, by intinction, or individual cups with non-alcoholic wine or gluten-free bred offered as an option. Traditions vary. A tradition in the early church is that God’s people assembled for daily Mass and broke bread together with glad and generous hearts (Acts 2). It’s the tradition of many to worship on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. I followed this tradition for 30 years and then I came to Rochester, MN. I now serve Emmanuel Lutheran, a mission congregation that worships at a Baptist Church on Saturday nights at 6pm. We have worshipers that come from a variety of traditions. So whose tradition is trump? The Hebrew Day traditionally (Genesis 1) begins in the evening at 6pm. So technically, depending on whose tradition one is following, we are still worshiping on Sunday, which begins on Saturday night at 6pm.

Remember the musical “Fiddler on the Roof”? How is it that a Jewish family keeps its balance while living in the Russian village of Anatevka? Tevye says, “One word. Tradition. Here in Anatevka, we have traditions for everything: how to how to eat, how to sleep, 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. And because of our traditions, every one of us knows who he is, and what God expects him to do.”

Tradition, staying out of the ditches of legalism and libertinism. Tradition gives us balance. It guides our way and directs our paths, putting us back on course when we err or stray. Tradition is more than imbedded rituals, rote practices and established habits. Tradition is a gift, not a stumbling block or a noose. And so we teach the Gospel Tradition, as of first importance, which is always Christ-centered and mission driven. We embrace Tradition, without venerating it, always remembering that Jesus is Lord. We know who we are and what God expects us to do. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

A Servant of Emmanuel, Pastor David Steffenson

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