Wednesday, May 4, 2011


Surely Christianity is transcendent, not immanent.  It teaches us, if anything, that there is Something, indeed Someone, beyond us, and beyond our entire universe.  It functions to draw us out of self-love to love for neighbor and for God.  It is most certainly not "all about you." - T. David Gordon

Gordon, T.D. Why Johnny Can't Sing Hymns, 2010

One of my church music mentors calls himself the "Poster Boy" for traditional worship in his little corner of the world.  In a few years, I may very well be that same guy where I am. 

Unfortunately, there are many people (of both traditional and contemporary persuasions) who confuse traditional worship with traditionalistic worship.  Those of us who care deeply about traditional worship and want to see it go on are very disturbed by that association.  If it's true, that means we've allowed an idol to creep up on us.

There is something deep within many of us that loves traditions for their own sake.  I love the organ intros, colors, forms, liturgy.  But traditional worship is about the meanings behind those forms.  When we say "Thanks be to God!" after the Word is read, are we just saying it because it's what we've always said and we like saying it?  Or are we saying it because it is comes from the overflow of a heart flooded with thankfulness to God for the Word and work of Christ?  See what I mean?

But if we get too attached to the traditions themselves instead of the meaning behind it, we run a real danger of become traditionalistic.  That's a point at which traditional worshipers can easily slip into an "it's all about me" mindset.  We get wrapped up in ourselves, which, actually, is one of the biggest hindrances to true, engaged worship.

There is one hymn (really a gospel song) I completely loathe.  It also happens to be one of the most popular ones we know.  It is nearly vapid of theological content, dwells solely on our sentimental feelings for a "nice" God, and ends up not affirming anything significant about Christianity.  But people love it, so people (not me) still sing it.  (I'm not saying which one it is, lest I'm raked over the coals.)

When we won't let go of the relics, we have a problem.

But traditional worship, done well, points to the meaning, or rather the person, behind the tradition.  It's not about the tradition itself, the relics, which can veil a cold heart and soul, like a facade that hides spiritual bankruptcy.  Yes, tradition, or rather traditionalism, can become a spiritual roadblock, as can anything else that is done for the sake of doing it.

If the meanings behind these traditions isn't what we're celebrating, we've descended deep into a sentimental mire.  When we incorporate things into traditional worship just because they take us back or because they're fun or make us think of our momma, we're not doing it right.

It grieves me deeply when I hear someone refer to traditional services as being for "old people."  It's not.  Tradition can incorporate and adopt the best of the modern to its realm.  It's not just all the old stuff.  There are old elements, but they're not relics.  When worship is at it's best, at least.  That's when there is heart behind the responses, the readings, the hymns. 

And worship happens when a heart and mind, both dedicated to God's glory, meet.


  1. Someone has said that the difference between tradition and traditionalism is that tradition is the living faith of dead people and traditionalism is the dead faith of living people.

  2. I hope this is a conversation you are having with the people you lead.

  3. John - I think that's a pretty good way to distinguish the two.

    Anon (I could probably guess right on the first try) - It's something I can't help but discuss. And I need to be reminded, too.