I wish I had enough money to buy all the books I want to read, and enough time to read all the books I might buy. I’m afraid I have even less of the latter than I do of the former.
I enjoy reading Church history, among other things. For a while now I’ve wanted to buy and read some of the works of historian Jaroslav Pelikan. That desire was inflamed today when I heard the following quote by Pelikan. Some of you may be familiar with it, but I wasn’t. I thought it was brilliant.
Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.
In one succint statement Pelikan captures both the immense value and the imminent danger of tradition. That one sentence describes much of what’s right and much of what’s wrong with the church.
Tradition may serve as a useful means to an end, but it is a terrible end in itself. It can be a good servant or a harsh master. It can undergird and strengthen churches, or undermine and kill them. That’s probably true of societies as well, but I’m thinking particularly in this post of the role tradition plays in our churches.
Tradition is good, but when it hardens into traditionalism, it turns deadly.
How have you been affected by tradition? How has it affected your church or your denomination? Has it been a good servant or a harsh master?
I’d like to hear your thoughts. Be as expansive as you’d like.