Should We Re-Tradition? Neil Pollard

The lead article in the fall 2009 edition of Reflections, a quarterly produced by the Yale Divinity School, is written by guest editor Martin B. Copenhaver.   It is entitled “Back to the Future: ‘Retraditioning’ in the Church Today.”

In it, Copenhaver writes of the huge upheaval going on within many “Reformed” or Protestant denominations.  The author contrasts mainline churches with both Emergent Churches, the darling and hip face of ultimate change in religion today, and Judaism—which is the ultimate anti-Emergent Church in philosophy and practice.

To summarize, Copenhaver says that churches are finding new life and vitality by doing more than just going back to their traditional roots.  They are going back to ancient faith practices, particularly those discovered in scripture.  He seems to indicate that as our culture has replaced Christ with secularism or hedonism as the foundation of society, churches have found new motivation not to assume that people believe in Christ or desire to be distinctive.

“Retraditioning,” a term Copenhaver borrows from Diana Butler Bass, is a movement “through which a congregation adopts, or reclaims, practices and understandings that have been part of the wider Christian tradition, but, for some reason, have been abandoned or diminished in importance.”   She has much more to say that would be fodder for a different article, but the Reflections article is all about the identity crisis so many in Christendom are facing in these changing times.  To be fair, many congregations within churches of Christ have been wrestling with an identity crisis, too.

While we should always be people ever open to more effective methods of fulfilling our God-given mission as His people in ways that are in harmony with scripture, we should never be a people wrestling with an identity crisis borne of having been faddish and preeminently desirous of being seen by the culture as relevant.  We do not have to revisit how often to take the Lord’s Supper, what basic form the sermon will take or the role of the Bible in it, whether or not women will lead in worship, what form church music will take, and the like.  Since all of this was settled in the New Testament 2000 years ago, our role as disciples of Christ is simply to read it, understand it, and do it.

This is true, whether culture accepts and appreciates us for it or not.  As a side benefit, we do not have to go back to the “drawing board” time and again, rewrite creed books, or publish a new edition of a Church Manual.  We do not have to grab on to the next, new, and biggest religious trend.

Our never-ending work continues to be to restore New Testament Christianity in faith and practice, calling people to submit to Christ’s authority and shape their lives, individually and congregationally, by His Word!