Theology is a Tradition
Written by Leanna Westerhof. Media by Max Gensler
Tradition is an old word, it makes me think of old patterns of behavior and in this new day and age is tradition really important? Changes are happening all the time, every day all over the world. It makes me think of flapper girls in the 1920’s, or more accurately how they defied tradition by going against the norm and changing the concept of the “ideal woman”. The change of tradition was good because it helped usher in the age where women are becoming equal to men. Am I the only one who thinks tradition is boring sometimes? In my head, I get a picture of stuffy old men sitting around smoking pipes and discussing how things have gone all wrong since they were boys. As a Christian, is tradition important to what we believe and does it affect our theology? Let me be the first to tell you that everyone’s theology is based on tradition; there is no escaping it. Let’s define a theological tradition then, “A theological tradition is a behavior, doctrine, or practice of Christians, passed from generation to generation, informing participants within the tradition about their own identity in the church and in the surrounding culture.”
Talking about God openly and pursuing Him is a tradition we should keep at Greenville College. In a previous article in this series, we talked about how theology is pursuing God, one of life’s greatest joys, and that everyone is a theologian. In this article, we are going to discuss how our theology is a tradition. Traditions go back all the way to the early church. There were certain rituals and rules that had to be followed in order for the covenant God had with the Israelites to be upheld. Without these traditions in place, the Israelites probably would have been decimated just by disease and uncleanliness. I’m talking about how the Israelites couldn’t eat certain animals or eat anything already dead. God even put down laws for how they treat certain crimes, to ensure order and not chaos. God has traditions. If theology is the pursuit of God, then theology is tradition.
If you attend church you have a tradition you have kept. For example, communion, baptism, and the beliefs your church hold are all traditions. Your beliefs stem from what you were taught at church. Traditions are neutral, they are neither good nor bad and it is up to you which ones you choose to follow. To know who we are as Christians, we need to know where we come from. It is important to know why you believe what you believe, otherwise you are just a blind follower of a religion. Luckily, for us as Christians, we are called to know God and have a personal relationship with Him. Meaning that we should know His past and present dealings with His people. In the book of Philippians it states, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” This tells us He wants to get to know us on a personal level. He wants to know us and He wants us to know Him.
Within our own denominations we have different traditions we follow, and if you are like me, you might not know all the differences between the different denominations. That is where the CORE 102 trip comes in very handy. At the church I attend in Greenville, St. Paul’s, they practice an open table. This means if you haven’t been baptized you can still participate in communion. That is not the case with most denominations. In the Catholic tradition you can only take the Eucharist (communion) if you are a practicing Catholic. Today, a lot of denominations have contemporary worship, but the Orthodox tradition is strictly liturgical. Liturgy is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “A fixed set of ceremonies or words that are used during public worship in a religion.” Another tradition churches follow is whether they allow women to be ordained into the church. In some traditions, they do not. For example, the Catholic and Orthodox traditions do not allow women to be ordained. Within other denominations, such as Baptists and Lutherans, it simply depends on the council or the convention of churches they belong to. Methodists, Presbyterians, Assembly of God, and Anglican allow women to be ordained into the church.
Without tradition we would be lost, lost on how to live our lives so that we can glorify God. Jesus set the tradition we follow today. From the example of his life, we are shown how to interact with God, who He is, and what He wants from us. All of this information is based on the tradition passed down from the early church. We are baptized like he was baptized, we take communion sharing the bread and the cup like he did with his disciples, and we have a relationship with God based on his practice of praying to the Father. Life would be different without our traditions. Some people think traditions make worship or services stale, that they lose their impact after time. However, I would disagree and say it makes them more sacred, thinking about all the people who took communion before us, including Jesus himself, makes me feel more connected to God, Jesus, and my brothers and sisters in Christ throughout time.