April 28, 2008

Something Old, Something New
Pastor George Van Alstine

Every community struggles with decisions that involve choices between its past and its future. Developers and investors are hungry to fill every piece of property with money-generating state-of-the-art buildings. This often means tearing down old structures that seem to be just taking up space. Heritage commissions and committees have arisen everywhere to protect these historic buildings as important connections with the past.

As we watch battles between developers and preservationists, we recognize that it’s hard to draw the line between what is historic and what is just plain old. How we decide these issues depends a lot on what our values are and is often quite subjective.

The Christian faith is continually facing questions like this. There are many traditions attached to how we worship, how we believe Christians should live in the world, how the church should relate to society and government, etc. These traditions are somewhat different in each Christian denomination, which is one reason we have denominations.

With every generation, traditions are challenged by the young and defended by the old. In our day of rapid technological expansion and unbelievable advances in our ability to communicate and affect each other’s lives without time or space limitations, the stakes are higher than ever. Our young people, who participate fully in these changes, often seem like they’re from another planet. On the other hand, to them we look like dusty museum fossils. Our traditional way of practicing our Christianity doesn’t seem to be applicable to their lives. On our part, we wonder if there is any way the Holy Spirit can conquer and control their lives; we certainly can’t.

It might be good to think again about the Biblical view of tradition. Young people should notice that each generation learns from and builds on those that have gone before. The Old Testament is the foundation for the New Testament. Respect for the wisdom of elders and commitment to the Law are very important to living a life that expresses God’s will. Every tradition has become a tradition because it has had lasting value in the lives of parents, and they want to pass it on to their children. So young people would do well to stop and think a moment before they junk any one of their parents’ traditions.

On the other hand, older believers today (anyone over 25!) should remember that tradition has often in history been the enemy of truth. Most notably, this was the case during the three years Jesus walked the earth. His greatest adversaries were the religious traditionalists of his day.

Since Jesus’ day, there has always been a tendency for traditions to build up, like barnacles, around the living Christian witness in the church. The Reformation is the most dramatic historic moment of barnacle-scraping, but actually, this is a project that every generation needs to undertake, in order to keep the church ship-shape.

We’ll always have some discomfort in this process. One generation will feel more barnacles need to go, while the other believes the scraping has gone too far and is beginning to damage the hull.

It’s nice to be in a church where there’s a good spirit about this. By faith (and crossed fingers), the older believers seem to enjoy seeing the young experiment in new ways, and even to be led by them. The young, meanwhile, seem to respect their elders’ faith as genuine and something they want in their lives. Together, we can express Christ Jesus in a 2008 context.