“Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set.”— (Proverbs 22:28)
Good morning, Saints. I pray that you are all doing well this week. The past six weeks have introduced some major changes to most of our lives, and our Lord’s Day worship services have obviously not been exempted from those major changes. It has been rather interesting to listen to my own thoughts rattling around in my head, as well as the thoughts of many of you who have voiced them to me in regard to these changes. Obviously, we all have a desire for some things to return to normal. What has been amazing though, are all of the comments about things that people have grown fond of in recent days. Things like the early service time, the simplified service structure, and even simply being outdoors. As we are making plans to drift back into our traditional routines, this seems like a great time to asses what it is we do on any given Lord’s Day morning. Asking the questions of WHAT we must do, WHY we must do them, and HOW we do them in a way that honors the Lord. Obviously, the Bible is the first stop on the journey of gathering information and answers since it is the authoritative basis for all that we do. What about tradition? Does tradition have anything to say about what we do?
We live in an anti-traditional age. We believe in evolution. We like seeing and doing new things. I understand this urge. It throbs with the alluring call to adventure. Satan understands this urge too, and he loves it. He has used it to lead many a man away from his wife, many a church away from the Truth, and many a woman away from the wisdom of the ages regarding her distinctly beautiful place in the home and the world.When you think about it, distaste for tradition is actually quite arrogant, as if we were the first ones to really answer the questions of the day. As if we knew better. As if we didn’t need to listen to our elders. This is dangerous and distinctly short-sighted, the kind of short-sightedness that knows only how to look forward not back.
I was listening to a lecture by Joel Beeke a couple of days ago entitled “Conversionism, an aberration in church history”. He cited a G.K. Chesterton quote from “The Ethics of Efland.” After getting myself a digital copy of it later that night, I came across this quote :“Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about. All Democrats object to men being disqualified by the accident of birth; tradition objects to their being disqualified by the accident of death. Democracy tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion even if he is our groom; tradition tells us not to neglect a good man’s opinion, even if he is our father. I, at any rate, cannot separate the two ideas of democracy and tradition; it seems evident to me that they are the same idea. We will have the dead at our councils. The ancient Greeks voted by stones; these shall vote by tombstones. It is all quite regular and official, for most tombstones, like most ballot papers, are marked with a cross.”
Of course there are many who object: surely our scientific advancement and technological superiority gives our age an advantage over the past. Surely we know so much more than our fathers. In some respects, to be sure, this is true. But knowing more facts and doing more tricks does not make a fool into a wiseman. This kind of understanding takes time, and usually more than one lifetime!This is one of the reasons I love old books. Samuel Davies, the 18th Century preacher put it well: “The venerable dead are awaiting in my library to entertain me and relieve me of the nonsense of surviving mortals!” I wonder, do you like to read the old books of ancient wisdom? Let me encourage you to start, it is one of the best ways to join in the conversation of the ages. If you don’t know where to start, drop me a line, I’d be more than happy to recommend a few (tombs) to you!This is also one of the reasons why we self-consciously want to embrace a “traditional” worship service at Grace Life Church. That is not to say, we are only traditional, but it is the lamp by which we read the Scripture’s teaching on the subject. Wouldn’t you be better to start off with the simple Bible, you might opine? Doesn’t anything that is concretely true in any other book have its basis in the Bible anyways? This suggestion does have a certain cogency to it, but then again, we were not the first ones to read the Bible on these matters. We were not the first ones to read those scriptures aided by the Holy Spirit. Would it not be insufferably arrogant to pretend as if we were? So in the great discussion of how the Church ought to worship God, we prefer not to go it alone. This is why we are thankful for the Church councils, the creeds, confessions, and catechisms. We unashamedly embrace the democracy of the dead. It is usually the best and quickest path to life. These people have been there before. It is a healthy thing to ask the question; “what have “we” always done?”. Especially if we define the “we” of that statement as a people that go all the way back to Abraham. As a people adopted into God’s family, we have family traditions that reach back thousands of years.