Should We Embrace Emotion in Worship?

I don’t really remember seeing anyone even raise their hands in worship until middle school. It wasn’t until I graduated out of Vacation Bible School and moved into the teen tent at camp one summer that I finally saw emotion exhibited in the church. As the teen tent began to sing, I was confused to see people raise their hands and belt out notes as loud as they could.

What were they doing? And why were they doing it? I eventually joined with them to find out and was quickly overwhelmed with both emotion and embarrassment. Breaking this emotional wall was so powerful that I then began to engage in all the other things people were doing: raising my hands, closing my eyes, kneeling, clapping along, even getting a little bit of a dance on. That summer became what was probably the first mountaintop experience of my life.

The fire in me grew as new retreats and giant conferences brought about new mountaintop experiences. I wasn’t entirely sure what the Holy Spirit felt like, but it seemed like I was feeling him when I expressed my love for him physically—and I loved it.

But then one day, a pastor questioned a bunch of us about what it was we were really feeling. Was it really God we were coming in contact with or were we just being swept up in emotion? This question, along with some other drama in my life, ruined me for years. As the question sank in I soon found that I couldn’t even raise my hands in worship anymore. I couldn’t focus on God because I was too busy analyzing myself. Am I just just trying to look spiritual to everyone else when I do this? Am I really experiencing God or are these tingles just my body responding to these acts? Is it wrong to have emotion in worship? Is it wrong to react physically like I’ve been doing?

I was ruined. I started overanalyzing every single emotion that came my way in worship. My joy turned into confusion and anxiety.

I was battling the enlightenment period. Everything became intellectual, scientific and rational. My engagement with the Holy Spirit was left to science. Soon I didn’t care if it really had just been my body reacting to physical movement in worship—I wanted my joy back! I wanted to be able to lead others in worship from the stage without wondering if I was authentic or not the whole time.

John Wesley had a similar fight back in his time. As people heard about the odd outdoor services he held and the things that happened in them, they decided to go check it out. They were in for quite a surprise, because these Methodists were being pushed to the ground by God and convulsing around on the floor.

Just as these kinds of acts of the Spirit offend people now, so it did back then. Many outsiders didn’t believe God had anything to do with any of this and that these Methodists were crazy or psychotic. But even some of these outsiders were eventually convinced. Wesley writes in his journal:

We understood that many were offended at the cries of those on whom the power of God came: among whom was a physician, who was much afraid there might be fraud or imposture in the case. Today one whom he had known many years was the first (while I was preaching in Newgate) who broke out into ‘“strong cries and tears.” He could hardly believe his own eyes and ears. He went and stood close to her, and observed every symptom, till great drops of sweat ran down her face, and all her bones shook. He then knew not what to think, being clearly convinced it was not fraud, nor yet any natural disorder. But when both her soul and body were healed in a moment, he acknowledged the finger of God.

A few days later, a Quaker in attendance at one of Wesley’s meetings, was growing angry with the craziness he saw going on around him. Wesley describes him as, “biting his lips and knitting his brows, when he dropped down as thunderstruck.” God personally settled the debate for this Quaker by knocking him down to the ground like he had done to so many others in Wesley’s ministry.

Wesley could have easily been accused of stirring up people’s emotions just as people still accuse the church of doing today. But that wasn’t what was going on. He was bringing people into the tangible presence of the Holy Spirit and letting God do whatever he wanted with them.

At my time of struggling with emotion in worship, I didn’t know any of Wesley’s experiences. I didn’t know the debate between emotion and spirituality had been around for so long. And I also didn’t know what to do.

So eventually, I just turned my brain off. And it worked! Yes, surely there had been times in worship where I was responding to emotion—but surely there had been times where I was also responding to God. I decided that  the ambiguity was okay. Having emotions and being the way God made me was much better than trying to analyze it all and live life as an unemotional Vulcan. It was incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to find joy when I was in a state of constantly questioning my emotions, so I stopped. Finding myself mostly free from this torment, I was able to engage in worship again.

Sometimes I respond to emotion, sometimes I respond to God. Sometimes God will give me emotion to respond to and sometimes I’ll be caught up in the way I was made. And I’m okay with that. I’ve learned to discern these experiences, not by overanalyzing them, but by allowing them to come. Joy and other emotions can hardly be analyzed. They must be felt. For what are emotions if they aren’t felt?

This is an adapted excerpt from my new book, “A Taste of Jesus.” Grab the Kindle version for $10 or a physical copy for $20.

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Spirit-Led Worship

I got a chance to preach about letting the Holy Spirit invade our lives and church services at Revive Worship Conference this past week. Thanks to Spring Arbor Free Methodist Church for having the video available.

Apollos: Introduction & History

We had our first Apollos class last night. If you wanted to make it but could not, I’m podcasting it so you can keep up with us. You’ll want to grab two things: the MP3 of our discussion, as well as a PDF copy of my Introduction handout. So grab either a copy of the high quality PDF  or the reduced quality PDF (they actually look almost the same but there is a 25 megabyte difference).

I will try to get the podcast onto iTunes so you can subscribe to it for free there. But at the moment it is in the process of being moved there. For now you can keep up with the MP3 podcast here. But check back here for the PDFs that go with each week.

Intimate Language

John Wesley was the editor of his brother Charles’ hymns. Charles had written thousands of songs throughout his life and due to a certain appeal to Christian mysticism, some of his language was a bit too odd for John. For this reason John edited out words like “dear” because He never thought that you should refer to God in such a way.

I used to be like John. It always seemed odd using romantic language towards God, but then again, we are the bride of Christ, aren’t we? Over time, I began to hear more and more of this romantic language towards God and I came to find that it’s not a sexual language (as our oversexed culture might immediately think), but rather an attempt at description from those who have felt His extreme presence.

Now when I stumble across someone writing about their relationship with God in this kind of way, I don’t see oddness, but rather authenticity. I find myself hoping and wishing for the same experience.

I just stumbled across a great quote  describing just this thing in James W. Goll’s book, The Lost Art of Practicing His Presence.

Mystical language is not doctrinal or theological language. It is the language of the bedchamber, of intimacy, of love; hence hyperbole and exaggeration abound. If a husband says that he adores his wife, it does not mean that he regards her as an idol or goddess; he is just trying to express his deep feelings of love in a language that is powerless to fully convey them, except by excessive hyperbole. If we begin using such intimate love language in trying to describe our experiences with God, some people may not understand that kind of language and may think that we are under the influence of “another kind of spirit.” (50)

The Importance of Experience

Out of the four components of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, experience would probably have to be the hardest source of theology to sort out. This is simply because every single person in the entire world has their own experience. We have one Scripture, debates about tradition, opinionated reasoning, but a million experiences, each unique in their own way. And on top of that, we continually endure new experiences, which changes our outlook on life and could potentially remove us from those whom our ideology was once compatible with.

This is not to downplay the importance of experience whatsoever. In fact, we have no choice but to approach life through our own experiences. It’s impossible to read Scripture without incorporating our own life into it or even to be truly affected by Scripture without experiencing it. Tradition continues over time typically because it gave someone some sort of experience, and we can hardly reason about anything without incorporating our own experiences into our debate. It is not only essential to use experience in our faith, but it’s impossible to do otherwise despite what some might say.

This is where the problem comes in. The hundreds of different experiences we have can cause us to disagree with the legitimacy of the experiences of others. If we are not open to at least considering their experiences (no matter how insane or unique they may sound), we will most likely find ourselves creating God in the image of our own experience and the experiences of those who have lived a life similar to our own.

Actually, due to the fact that America seems to be processing individualistic Christianity, we may rarely even find ourselves looking to agree with others on experience anymore. “Why do we need them anyway?” we ask ignorantly. “After all, God looks and acts exactly like me.”

Though we won’t say this out loud, it is how many of us think. But when we allow ourselves to experience God more fully rather than judge experiences from a distance, we may find ourselves changing in opinion. Darren Wilson, for example, had this opinion of God before he discovered that God still did miracles today: “There was one thing I was pretty sure of: no matter what God did, He was very, very normal. And He always made perfect sense.”

The issue of experience is especially seen in the fight between evangelicals and charismatics. At the extreme of evangelicalism, we write experience off as emotionalism or enthusiasm. Therefore, if we’re caught crying or reacting to a worship service in any way, we’re told that we are doing so because the music is really good or the message was well written—not because we’re experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit. For that reason, many evangelicals write charismatics off as insane.

Emotions are high in charismatic circles and their experiences of God are weird, confusing, and at times, naturally impossible. If they shake on the floor under the power of God, evangelicals write them off as insane. If they cast a demon out of a Christian and evangelicals call them heretics. If they see sick people get healed, evangelicals will even resort to calling them demonic.

So what do we do with all of this? Is it possible for us to experience an evangelical-charismatic lifestyle or do we have to choose one or the other? Well, it is in my opinion (and experience) that we can indeed live in a blend of the two. In fact, I’d even say that Christianity at its maximum potential is found between the lines of the two and not on one side or the other.

The problem with charismatics is that because of their experiences, they are not very reasonable people. And let’s face it, if you grew up in a church where people were prophesying, healing the sick, doing miracles, speaking in tongues, (which are all gifts of the Spirit as listed in 1 Corinthians 12:8-10) you probably wouldn’t care too much about trying to be reasonable. After all, this kind of phenomena denies the natural world and is fairly difficult to explain rationally. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to explain, but difficult. I myself have experienced (or at least seen) these gifts take place in church services and because of this, I affirm them to be true. I would even take a step further and affirm sightings I haven’t seen, such as manna appearing in Bibles, gemstones popping up on the floor, rain pouring down inside of churches, and even gold teeth appearing in people’s mouths.

And it even gets crazier! So crazy that I hardly even want to mention these phenomena, because it makes me look completely insane for considering their validity! But, these sightings have been documented throughout time and visited in John Crowder’s book, The Ecstasy of Loving God. In his book, Crowder mentions past and current phenomena that have taken place within Christian circles. These phenomena include levitation, glowing faces, trances, invisibility, walking through walls, sleep-preaching, prolonged fasting, and much more.

Do I know why God does all of these things? No, I don’t. But I don’t always need a firm reason to believe in signs and wonders because I believe in a supernatural God who can do supernatural things. That is not to say that I don’t search for understanding in these things, but rather that I am capable of believing despite my inability to fully understand.

I do, however, need to borrow the reason and even a little bit of the skepticism that evangelicals have. Since charismatics have been so exposed to God’s signs and wonders, they have at times become emotionalists and enthusiasts. This is not always the case, but at times charismatics do on occasion push themselves so hard to feel a move of God that they eventually find themselves either faking it or fooling themselves into thinking that they are experiencing Him. This is why a little bit of skepticism is good to have so that you can discern what is and isn’t of God.

It also becomes dangerous when you live off of experience alone, which both charismatics and evangelicals are capable of doing. In charismatic circles, if you ignore Scripture, reason, and tradition and focus primarily on experience (which has been known to happen), you will find yourself not only preaching weak messages, but even bordering blasphemy at times. God has given us more than just experience to live off of in our faith, and denying other components will put us in situations where the gospel becomes misrepresented and misunderstood. That is not to say that experience is blasphemous in and of itself, but rather that it has potential to get to that point if it is given an overemphasis. That’s why it comes fourth in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral. It is given a chance to be screened by Scripture, reason, and tradition so that we can see its legitimacy.

But as I said, evangelicals are capable of doing this as well. In their own reasonable, unemotional way, they can deny charismatic experience and go so far as to attribute Satan with the phenomena that takes place in charismatic churches. Now this is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit, which is identified by Jesus as the unforgivable sin (Mt. 12:22-32; Mk 3:20-29). This turns that accusation into a much bigger deal than evangelicals have made it out to be.

If the greatest commandment is to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind (Mt. 22:37; Mk. 12:30; Lk. 10:27), then surely we need to learn how to combine evangelicalism with the charismatic movement. Evangelicals tend to need a little more heart and soul and charismatics tend to need a bit more mind. Now I realize I’m stereotyping a bit here, so I would like to say that there are churches and speakers out there who have learned to blend the two together quite nicely. But for the most part, many of our churches still have a long way to go.

For most of my life I have lived without even knowing what a Pentecostal was and so I know quite well how most evangelicals feel when first discovering the charismatic movement. We ask questions. How do we know these things are from God? Do we have these gifts? Is this just a bunch of hype or is there really something to this? These questions are good to ask so long as we actually search for understanding, but unfortunately, most Christians don’t pursue the questions due to fear, confusion or disbelief.

Altogether the aspect of experience is a difficult one to grasp, but I think that if we’re going to move in the power of Jesus and true Christianity, it is essential that we seek to have experiences in which God empowers and rejuvenates us. Whether we find that experience in the quiet of our room or in the loudness of a conference, we should seek for it with a heart to get closer to God. No matter what side of the experience spectrum we fall on, we all, as Christians, desire some kind of experience with God, don’t we? This is why it seems foolish to me when people advise others not to seek an experience with God.

After all, the Bible is full of stories in which God gives Himself to His people so that they may experience Him. When we refuse the experience of His nearness, we become like Israel who begged Moses to speak instead of God, because they feared that they would die if God spoke (Ex. 20:18-19). While we certainly would be afraid of God making His appearance to us in the same way that He did to Israel, I think many today are dying so much to experience God’s presence and hear His voice that they would be willing to hear Him speak—especially those who have been told not to be emotional, but believe that there has to be something more to this thing we call Christianity.

The experiences of God found in charismatic circles is for everyone, but unfortunately many reject it. This isn’t new at all. In fact, with every revival there has been phenomena and those who rejected it. Author Howard A. Snyder points out that even John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, believed in “healing, miracles, prophecy (in the sense of foretelling), discernment of spirits, tongues and the interpretation of tongues” (95). But since many Christians (even Methodists today) lack experience with these gifts, they create doctrines and scientific reasoning as to why these gifts aren’t experiences of God, even though the phenomena Snyder listed above are all Biblical.

We all seek experiences of God. Whether it’s to know Him better with our soul, our heart, our strength, or with our mind, we as Christians look to experience God in some way. I believe, however, that we will find God most clearly when we seek Him in all of these ways and not in just the aspects we are most comfortable with.

Works Cited

Crowder, John. The Ecstasy of Loving God: Trances, Raptures, and the Supernatural Pleasures of Jesus Christ. Shippensburg, PA: Destiny Image Pub., 2009. Print.

Finger of God. Dir. Darren Wilson. Perf. Darren Wilson. Wunderlust Productions. DVD.

Snyder, Howard A. The Radical Wesley & Patterns for Church Renewal. DownersGrove, IL: InterVarsity, 1980. Print.

The Importance of Reason

The understanding of how reason should be used in the church is much more debatable than some would think. On one side of the spectrum, you have evidentialists who would never expect anyone to believe in Christianity if it could not be explained reasonably. And then, on the other end you have fideists who see no use of reason in the study or understanding of God.

Theologian Karl Barth was one of these fideists, as author Kelly James Clark points out in his book Return to Reason. He states that Barth, “sees philosophy and logic as proper in their own right, but as irrelevant to theology. Reason, he believes, is fallen and is incapable of eliciting belief in God” (154). This statement has a certain draw to it. Logically, and even biblically, it seems to make sense. We are fallen people and faith is really a matter of faith, right? So then how does logic and reason play a role in it all?

Well oddly enough, there is a similar draw one can have to the statements of a rational person. After all, people like C.S. Lewis fall on this side of the spectrum and his works have been held incredibly high by most Christians. And if it were not for someone as rational as Lewis, we would not have such profound insight on topics such as pain.

This topic was especially important during the Age of Reason and still today, the question being, “If God does exist and is good, then why did He allow pain in the world?” Some people would say for this reason that God does not exist. But C.S. Lewis, in all his rationality, wrote an amazing defense of God in relation to pain in his book, The Problem of Pain. Using his reason, he engages this problem, stating that, “In the fallen and partially redeemed universe we may distinguish (I) the simple good descending from God, (2) the simple evil produced by rebellious creatures, and (3) the exploitation of that evil by God for his redemptive purpose, which produces (4) the complex good to which accepted suffering and repented sin contribute” (111).

The topic of pain is hardly an easy topic for anyone to address, reasonable or not, but the fact is that this former atheist was able to tackle it through reason, giving us a look at its obvious usage within the church. Other reasonable and well-known Christians such as G.K. Chesterton wrestled with this problem of pain as well. Phillip Yancey mentions how Chesterton reasonably found God through pain’s antonym: pleasure.

In addition to the problem of pain, G.K. Chesterton seemed equally fascinated by its opposite, the problem of pleasure. He found materialism too thin to account for the sense of wonder and delight that gives an almost magical dimension to such basic human acts as sex, childbirth, play, and artistic creation. Why is sex fun? Reproduction surely does not require pleasure: some animals simply split in half to reproduce, and even humans use methods of artificial insemination that involve no pleasure. Why is eating enjoyable? Plants and the lower animals manage to obtain their quota of nutrients without the luxury of taste buds. Why are there colors? Some people get along fine without the ability to detect color. Why complicate vision for all the rest of us?

It was through asking reasonable questions such as these that Chesterton was able to find God. So then how do we understand the draw that we may feel towards both people like Barth and Lewis? Is it possible to mesh their opposite views together, or do we have to choose one or the other?

I honestly believe, despite the obvious contradiction, that these ideas can be meshed together to a certain extent. There are times in Christianity where we must simply live out of the faith of the fideist and other times where we must live out the reason of the evidentialist. On top of that, I would go even further and say that on a daily basis we must live out of the harmony of the two combined. The mind (reason) and the heart (faith) are both essential to have in the Christian life. There will be times when things just do not make sense, and it is in those times that we must rely on faith. That is not to say that we cannot search to find reason for our present difficulty, but rather that at any given time we may have to rely more heavily on one aspect of Christianity than the other.

In reexamining Barth’s quote above, I cannot agree that reason is irrelevant to theology. I actually think reason is incredibly important—especially to theology. However, I think it is important to hunger for God in the same way that a fideist would. That is to say that we as Christians are willing to set our reason aside and follow God’s calling by faith alone if need be. I believe that every Christian will have to do this—even if just for a moment in time.

That is not to say, however, that we blindly accept whatever we are taught, for reason is not only good at bringing proof to difficult debates, but it is also an excellent tool for pointing out errors in our current beliefs. If we simply live by faith alone all the time, we are most likely going to find ourselves under some kind of false or incomplete doctrine due to unbridled trust. We need to use reason to question what we are taught so that we can come to a better understanding as to who God is. In the same way, we also must use the faith and revelation of a fideist.

Our life experience will alter this balance between faith and reason. An atheist who has become a Christian may continue to rely heavily on reason for the rest of their life as reason may have been the avenue that brought them to faith. Others, however, who may have had a charismatic experience with the Spirit of God may find themselves in a situation in which they cannot fully explain. And while that does not mean that they will live unreasonably in their Christian walk or that they will not try to understand what happened, it does mean that they may have a firm assurance to hang their life upon without the need for reason to be there when difficulty comes their way. Other’s experiences will give them a different balance, but the fact is that both faith and reason must become a part of one’s life in some way.

Take John Wesley for example. His balance was completely unique to most of the world. He was a man of reason and intellect who reasonably accepted the gifts of the Spirit and saw them everywhere he went. Paul Wesley Chilcote explains him this way:

He was, in fact, one of the most able Christian apologists… in the so-called Age of Reason, when dynamic, living faith often fell prey to either arid rationalism or unbridled emotionalism. Refusing to separate the head from heart, his life was characterized by a winsome synthesis of knowledge and piety, intellectual rigor and disciplined zeal. He was, as biographer Henry Rack has described him, a “reasonable enthusiast” (76).

Wesley (while probably more reasonable than myself), is a great example of the kind of balance I am talking about. Most people who are as reasonable as him would reject every little bit of enthusiasm in the Christian faith and yet, he did not do so (granted, he did reject the claims that he was an enthusiast since he was not one in the way that the people of his time defined it).

The character of the Apostle Paul seemed to have a similar attitude to that of Wesley’s. He had faith and saw that it was necessary for Christians to live by it. In fact, it was he who wrote the ever-so-popular Bible verse “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). On top of that, not only did Paul do many miracles in the name of Jesus but he also wrote numerous books of the Bible, including one of the most complex biblical books: Romans. This book has such profound and deep insight, that there is no way that we can deny the great amount of reason it would have taken to write it. Plus, with Paul being both a convert and an apostle, one should expect that he would need some kind of emphasis on reason in his life.

Or we could of course, take a look at Jesus, the prime example of Christianity. He constantly did miracles that defy reason. He spoke mysteries that could only be interpreted by the Holy Spirit. He was mystical in many ways, and yet everything He did and said was for a reason. We read His words in hopes to gain the faith He possessed and to understand the reasoning behind the things He said. And on top of that, He calls us to live like Him (which could maybe be defined as reasonably unreasonable).

Outside of all of this, I think reason is very important in our dialogue with the unsaved, especially in today’s world. With the rise of science, we have atheism and on top of that, there are many who just do not really care to think one way or the other. If we view their salvation as important and hope for them to receive it out of love, we must use the tools at our disposal. And after having been through the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment, we should realize that our society has decided that reason is important. Therefore, if we do not look to use our minds, we may not always do that good of a job at “going out into all the world.”

But despite this emphasis on the importance of reason, I must say that I agree with Clark when he says that belief in God “does not require arguments or evidence in order to be rationally accepted or maintained—the theist has a perfect right to believe without the evidentialist support of an argument. In fact the demand for evidence is perverse, obdurate, or improper” (122). I find this true in my own life. I am not concerned with science or arguments against God because I have the assurance of His Holy Spirit. Whether it sounds irrational or not, I have had an experience with God. I have seen His signs and wonders. If others do not consider this reason enough to believe, then I suppose that these experiences supersede my need for reason. But for the sake of others, I will do my best to reasonably explain my faith and experiences to them.

I realize this that mixture of evidentialism and fideism can create quite a bit of confusion and I’m sure that the biggest question one might ask is “how do I balance blind faith with reason?” My answer (though it may not be a great one) is with discernment and by the leading of the Spirit. If you are a very reasonable person, you will need blind faith to fall back on at some point and you should expect to do so. If you are an unreasonable person, then you need to learn to use reason in your life—if not for yourself, then for others so that they can understand you better.

However you look at it, the truth is that reason is important and necessary. The degree may vary from person to person, but the important thing is that it is there and balanced in some aspect. God has given this to us as a gift, and while we may have violated it in times past, we have an opportunity to offer reason redemption.

 

Works Cited

Chilcote, Paul Wesley. Recapturing the Wesleys’ Vision: an Introduction to the Faith of John and Charles Wesley. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2004. Print.

Clark, Kelly James. Return to Reason: a Critique of Enlightenment Evidentialism, and a Defense of Reason and Belief in God. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990. Print.

Lewis, C. S. The Problem of Pain. [San Francisco]: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001. Print.

Yancey, Philip. Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church. New York: Doubleday, 2001. Print.

 

The Importance of Tradition

Had I written this post three years ago, it would have been the most arrogant piece of work anyone had ever read. I know this, because I wrote my thoughts on this three years ago, and entitled it Traditionalism VS Modernism. My basic premise was that tradition should be done away with except on rare occasions so that they would have stronger meaning. I no longer think this way, but my fascination with Willow Creek-like mega-churches at the time, pushed me to have a rather extreme take on the use of tradition in our churches.

However, when I referred to tradition in this previous work, my understanding of it was much weaker than it is now. At the time I had thought it to be all of the rituals I did in church that I either did not understand or simply found boring and at times, useless. And while tradition can at times be such things, it really is much more than that. When looked at correctly, we can see that tradition is one of the main ways that the church has held itself accountable to Scripture and to each other. It is doctrines that scholars have agreed on. It is ideas put in place to help Christians grow in Christ and to keep church services meaningful. It is thousands of years worth of knowledge and understanding. It is the boundary for the heretics and it is a defining mark of the saints. It is by all means, meant to be good and is even at times thought to have been put in place by the Holy Spirit.

For reasons such as these, my understanding of the importance of tradition has grown greatly over the years. While it was once just a term that sucked the life out of church, now it is a word that, at its best, can cause a church to flourish. I believe that this is why many people convert to Orthodoxy or Catholicism from some of the more mainline evangelical denominations. People can actually come to find the enrichment that comes with thousands of years of tradition that these churches have adopted into their services. Whether it be the liturgical formula of the service or the unique and meaningful events such as baptism in Greek Orthodox customs, these churches are full of tradition. Much of tradition in this aspect is dead in evangelical churches.

But again, tradition goes beyond ritual and one of the most important places that I feel it correlates to the church is in doctrine. Since we find our theology in our doctrine, it is highly important that we access the past to gain a clear understanding of who God is, according to the ways He has revealed Himself already. The danger in this regard is again found in the evangelical church. Pastors in some of these churches have separated themselves so much from tradition that they can at times cross the line of common theology. Because of this, heresy can be a possible outcome in any given message as the speaker may unknowingly speak against the grain of the traditional understandings of God. And if this were to happen, it is quite possible that the congregation listening would also be quite removed from tradition and therefore have no clue that what they are hearing is heresy.

Another issue is the fact that many traditions are thought to have been put in place by the Holy Spirit through councils and high authorities in the church. With this being the case, to go against such traditions is almost somewhat blasphemous. But due to the variation between mainline and traditional churches, it is somewhat obvious that this view is not everyone’s.

Yet, despite how my brief summary of these issues seems to critique the mainline churches who do not practice tradition, I must say that I find myself more on their side of the fence. That is not to say, however, that I find myself in agreement with them, but rather that I find their separation from an overwhelming amount of tradition preferable in some aspects. For example, while I find Orthodox services to be great and incredibly meaningful, I must confess that I do not care to attend one on a weekly basis. I fear that if I were to do so I would become bored rather quick and the rituals practiced there would die a death of redundancy. That is not to say that it would be the same for someone else, but rather that this is how I would expect to feel.

For that reason I much rather prefer to attend more of a contemporary service that does not have so many ancient customs and rituals ingrained into their services. After all, if we are not careful we can go so far as to glorify our traditions rather than their meaning and connection to the Trinity. This, of course, has always been a danger of religion, which can be seen quite clearly in Jesus’ discussions with the Pharisees throughout the gospels. It is in these narratives that we find the Pharisees binding themselves to rules and

practices not only for the sake of tradition itself, but also for the glorification of themselves. After all, when people are experts at keeping traditional practices in their disciplines, they typically appear more spiritual than others, and that’s why we see Jesus having to correct the Pharisees on traditions and practices as simple and common as prayer (Matthew 6:5-6).

With this being said, it is important to balance out the discussion with a focus on the deemphasizing of tradition in other churches. The problem in these churches is not an over-glorification of practice and ritual, but rather a life obsolete of discipline and understanding. Some churches have tried to run so far from anything that reminds them

of ancient tradition that their members do not have the slightest idea as to what tradition even means. Sure, they take part in communion once or twice a quarter and the occasional baptism, but that is about the extent of it. Because of this, we find that the same rarity that can give such a practice meaning can also create an unimportant outlook on a meaningful tradition that Christ Himself may have created for our sake!

I speak mainly here, of communion. There are many traditional churches that practice this form of grace all the time, while there are yet many others who do so very rarely (if ever at all). While there is Biblical debate as to if we should practice this custom in church every single week, we can at least note that this sacrament has remained powerful to those who have practiced it regularly. Take, for example, Thomas A Kempis’ description of this traditional meal: “This I beg, this I long for, that I may be wholly united unto Thee, and may withdraw my heart from all created things, and by means of Sacred Communion, and the frequent celebrating thereof, may learn more and more to relish things heavenly and eternal” (195).

This is just a little piece of Kempis’ relation to communion. He actually mentions it quite excessively throughout his book “The Imitation of Christ,” showing that he could find extreme meaning in tradition on a very regular basis. This goes to show that at least for some people it is possible for tradition to sustain us spiritually in the common everyday life, even though it may be confusing to the outsiders that evangelical churches try to draw to their services.

So then where should we stand on the debate of tradition in our churches? I believe the answer lies in balance and discernment. While I do not feel that Christians need to live as though they are from the third century, I do feel that tradition is important not just to the average believer’s personal life, but to their churches as well. And so, if we apply balance and discernment to our churches in regards to traditional rituals and practices, I think we would find that Orthodox and Catholic churches may have overdone tradition in some aspects and that evangelical churches have practiced abstinence from tradition in this regard for far too long.

Although I would say that if the tradition and practices found in the more traditional churches truly have a constant effect of meaning on an individual that they should not refrain from practice (though balance may help). Mainline churches, on the other hand, should at least begin to look through traditional aspects of worship and discern through Scripture, prayer and reason if any of it could be useful in the twenty-first century. If not, then perhaps they should refrain from its practice, but if so, then they should at least consider giving it a balance in their services, though that does mean that they would have to practice it every week.

I could also address the fact that tradition in the past has been corrupt and that it took quite awhile before anyone actually decided to make a case against it. Martin Luther, for instance, noticed a problem with tradition when Johann Tetzel was selling “indulgences, which provoked Martin Luther to write his ninety–five theses, which marked the beginning of the Reformation” (J.D. Douglas, software). In this particular instance, a fight against tradition actually helped to restore the church to rightness and even start up an entire reformation. I could address this further, but I do not feel that we typically see any corruption in the church today in the same way Luther saw it.

I personally find the most important aspect of tradition to be found in our doctrine and theology as I had mentioned earlier. The truth is that we need to be incredibly careful with the message we preach. It can at times become very easy to believe in something that is generally unaccepted from a traditional standpoint. And while evangelical preachers may blow this off because they care very little for the past ways of thinking, the truth is that they may be a heretic and not even know it. Yet, despite my uneasiness in saying it, I feel we must also apply the same principles to theology in tradition as I thought we should in rituals in tradition; that is to say that the whole thing must be addressed in balance and discernment.

I say this because I believe that we live in a world of progressive revelation and that God is revealing more of Himself to us as time goes on. Therefore, I believe that some theology that we believe in today could possibly be updated or changed for the better, in order to make sense of a revelation of God. Again, I say this with uneasiness as I know some of the hands in which I place our future doctrinal beliefs, but I pray that if someone truly is a heretic, then we in our balance and discernment will come to that realization. But I see no reason to simply dismiss new ideas that comes our way just be acuse because they are new. Instead, we should address them and come to some conclusion as to if there is any truth in it at all.

John Wesley, for example, caused quite a stirring in the world with his field preaching. His message and doctrine rivaled that of the Calvinists in many ways and even pitted his good friend George Whitefield against him for a time. Wesley saw grace to be free for anyone and everyone and predestination to be a false concept as well as justification by faith to be the way of salvation. While this way of thinking was not new, there were enough subtle changes to get the world’s attention, such as Wesley’s belief in instantaneous salvation. Wesley found in his Bible “scare any instances there of other than instantaneous conversions – scarce any other so slow as that of St. Paul.” (Ward, 234). It is obvious that Wesley’s preaching of this among other things was provocative since he received much opposition from churches and even his own brothers.

And so, I hope that all further doctrine accepted from this point on is done so out of a move of the Holy Spirit, as I believe was done in Wesley’s case, and not out of a hope for some pastor or theologian to have his claim to fame. I believe we still have much to learn, though once again I am uneasy to say this.

I believe that tradition is put into the Wesleyan Quadrilateral in a place where it belongs. That is to say that tradition comes is the second most important source to Scripture and then reason and experience follow behind it. In the past I may have said differently and I still do at times struggle to want to put experience and reason over it, however, for the sake of all of our lives, it is best that we screen reason and experience through tradition. This way we can find out how far off we truly are from history. And then, using balance and discernment, we can decide if we really want to make a step away from tradition or if there is enough truth and meaning to a rich history to stay where we are at.

 

Works Cited

J. D. Douglas, Philip Wesley. Comfort and Donald Mitchell, Who’s Who in Christian History (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House, 1997, c1992).

Kempis, Thomas A., St. Teresa of Avila, and St John of the Cross. Wellsprings of Faith: The Imitation of Christ, The Dark Night of the Soul, The Interior Castle. China: Barnes & Noble, 2005. Print.

Reginald W. Ward and Richard P. Heitzenrater, eds., The Works of John Wesley, Bicentennial ed., vol. 18, Journals and Diaries (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1988)