Our Tradition of Experimentation and Sharing
Published Aug. 8, 2012 @ 6 a.m.
These days the word "tradition" seems to be a dirty word in most church circles. It stands for singing old songs, using old liturgy, and doing things primarily because that was how our grandparents did it. It is almost seen (and sometimes is) a form of ancestor worship. And yet, we are all a part of tradition.
The term tradition just means "something that is handed down." Even the apostle Paul spoke about tradition saying, "For I received from the Lord what I handed on to you …." (1st Corinthians 11:23) He was speaking of the central tradition of the Christian Church, the Lord’s Supper. But many other things that all churches do were all handed down; the reading of scripture, prayer, and faith are all examples of things that were handed down. I always laugh when someone says they preach "the pure Word of God." We only know the pure Word of God because someone told us what it was. The Bible itself is tradition. The problem with tradition is when things that are not central to faith become petrified in the church. This happens most often when our faith stops becoming "experimental."
Experimental is not a word we throw around very much these days. We usually use it to mean something that is not quite tried and refined for general use yet. But the term has other meanings. In science an experiment is a way to test a hypothesis. That is to say, you actually try out what you think will work and see if it will.
In the context of this writing experimental means that we actually have to have some personal knowledge of God in our own lives. Specifically, we have to have actually experienced the things our traditions say are true. It is not sufficient to know about Jesus Christ. It is necessary to experience Jesus Christ in our own lives. There is a difference between experimental and experience, however.
In theology people use experience to say that we take what we have experienced in the past and we use God language to explain and make sense of it. But one can use language that has the word "God" in it without ever actually having experienced God in any way. The Christian faith is even more specific about how we have experienced God. We have experienced God in forgiveness, in new life and new creation, and in immeasurable love and grace. Those are things that are not common in human experience but they are foundational to being a Christian.
Because Christian experience is not the common human experience tradition plays an extremely important role in the church. We, the church, have been given the ministry of redeeming the world. We are admittedly guilty of sometimes thinking we are supposed to judge the world but we are stepping out of our true tradition when we do that. Our true tradition is that we have experienced forgiveness, new life and new creation and immeasurable love and grace given to us by God through Jesus Christ who died for us and is risen for us. It is our job to hand those experiences on to others. The people in the world can't know that they can personally have an experimental knowledge of God if we who have been given that experimental knowledge don't tell them about it.