Back in November, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on “Attitudes and Perspectives Regarding Tradition.” This panel was part of the 2010 Sider Institute conference, “Tradition: Burden or Blessing?”
The proceedings of the conference — including the comments shared during the panel discussion — will be published in the April 2011 edition of Brethren in Christ History and Life. As a teaser, here’s an excerpt from my presentation, titled “Some Past and Present Attitudes Toward Tradition in the Brethren in Christ Church.”
The 1950s and 1960s saw the Brethren in Christ confront and alter their traditional beliefs and practices in dramatic ways. Their attitude is largely summed up in the above quotation from Hostetter. While the church did not deny or jettison all of its traditions, it certainly did not emphasize them in the way it once had.
Fast-forward to the present-day. How do the Brethren in Christ treat tradition today? As a tentative first step toward an answer, consider the following reflection from a Brethren in Christ pastor. Writing on his blog about some challenges facing his congregation, he says:
I took some time this week to look back on the Brethren in Christ history, asking what can we learn that could help us today. The BIC history is full of change. This change came with tensions, and challenges but was always driven from [the fact that] our churches have stopped growing, looking at how we can help people growing in Christ and how we can reach the lost for Christ. It is worth noting that through these changes, though tough, the church has grown. . . .
As a historian-in-training, I have some problems with the way this pastor characterizes Brethren in Christ history, but that is neither here nor there. As I read his words, I hear a pastor arguing that Brethren in Christ history teaches us this: when times get tough, when attendance numbers go down, when folks don’t seem to respond positively to our time-honored traditions and practices, we jettison those traditions and practices and find new ones—ones more popular, ones more “relevant.”
Be sure to check out the rest of my presentation — along with some much wiser and more useful observations on “tradition” — in the April 2011 issue of Brethren in Christ History and Life.