As a pastor I am constantly faced with questions about what is appropriate, effective, & beneficial for our church to be doing. Over and over again two issues arise on this front, tradition & conscience. Tradition says “we’ve always done it this way.” Conscience says “we shouldn’t do it that way.” Neither tradition nor conscience is bad & the answers that they provide can often times be helpful. A problem, however, arises when tradition & conscience are are given priority over the bible. Ironically, it is usually tradition & conscience that work together in a church to marginalize the bible.
Let me explain…
Traditions often arise based on decisions of the conscience. For instance, in many churches a style of music has been chosen out of sensitivity to the consciences of individuals. This would fall under the category of pastoral wisdom. However, over time if the conscience of the congregation is never challenged with scripture it will become informed by tradition. In other words, people’s conscience will tell them that certain styles of music are right & others are wrong because that is what their tradition has made them comfortable with. This is a problem. If we are going to make a moral judgement about anything–especially forms of worship–it needs to be based on scripture.
How do we guard against this problem of letting our traditions bind our conscience? Here are some practical suggestions:
- Be saturated with the bible – know your bible so well that you can tell the difference between your preference & God’s preference. Usually the two are more distinct than we would like to admit.
- Never violate your conscience, but never be satisfied with your conscience – God gave you a conscience to help you stay away from sin. Listen to it, but never be satisfied that your conscience is always right. Always seek to inform your conscience with scripture & make sure that if something is bothering your conscience it is because it violates scripture.
- Embrace your church’s traditions with a loose grip – tradition is only a bad thing if overshadows the bible. It’s ok to enjoy the way your church does things, but don’t let tradition become the idol your worship.
- Sacrifice tradition for the good of others – you can’t impose your conscience on someone else & you can’t ask them to violate their conscience.