Set in My Ways
If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way? Acts 11:17
I’ve been in and around enough churches in my life that I’ve become familiar with this argument against change, “That’s just the way it’s always been.” This reasoning doesn’t address the right or wrong of the change being considered. It’s just a statement that says change is bad. It’s a blind commitment to tradition as if the past itself is virtuous because it already happened. Whenever I’ve heard it, I’ve scoffed at those old folks, set in their ways, and incapable of transformation. It’s easy to see when another’s opposition to change is ridiculous.
It’s not always so easy to see this in ourselves though. Most of us have an area of our lives where we’re stuck in some self-destructive behavior or attitude that we refuse to change. That’s just the way I am. I’ve always done it that way. Maybe it’s unhealthy eating. Maybe it’s explosive anger. Maybe it’s bigoted, racist views. Whatever it is, we’ve lived that way for so long that we’re just not willing to undergo transformation.
Refusal to change though, is inconsistent with the Christian life. Jesus said that his disciples must daily deny the old self and follow him (Luke 9:23). The Christian life is one of continual transformation. If we’re not growing in Christ, we’re diminishing in Christ, clinging to our old ways.
Peter discovered this in today’s passage. In the story, God instructed him to take the gospel to the gentiles. Left to his own ways, Peter would have stuck to his kind. When he obeyed, preaching to non-Jews, his own people criticized him. Peter came to understand though that God shows no partiality. It doesn’t matter if this is the way we’ve always done it. If it’s God’s will, who am I to stand in his way (my paraphrase)? If Peter had refused to obey, based on tradition, he would have chosen sin, distancing himself from God.
Tradition can be good or bad. The past isn’t virtuous though, just because it’s already happened. A thing is good if it’s God’s will and bad if it isn’t. A blind commitment to our old ways isn’t helpful to the Christian life. As followers of Christ, we must embrace continual transformation and growth, abandoning the old life for the new one.
I once heard a presentation by Dan Adler, a worship leader and song writer, saying : Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism (basically worshiping tradition) is the dead faith of the living.