013 – Tradition or Traditionalism [Podcast]


In this episode I talked about the difference between “Tradition” and “Traditionalism” and how to discern the difference.




Anonymous: “Tradition is the living faith of the dead. Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

Sam Rainer: (Obstacles in the Established Church: How Leaders Overcome Them) “Traditionalism is the worship of tradition.”



1. From Thanksgiving:  Let’s say that your family has a traditional thanksgiving gathering that includes a recipe for the most scrumptous roasted turkey.  There is a particular seasoning blend that has been passed down from your great-great-grandmother that just makes your mouth water thinking about it.  And part of the tradition is that this recipe is only used for the family Thanksgiving gathering.  What a great tradition!  Now, let’s say that your family always has a baked turkey on Thanksgiving and not one person in your family likes turkey, but you have it anyway because your family Thanksgiving always includes turkey.  That is traditionalism!  We do it because we’ve always done it.

2. In 1986, my dad, my brother, and I hiked the Grand Canyon … In 2001, I hiked the Grand Canyon with my daughter and son. I told them stories about my first hike with their uncle and their grandpa.  Both of those are treasured memories for me and I would be thrilled if my children continued the family tradition of taking their kids on that hike.  But if the only reason they do it is because they have a sense of obligation to the tradition, then it loses its meaning for them and becomes traditionalism.

3. Traditions can be powerful for churches in maintaining a sense of identity and purpose.  Let’s say that your church was been built on a strong foundation of the majority of the members studying the Bible together in small groups originally called Sunday School and held at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning in classrooms throughout the church building.  Tradition says that people studying the Bible together in small groups and building their lives on the foundation of the word of God will remain central to our mission as a church.  Traditionalism says that we must call it Sunday School, it must be at 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning, and it must be on the church campus.


Questions to discern if a tradition is at risk of becoming an idol that is worshiped by traditionalism:

1. “Why.”  Why do we do this particular thing?  Why is it a value for us?  Why is it something that gives us a sense of identity?

2. “Why.” Traditions are often about the “what’s” and the “how’s.”  Only the “why’s” translate across time and circumstances.


Holding to traditionalism actually dishonors the pioneering spirit of those whose practices we are trying to maintain. Let us build our traditions on the “why’s” that drove them, rather than the “what’s” and the “how’s” of the things they did.

Traditionalism dishonors the pioneering spirit of those whose traditions we are trying to maintain. Click To Tweet

Resources Referenced:

Obstacles in the Established Church: How Leaders Overcome Them (Sam Rainer)

Fiddler on the Roof (1967 Original London Cast recording)

Keith Cooper (Guitar Music)


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