Therefore we also, since being surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. (Hebrews 12:1 NKJV)
Heritage and tradition can be very powerful forces in our lives. Sometimes we don’t even give them a second thought, but they are there. In the back of our minds they wait for the most opportune moment to appear. Then, they begin to show. Sometimes they show only a little bit, sometimes they show a lot. They influence our thinking and our actions, and sometimes even our faith and our worship.
The scripture verse above talks about how we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses. The previous chapter of Hebrews lists a number of people who lived, and died by faith. It talks a bit about who the people were (Abraham, Moses, Enoch the Prophets), and what they did. It also says they died in faith without receiving the promise. In the verse above, the writer of Hebrews tells us these people have formed a ‘cloud of witnesses.’
In our lives, we look back into our family history to find people we can associate with strong faith. I can think of quite a few people in my family where that would be true. My Grandfather who was head-deacon, my Aunt who was a minister, and my fist Sunday School teacher, down to others in my family who gave service to God out of love for Him.
It can be an amazing thing to look back and remember the self-sacrificing service that people have given, with no thought to their own gain, for the service of God. It is this kind of people we can look at and say that they are a part of our own ‘cloud of witnesses.’
Heritage and tradition are two strong forces in our lives. Heritage is our family, where we came from, who we learned our early lessons from. It can also be the place where we have found either acceptance or rejection. Tradition is basically things that we do, or don’t do, in life, and in worship. Sometimes our tradition is woven into the fabric of our family life, and sometimes, it isn’t.
Tradition is what we learned, or rather, how we learned to do things. My tradition tells me that worship should be orderly, and for the most part, unanimated and definitely quiet. Tradition would tell me not to question anything about my faith that they say is ‘set in stone,’ or at least they think it is.
Sometimes, setting aside one’s traditions is very difficult, but necessary in order to draw closer to God and grow spiritually. For me, this has been an extremely difficult thing to do. Tradition is a tough monster to kill, and when a tradition is carried through four generations of family history, well, let’s just say Goliath was a small one compared to that!
However, sometimes, as difficult as it may be, those old traditions just have to go in order for us to move on.
One of the lessons I have been learning as I strive to take back my own faith is that sometimes God tells us we need to let go of our old traditions. But He doesn’t just leave us there. He helps us form new ones, and opens us up to new ideas and forms of worship.
When I look back at my family heritage, and the traditions I learned in church, I am thankful to God that He choose to set me in such a place as to learn all the important lessons I did. I am also thankful that He has guided my spiritual journey to a place where I could be challenged in my faith, and be encouraged to draw closer to Him in my worship.
For me, the journey of taking back my faith isn’t about re-discovering a faith that was lost. It’s about handing my faith over to God, so that my faith will draw me closer to God, in life and in worship.
Not everyone has to re-discover their faith, but sometimes we have to have the strength and courage to allow God to work through our faith, regardless of what our heritage and traditions may tell us.
This article is taken from the Fall 2004 edition of Praise Fellowship’s newsletter “Joyful News” and is reposted here with permission.
Michigan native Eric Bicknell served in the Salvation Army for 28 years before joining MCC Detroit and later, Praise Fellowship Christian Church. A collector of Christian hymnals and sheet music, he specializes in Salvation Army music and at one time had accumulated more than 250 hymnals.