Growing up in a Baptist church doesn’t make for an attitude that is high on tradition—at least not capital “T” Tradition. Tradition, for many Baptists, is something “those Catholics” are all about. Baptists, we tell ourselves, we’re all about the Bible. It sounds good. But the problem, as anyone who has been in any church for any length of time can tell you, is that we all create traditions. Some of them are codified and officially protected. But most of our traditions are subconscious, just under the surface. We don’t know we have them until someone comes in messing with them. But if any church tradition has lost the thread of God’s grace, it’s time to get out.
Have We Lost the Thread of God’s Grace?
Religious traditions aren’t all bad. It’s important, even necessary, to respect our past. But religious traditions can go wrong. The biggest danger is this: Our traditions are always at risk of having lost the thread of the grace of God.
For Baptists, that tradition usually emphasizes standards of behavior. Christians are supposed to live a certain way, do certain things and (this is important) avoid certain things. So read your Bible, tell people about Jesus, give money to the church. Don’t cuss, don’t watch R-rated movies, don’t drink beer. Follow the rules and you can feel pretty good about yourself.
For many Catholics, the important thing is ritual. Avoiding sin matters, of course: You’ll do your best to keep from lying, not to hurt others and to be a faithful spouse. But to get God on your side, the rituals are crucial. So go to mass, light the candles, say the prayers, confess your sins. You’ve got to do these things exactly right … but if you do, chances are God is smiling.
For all of their differences, both groups can fall into the same error: assuming that God accepts us based on the way we keep certain rules. It’s actually good to attend church, to pray and to share your faith. But when our tradition changes those practices from gospel-infused responses to a law-based way of justifying us, we have lost the thread.
It’s not just Baptists and Catholics, though. We have all lost the thread at times. So if you come out of a prosperity gospel tradition, it’s all about realizing your potential. If people could just understand their potential and see how God could help them achieve it, they’d be set. But it’s not the thought of your “best life now” that will truly transform you. It’s the understanding that the best life ever lived was given for you.