“Tradition is the living faith of the dead, traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.” ~ Jaroslav Pelikan (1923-2006), who is now a member of the great cloud of witnesses.His point is simply this: we can benefit from the living faith of those who have gone before us, what the Bible calls “the great cloud of witnesses.”
Who knew we could find living faith among the dead? You might as well have told me to go to a church filled with zombies. But in the book of Hebrews we learn something amazing: our life of worship is seen by a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Modern Christians are woefully ignorant of those who have gone before them. Walter Brueggemann tells the story of a little girl who said she knew all about church history: “It all began in 1935, when my pastor was born.”
When I became born again in 1970, at the age of 14, It never occurred to me I was born into a family nearly two thousand years old. I figured it started with me. I was soon introduced to the works of C.S. Lewis–a dead guy! Lewis died in 1963, so at least we were briefly alive at the same time. This made him acceptably “modern.” Years later I discovered Lewis took most of his ideas from St. Augustine–who was even more dead.
I suspect many followers of Jesus, if they actually read at all, limit their exposure to names like Max Lucado, Francis Chan, or Beth Moore. Christian publishers understand that “new” sells, while “old” is simply, well, old.
Worshipping With the Great Cloud of Witnesses
I sing in praise of our grandparents. They have left us a legacy that rests among the weeds, awaiting rediscovery. They are not worthy because they are old, they are worthy because their instruction and encouragement is timeless. Nor were they born as saints: Augustine was a young man consumed with pride and lust; Assisi was a hipster in his day, in danger of wasting his life on passing fancies. They, and a cloud of witnesses more, have so much to say to us. Try the sampler platter: on page two I’ve reproduced some of the wisdom from those in the great cloud of witnesses, but their encouragement is still for us today.