Discerning Changeable Culutral Traditions from Unwavering Scriptural Teachings - Hymns Once Again

I'm happy to be part of the Churches of Christ/Christian Churches.  Our origin, like many of the great church movements, centered around getting back to Scripture.  Where would we be if great people of faith like John Wesley, Martin Luther, and the people in our own movement like Alexander Campbell and Barton Stone did not emphasize being faithful to Scripture and relevant to the culture over adhering to the traditions of the church.  

Yet all of these movements became ensnared by traditions once the God-inspired reformers left.  Each man-made tradition eventually quenched the Spirit and caused the church to falter until another reformer came along and once again threw away all tradition to present the Gospel in a culturally relevant way.  The honest truth is that the great reformers used culturally relevant ways to communicate the Good News.  Those who came after those reformers often confused the call to get back to the Bible with the culturally relevant methods the reformers used.  They would cling to the methods rather than the Spirit that inspired those methods.  We, as ambassadors of the Good News, need to be great students of the Bible, sensitive to the Spirit, and discern the difference between cultural traditions that can change and teachings of Scripture that are unwavering.

One of the more obvious and easier to point out traditions in the current church are hymns.  There is no biblical mandate about singing songs, some of which were rewritten bar songs, that were written in the 1800s or early 1900s.  These were not written during the time of Christ and they are not the hymns referred to in Ephesians 5:18b-19.  "Be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart" Eph 5:18-19 (ESV).

The words of many of the hymns are beautiful, inspiring, and are worth singing, but a church is not right or wrong with God because they sing hymns.  Some modern songs have just as great words, and I'm sadly sure there will be people arguing to sing them in fifty years. If a church could be more relevant to the culture around them by using a music style that is the language of the people, then they should do that whether that music style is their personal preference or not.  Because when it comes down to it, we should be willing to discard any tradition that is not based on Scripture if it will help us be more effective ambassadors of God's kingdom.  Clinging to traditions that we like at the cost of alienating those outside of the church is exactly what all of the great reformers rebelled against.

Martin Luther was a great reformer because he fought for the language of the Bible and the gathering of believers to be in the language of the people.  He considered it folly that the church attempted to instruct the masses in a language that they did not understand.  There was nothing productive that would come from people participating in the empty ritual of listening to a message they could not understand and connect with.

The same is true with the style of music.  An outdated style can be as great of a "language barrier" as a foreign language.  If the church is not using a style that can be found on the non-Christian radio dial, then what cultural barrier do we expect a seeker to crash through before connecting with God through music.  I remember being a seeker in a worship service and being touched by God during the culturally relevant worship service, music that really is no longer culturally relevant.  I would be wrong to say that those songs that touched my heart should be the ones we use today because they should still be able to touch hearts just the same.  The purpose of worship in church is to instruct and bring people into the presence of God.  Those missions are hampered if the music is not culturally relevant.

We are not in the kingdom of God to please ourselves.  It is all about God, bringing about his will, and bringing people to Him.  If there is any obstacle to the Gospel, let it not be some tradition that we enjoy.  Let us make sure that it is Jesus' radical demands on people's lives and never allow any tradition to get between that message of Jesus and the seeker.  The traditions we personally enjoy should be quickly and lovingly tossed aside when necessary for the greater good of the kingdom.