Why We Are Neither Traditionalists Nor Progressives

Text: John 15:1-11

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

In society, we often see two groups of people fighting – those who advocate for traditional ways versus those who advocate for progressive ways. 

On the one side, you find traditionalists. They tend to live for the past. As you may or may not know, a traditionalist is someone who likes things to stay the same as they've always been. They prefer old customs, beliefs, and ways of doing things passed down from their ancestors. Traditionalists don't like quick changes in society or culture. Traditionalists believe that these old traditions not only give stability and a sense of who they are but also provide guidance and a sense of right and wrong.

Now, if a person is not a traditionalist, then on the other side, you will find progressives. A progressive is like a person with a telescope, always looking ahead to make things better in the future. They believe in change and new ideas. They think it's important to update old ways to create a brighter future. To a progressive, tradition isn't as important as making progress. They want to make sure that the world keeps getting better and more fair, like a journey into a brighter, more exciting tomorrow.

And so, to simplify this, traditionalists like to live in the past, whereas progressives like to live in the future. While there is an obvious benefit to both of these views, with respect to culture and business, these things do not work too well in the Church. 

Unfortunately, many of the tensions that we see in the Church these days are whether the Church lives in the past or lives in the future. For traditionalists, anyone new to the Church or young is seen as a threat. 

They must be handled with suspicion; after all, they could push the Church into the future, removing the perceived power of the traditionalist and making the views of traditionalist useless.  And for progressives, anyone established in the Church or old in age is seen as dead weight. They are holding the Church back, keeping the Church from reaching its full potential. They are like a ball-n-chain to progressives – the traditionalists are always grumbling and always saying 'no.'  

And so, around and around churches can go, often fighting between these two options. Where is the Church going to abide: in the past or in the future? Is the Church going to uphold its past values, its heritage, and its roots? Or, is the Church going to embrace change, a brighter future, and an exciting tomorrow? Which one will it be?  

Dear friends, please hear this loud and clear: the holy Church does not abide in the past or in the future. In other words, they are both wrong. For example, traditionalists in the Church have dead faith because they cling to something that no longer exists while exuding fear in the present to every bump and crisis that comes along. And progressives in the Church? They are equally foolish, as they live in the mood of possibility – always seeking, never settled, and always discontent with the present – not realizing the good gifts right before them.  

But you, as members of Christ's holy Church, are not traditionalists or progressives but Christians who abide in the present. That is right; the Church cannot worship the past or the future, for both go the way of idolatry. But instead, you abide neither in the past nor in the future but in Christ.    

Consider the reading from the Gospel of John 15:1-11. Jesus says that we abide in Him and His Word. That is to say, God's holy Word does not point us away from Christ to some past nostalgic and romantic time. Furthermore, God's holy Word does not point us away from Christ to some future blissful utopia. But instead, God's Word delivers the Gospel to you in the present. Through the Sacraments, you are connected to Christ right now in the present. You abide in Christ right now! 

So, what shall we make of the past and future? Do we reject the past and the future? Heaven's no! As LCMS Lutherans, we uphold and cherish the traditions of the past only insofar as they point to Christ and His gifts. In fact, we continue many traditions of the past because they still point us to Jesus and His gifts. And regarding the future, we don't ignore the future or put our heads in the sand but look to the future with hope – hope in Christ. And so, the past and the future are not a past and future without Christ but in Christ. Furthermore, we are not traditionalists or progressives but Christians who abide in Christ today, tomorrow, and the day after that.  

And there is something more to consider: since we abide in Christ, we have the blessed hope that we are connected to the saints of the past and the saints of the future because, in Christ, there is no such thing as two or three churches. Baptized Saints, there is no such thing as the Church of the past, a church of the present, and a church of the future. There is no such thing as a traditionalist church or a progressive church. There is no such thing as an old-person church and a young-person church. No! There is only one Church – the Christian Church, who is the bride of Christ.

Baptized Saints, traditionalists live in the past with naive nostalgia; progressives live in the future with wide-eyed utopic bliss, but you live in neither. Instead, you abide in Christ. In Christ, the Church respects the past and lives with hope for the future because Christ is the alpha and omega of the past and the future - and everything in between.  

There is one Church: saints of the past, present, and future joined together in Christ, by Christ, and for Christ. And you – you are a part of that Church, for you abide in Christ today, tomorrow, and forevermore. 

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

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