Not long ago, I was at a meeting with a powerful apostle/evangelist who blasted ‘tradition’ as the main block to the move of the Holy Spirit, transformation, and the miraculous. This is a common refrain. Ironically, the worship service that was presented followed the exact pattern that one would expect from his church stream. It was indeed a traditional service from that point of view.
Is Tradition Bad and the Barrier to the Move of the Holy Spirit?
I have taught and spoken much on the importance of tradition and even liturgy for giving us a sense of rootedness rather than just being adrift on the sea as every new thing is used and then discarded. Jews, of course, are the people of tradition, and maybe overly so. And I would agree that tradition which is applied in the wrong way can indeed be a factor preventing the move of the Holy Spirit in our midst. So we need a more balanced analysis. To clarify the issues I want to describe two streams.
First Stream: Congregations that Formerly Pursued the Manifestations
The first stream is the congregations that used to pursue the presence of the Spirit and welcome manifestations of the Spirit, with the invitation, “Come, Holy Spirit.” Some were linked to the “Vineyard”. Others used to have Holy Spirit conferences. There were tongues and interpretation, prophecy, ministry by trained altar ministers after the message and much more. But somehow these congregations decided that such an orientation was not helpful to growth, and that reaching the “lost” required a more predictable orientation. They do not do liturgy, but they are traditional in their own way and people can set their watches according to the timing of different parts of the gathering.
Second Stream: “Traditional Worship” Congregations with a Spontaneous Move of the Spirit
I contrast this with Holy Trinity Brompton, in London, led by Nicky Gumble. This Anglican evangelical church, while rooted in tradition, is famous as the center for the ‘Alpha Course’ program in evangelism, with many thousands of people having been brought to the Lord and many churches planted and renewed. They incorporate ancient liturgy and old hymns as part of the worship service. After the message, they push the chairs aside and return to worship and waiting on the Lord for His Spirit to move, in a spontaneous Holy Spirit time!
Comparing the two examples, one can see that the former “Come, Holy Spirit” churches are much more rigid in their “non-traditional tradition” than this particular Anglican church with its explicit use of tradition.
In Messianic Jewish congregations which I have led and overseen, we have sought to model Jewish-rooted liturgy that is adjusted to be New Covenant oriented, while also inviting moves of the Spirit such as prophecy, healings and more.
Tradition Applied in the Wrong Way
So the issue is not tradition, but how tradition is used. The assumption is that tradition is best/safe/reliable and that the Spirit will be content to operate within tradition’s parameters. This results in applying tradition by planning everything, and thereby not making room for the Spirit to come and do things that are not planned. Without space and time for the move of the Spirit in the main services and in home gatherings, we fall into rigid patterns just as much as the most liturgical churches and synagogues. Why does this happen? Here are the three main reasons:
Leaders are unsure of how to govern these open, “Holy Spirit times”. They do not feel confidence and discernment, and are not relaxed about it; they feel threatened.
Leaders conclude that Holy Spirit “stuff” is contrary to winning unbelieving visitors. Yet so many have been won by the real moves of the Spirit.
Leaders fear taking a risk or losing control, yet faith has a risk element and requires surrender to the Spirit!
Many of us long for the moves of the Holy Spirit and believe they are essential. As we pray for revival it is important to correctly diagnose this barrier. The problem here is not tradition, but tradition that is applied and used in the wrong way.