There is a major difference between an inspired book and an inspiring book.
Scripture is the only book inspired (literally, breathed out) by God (2 Tim. 3:16). While other books may be inspiring, they are not inspired. One is written by God and the others are written by men and women.
In the same way, there are inspiring speeches, music, and artwork. But even if they have qualitatively redemptive value, they cannot be on the same level of significance with Scripture.
Churches have a way of putting the cart before the horse. We blur the lines between what is theology and methodology. We confuse what is biblical and what is preferential.
We must discern the difference between truths, trends, and traditions.
- Truths are the unchanging, unbending doctrines of God clearly presented in Scripture. Revealed by God, these are the same regardless of time, audience, or culture.
- Trends are the current and popular directions within a church culture. Dependent upon the environment and timing, they change with the wind. What is popular one day is outdated the next. It is a bandwagon to jump upon. Oftentimes, trends are someone else’s ideas or methods that someone wants to copy.
- Traditions are the “doctrines” accepted by some to have divine authority but not actually taught in Scripture. Traditions have a way of turning good memories into God-ordained methods. Because “it” worked then, “it” should still work now. What is revealing is that every trend soon becomes a tradition.
Regardless of your age or preference, we all read that and assume we are in the correct category. Of course, every single one of my church preferences must be in the truth category. I assume that I am spiritual enough to avoid being led by trends or traditions.
If only that was the case for me. It is so easy for me to fall into the ministry flavor of the month. It is so easy for me to gravitate towards the time-tested practice that worked in the past. While I like to act like that trends and traditions don’t change my perspective, they do.
We should learn from trends and traditions but be led by truths.
Trends have much to teach us. I am thankful for the great amount of books, blogs, conferences, and podcasts that teach me about current trends. I am always learning about what others are doing and it is inspiring for me to figure out how to replicate or reorient that practice into my ministry context.
Traditions have much to teach us. How can we neglect such a church history that we have? While there are scars along the way, there are so many wonderful examples to follow. The cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1) from biblical times and modern-day examples teach us the ways to go and the ways to avoid.
But ultimately, if I substitute trends or traditions for truths, I am in a dangerous place.
Here’s the litmus test:
Is my greatest concern in my church a truth issue, a trend issue, or a tradition issue?
If you can answer that honestly, you are on the path to determining how serious of a concern you have.
- If it is a truth issue, address it head on.
- If it is a trend issue, determine how long it will be an option before the next trend comes along.
- If it is a tradition issue, think how you can use that positive experience in the past to create more positive experiences for others in the future.
Sanctify them in the truth, your word is truth (John 17:17).
[For more info on this idea, check out the sermon “Stirring Up Division.”]
Travis Agnew serves as the Lead Pastor of Rocky Creek Church in Greenville, SC. His most recent book is Just (About) Married.