The context of the avowedly post-Christian society we now live in means that ‘family traditions’ have a function that is more critical than ever before, both within our families and in our mission to the wider society.
Traditions create and express culture; now that the culture we live in is no longer even nominally Christian, we can expect that the gulf between the traditions of a Christian family and the traditions of the surrounding culture will become wider and wider.
As that cultural gap widens, basic Christan faithfulness will require us to be conscious and deliberate in forming and preserving the traditions that will shape the culture of our families. Gone are the days (if they were ever more than an illusion!) when we could unthinkingly absorb the traditions and patterns of life that we saw in the culture around us and make them the traditions of our families.
The importance of this for our task of passing on the gospel to our children and grandchildren is obvious, but it has an importance beyond the family as well. Sharing the gospel is about more than just clever individuals mounting logical arguments that defend Christian beliefs and expose the flaws in alternative belief systems. The New Testament calls us not only to defend the gospel with our ideas but also to adorn the gospel by the lives and families and communities that it creates.
A crucial way we can contribute to this broader missionary task is by creating family culture and traditions that critique the culture and traditions of the wider society. That requires:
a) That our families have a culture of their own;
b) That this culture is consciously, deliberately Christian; and
c) That our families are not insular and selfish but visible and hospitable.
Because, until recently, social traditions have been ‘Christian’ traditions, this is an area that a lot of Christians haven’t given much thought to. But now that our social context is shifting, this gives us an even greater opportunity to present an image of Christ through our family, to the families around us.
Noel Piper writes:
We need to remember, too, that when our traditions are displaying the Treasure of our lives, he is there to be seen by everyone who comes within our circle. Jesus said, “Let you light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5: 16). God wants our family and others to give glory to him because they’ve seen his light through us. Paul says we should be “children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life” (Philippians 2: 15-16).Next week, we'll move on from the broad framework and rationale of family traditions and start start thinking a little more specifically about how it works out in practice, beginning with the habits and traditions of everyday life.