The following is a link to our reading today:
“The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands. . .” Acts 17:24
And finally I love our worship. I love that our worship links us to the past and to the future. I love that our worship links us to millions of Christians around the world. There is something comforting in the knowledge that others have said the same words we are saying in our prayer together over and over again.
However, I think that this final love of mine is also the source of our greatest corporate sin as Episcopalians. We, as a denomination, are often very critical of those we call “fundamentalist” Christians. We are critical of those we feel interpret Scripture too narrowly and literally. And yet, how often could we be accused of being fundamentalist liturgists? How often does an Episcopalian leave the church because some words were changed in the worship service? How many were raised with the belief that the Prayer Book was the same as the Bible and should be worshipped? How often have we hardened our worship and our worship space into a shrine, an idol? I fear more frequently than we would like to imagine.
Little t traditions are those things that if removed would not fundamentally change who we are. Baptism might be a big T tradition, but whether we sprinkle with water or completely immerse the newly baptized does not change who we are. They are both human expressions of a divine command. Neither one is right and neither one is wrong. I would argue that the words found in the Book of Common Prayer also are part of a little t tradition. They were written by human beings. They are beautiful. They are wonderful. They are human created.
The problem, my professor claimed, comes when we confuse little t traditions with big t traditions. Little t traditions are not bad or wrong, but they are also not necessary for salvation. They become bad and wrong when we enshrine them and turn them into idols. They become bad and wrong when we think our little t traditions are our foundation and without them we are no longer Christian. Fundamentalist Christians do this when they turn Scripture into an idol and claim that they know the mind of God. We are wrong when we turn our worship into an idol and claim that it can never be changed.
“The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands. . .” May we always remember this little bit of wisdom.