Authenticity vs. Tradition

Authenticity vs. Tradition

There was this one time in Africa…

I joined three other Burleson area pastors for my first trip to Africa. Together we led a leadership seminar for pastors and workers in western Tanzania.

Our first session opened with Scripture reading and songs of worship. The songs, though sung in a language I did not know, were easily recognized as hymns of the church. The congregation, made up of both men and women, stood stoically and sang “How Firm a Foundation,” “Amazing Grace,” and “Victory in Jesus” in unison.

Due to a technical glitch the participants waited patiently through a moment of silence. Suddenly, without any prompting from anyone, a young woman in the congregation spontaneously began to sing in Swahili. The level of congregational participation skyrocketed as their voices united in joyous praise. Hand-crafted drums appeared out of nowhere to accompany their voices. Some danced. Others wept. 

I had no idea what they were singing but their emotion and participation inspired me to worship along with them. 

What was the Difference?

The hymns they sang were introduced by earlier missionaries from the west. The only thing different from a rural American church service and this service in rural Tanzania was the language. The African church had continued to sing these songs out of tradition.

The choruses they sang originated within the hearts and minds of the African people. These were far more “organic,” far more personal, and far more reflective of the spiritual vitality of the people. 

Every Culture Every Generation

Those African Christians taught me that every culture and every generation will find its own voice of praise and worship. What is carried on from previous generations may not be best for the current generation. We need to recognize that reality within our own culture and celebrate as yet another generation of Christ-followers in America finds its own voice of worship and commitment. 

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