I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense. But it does seem to me as I observe the evangelical landscape today, that what is tried and trust and true gets overlooked for the ‘new’. So many in the church today are captivated by newness – new trends, new ideas, new innovations, new buildings, new predictions, new words from God, new movements, etc that the old seems irrelevant. But really its the old that we need – what God did through his Son, how the church has been established, what God has already spoken. This is how we are refreshed, by gathering according to what has already been established, by remembering what God has already said and what he has already done to gather a body of people to himself through the work of the Son by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. But somehow that gets too boring and we get antsy for something new. Why?
It reminds me of this portion of the Screwtape Letter #25. If you are not familiar with the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, they are instructions to Wormwood on how to frustrate God’s people and get the church off track:
But the greatest triumph of all is to elevate this horror of the same old thing into a philosophy so that nonsense in the intellect my reinforce corruption in the will…The Enemy loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? Is it prudent? Is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking ‘Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive and reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?’ they will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them to make. As a result, while their minds are buzzing in this vacuum, we have the better chance to slip in and bend them to the action we have decided on. And great work has already been done. Once they knew that some changes were for the better, and others for the worse, and again others again indifferent. We have largely removed this knowledge. For the descriptive adjective ‘unchanged’ we have substituted the emotional adjective ‘stagnant’. We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which favoured heroes attain – not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.
It is indeed a clever trick of Satan, to get the church deviated from its historic roots and its people, chasing after self-fulfillment under the rubric of innovation. I can’t help but think that is at the root of need for new and better – to have an emotionally satisfying Christianity or even to look like we’ve figured out something no one has ever thought of before. Even better if we can get credit for promoting something no one has thought of before.
That’s not to say that anything new is bad or adjustments throughout church history have not been needed. But that doesn’t mean that new is what we strive for. At the heart of New Testament instruction is teach and adhere to what has already been established not make sure you come up with new ideas and new ways of doing things. I can’t help but think that the focus on the latter is how;
- Heresies get started, which are actually just regurgitated over time
- Christian doctrine gets twisted with the quest for new words from God
- Faithful ecclesiology gets diluted or perverted, especially when you throw in the celebrity factor that contemporary evangelicalism seems to be so fond of.
There is nothing new under the sun.
Lisa rejects: “to look like we’ve figured out something no one has ever thought of before. Even better if we can get credit for promoting something no one has thought of before.”
This is an honest question Lisa. How do you feel the truths you have expressed in this piece apply to something like the NEW perspective on Paul? Which it most assuredly is. BRAND new in protestantism and a pretty much “regurgitated” essential return to Roman Catholic soteriology. As represented most prominently by someone like NT Wright for instance? This would seem to be the very quintessential textbook definition of what you are quite rightly decrying here. A scratch for the Athenian itch of always looking for something new.
“New”, as regards the foundations (like salvation) does indeed equal heresy 2000 years after the ascension of Christ. The God we know doesn’t leave His people in the dark with regard to important theological or moral truths revealed in His θεόπνευστος word for a couple millenia. A list could be made of 21st century views with absolutely NO precedent in historic, especially reformed orthodoxy.
The reason I bring this up is because I’ve noticed that folks can be rather personally selective in the application of this principle. I see it all the time, all over the web and not just with this one.
Me, to random person for the sake of this illustration:
“Don’t you agree that in the light of the biblical witness that this_____________________ is a modern innovation without historical support for it’s truth?”
“YES, AMEN!! __________________ view is very wrong. The church should be warned. ”
“Ok, then what am I to make of your blog (or somewhere else), where you favorably reference and recommend so and so who is known for exactly the thing you have just told me is so wrong?”
“WELLLLLLL, let’s not be judgmental and narrow and dogmatic. So and so has some good things to say. We wouldn’t throw out the “baby with the bathwater”
Even if the baby is floating face down in stage 4 decomposition in 6000 gallons of bathwater. If it is someone they like.
This was a good read Lisa. I pretty much agree and it got me thinking.
Reblogged this on Ministry Through the Lens of History and commented:
Without knowing our own history as Christians, we are, not unlike when we stop reading the Bible, cut off from the past, doomed to reinvent it as we pursue the new.
While reformation is always possible and is the reason to change anything in the church (“reformed and always reforming”, is the Presbyterian slogan), often the new is 1) something that the Church used to do that we forgot about and were unaware of, or 2) something that Christians tried before and found wanting.
As Linda Robinson says here, “it is really the old that we need–what God did through his Son, how the church has been established, what God has already spoken.” And, I would add, what Christians before us have already learned about this thing called ministry. Great cartoon too!