G.B. Tennyson, was a professor of History and Victorian Literature at UCLA, and several years ago Tennyson was at a Physics lecture that was being given by a another Professor to other professors. And every time someone would bring up an idea that was older than a decade, the professor would mockingly say something like, “Remember only a few hundred years ago, people believed in dragons!” And everyone would laugh. And then the professor would make his point about how much more we knew now than then.
They whole thing bothered Tennyson so much, because it smacked of self-congratulations and pride, but it also, according to Tennyson revealed ignorance.
“The physicist (thought himself so sophisticated) but was merely offering burnt incense at the altar of some of our twentieth-century idols.”
The Church Present
I grew up in a tradition that wasn’t. The idea came from some noble ideas about trying to get back to the basics. The people who started the tribe that I belong to, looked around and saw all of the church splits throughout the ages and they wanted to do some different. So Churches of Christ began saying what did the earliest Christians believe? What were they like? And How do we get back to that?
The only problem was that this was impossible.
Because the early Christians were as hard to define as Christians today. What church exactly were we wanting to restore? The Corinthians? Timothy’s church in Ephesus? But this wasn’t the biggest problem we had. In doing this, we called 1800 years of Church History “apostate” (that means bad) and tried to start over.
As if that was an option.
We started thinking that the church present was the only church. Against the Scriptures like Hebrews 11, that tells us that the Saints who have gone before us are cheering us on. We started thinking that now was the only time that mattered.
And now started to become our real church.
I’m part of a movement called Churches of Christ, and if you think back on the history of Churches of Christ or the Restoration Movement, you will see we effectively married ourselves to the Spirit of the age, only we were unaware of it at the time. This is why churches that are planted in different parts of the country and the world look so very similar to a 1970’s Texas or Oklahoma Church of Christ…even if they are in California in 2013. We tied our theology to our methodology, and kept answering the questions that people were asking back in 1970, even if no one was asking those same questions today.
And this is mostly because we didn’t allow any Church Tradition to guide us.
I’m not saying that we should start using incense or lighting candles to Mary. But wouldn’t it be nice to at least understand why these Godly people used to do and think the ways that they did? It might just give us some insight to why we think and do the things we do.
When the World Was Flat
See the real problem with this approach to tradition or the Christian past, is that the Jewish Christian Faith is a faith that is rooted in history. Unlike several other world religions, Christianity is not primarily a philosophy or way of viewing the world. It rests on faith that something has happened in human history. That God delivered a nation of Jews from Egypt, That God became flesh in the days of Caesar Augustus.
Like it or not, if you are a Christian….you have a tradition. And that is a very good thing.
C.S. Lewis once coined the phrase “Chronological Snobbery” to talk about how arrogant we modern people are. We think that just because people believed certain things that we have later discovered to be wrong that they were stupid, and untrustworthy. Lewis’ solution to this was to have people read an older book for every three new books they read. He was adamant that the only way to see the idols of this age was to listen to a critique from the past. And he was exactly right. Here’s what Lewis said:
Every age has its own outlook. It is especially good at seeing certain truths and especially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period. And that means the old books…Not, of course, that there is any magic about the past. People were no cleverer then than they are now; they made as many mistakes as we. But not the same mistakes.
Think about Christianity over the past 50 years, we’ve changed the way we read Genesis through the past 70 years to fit the arguments of the day. Today our sexuality and relationships mirror the culture, the way we argue about politics is just as harsh (if not harsher) than the people around us. Because we believe the news channels and the politicians….that this is the most important election in human history. Just like every other politician in the history of the world has ever claimed.
We now know the world isn’t flat, but we still don’t know that Caesar isn’t Lord, we don’t know how to resist approaching the world as a consumer, or how to handle life when our technology outpaces our souls. We think we are so superior, but without tradition…
We have very little perspective.
We have lots of idols.
But at least they are new ones.