I was given a reading assignment for a small group study and it really made me stop and think. I was left with a major question.
If Jesus pursued purity (aka righteousness) as given in the Old Testament and we are supposed to be like Him why do we do all that we do in our churches and in our lives?
One of the things that sparked this question was another talk I heard about Christians who had adopted a lifestyle that was based on Old Testament teaching. Another thing that sparked it was a discussion with a friend about how do we know what are good traditions worth following and which could be ditched.
Then I remembered that not all of those traditional teachings are based on accurate interpretations. I had been taught that if someone asks you to do something you must always aim to do more than asked. This was based on what Jesus said about if a Roman soldier asked you to carry his pack for a mile then you should carry it for two miles.
The original hearers would have understood something quite different from the way it is taught in many churches. They would have known that by doing that they would be causing a great problem for the soldier because by doing that the soldier risked being disciplined for taking advantage of them. There was a real sting in the tail for the Roman if you did that. The idea was not to be overly submissive and hurt yourself but to do something to upset them in the guide of doing something helpful.
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Why have we been taught these traditions?
One reason is that teachers and others in authority have always done a bit of social engineering on the side. In other words, they have directed people in the way they wanted them to do and that would suit their purposes.
This was much easier in the early days of Christianity when not everyone could read. They only knew what the teachers and leaders told them. The biggest and most impactful era of changing idea was shortly after technological developments (i.e. printing) made books and pamphlets more accessible. It was not just literacy that was the issue but being able to get hold of books (including the Bible) in a language that they could read. Technology opened the door and church history changed forever as ideas spread.
Today we are coping with the impact of further technological developments. Things like vinyl records then tape cassettes then CD or DVDs then MP3s, or videos downloadable from the internet. On top of that it is so much easier to publish a paperback book than it once was then there is the whole advent of ebooks and ebook readers. You can livestream a conference so people who are thousands of miles away can still hear what the speakers say as they say it.
There are so many ways of sharing a message and so much encouragement to do it that some talk of a new dark age. This time it is a dark age because it is so easy to be blinded by the amount of information available.
How do we respond?
Well, one way is to chase after God asking Him to share what is the truth and whole truth and nothing but the truth from His perspective? We need to pray and build up a good relationship and trust that we can hear him accurately. The clearer and better the channel (i.e. the fewer of our own preconceived ideas get in the way) the better chance we have of getting it right.
There are times when it is right to ditch everything we have learnt and start from the beginning again.I have seen church leaders totally exasperated because the older members were so resoundingly taught something by one of their predecessors that they struggled to let loose of the idea. Years, possibly even decades later, that old teaching was still influencing the church. Mercifully in the example that stands out to me, it was more about the appearance of the church so in the greater scheme of things it was not as important as many other topics.
BTW just because we ditch tradition does not mean that we don’t respect the teaching of others. They are the ones who helped us reach the point where we are today. They laid the foundations of our understanding. However, there is something called the present truth. This is when people recognise a difference between the old truth and the present truth. Things have moved on. Interpretations have changed. New understandings of the same passages have arisen.
How I see church history?
I did some courses in church history courses a few years ago. It was not possible to do the full sweep of events as the only courses available covered early church history, the reformation and the modern era including the Victorian church. I was struggling to make sense of these three chunks so I asked God to help me work it out.
Shortly afterwards an understanding was downloaded into my brain that was quite different from anything that I had read. The basic idea was that the church started strong with all sorts of ideas. Then bit by bit these ideas were lost. Something happened and the idea seemed too hard to continue using so it was dropped.
This kept happening again and again until the church was little more than a shadow of what it started out as. Then came the reformation which was the turning point. After this turning point, the old ideas were added back to the church bit by bit by bit. You could almost draw it as a graph.
The interesting thing to me is that many people are concerned about the end of Christendom and recognise the need to adjust the outreach of the church to this new situation. By this they mean the end of Christianity being the state religion in large parts of Europe. The beginning of the rule of Christianity in the Roman world is usually given as the time when Emperor Constantine converted to Christianity. This was one of the things that happened early in church history. So the end of Christendom is taking the church back to the same situation as it found itself early in the first 3 or 4 centuries of its existence.
This view of church history also fits into the idea of looking at our Jewish roots. Especially when we remember that the things that were lost to the church are being restored and one of the things that we have lost are our Jewish roots.
In another sense, the exciting, or maybe daunting, aspect of this is that things are being restored more or less in the order of which they were lost. This means that the nearer we get to restoring the things that were lost at the beginning, the closer we are coming to the end of the world.
BTW in case, you think that this is some kind of unique perspective a few days after I had that download I heard a speaker at a conference repeat the same view of church history. They had got it from a book written by someone who led a prophetic church and again had had a download. Every so often I hear the same idea come up again as it makes sense to so many people.
We need to do some careful investigation into the background of many of our understandings of what we do in church and as individuals. This could mean celebrating the Jewish feasts e.g. Hanukkah rather than Christmas and Passover rather than Easter. It could mean showing more respect to the Jewish dietary laws.
It could mean that examining all these issues and many more besides could bring the purity that gives the church strength. A strength that enables it to fulfil its calling and makes it into something that the Jews are jealous of.
The first step is to say Lord shine your light on me and the fellowship of Christians I belong to and show us what is there that does not please you. Show us what to do to move to a situation where we are purer and stronger. Help us become more like what you want us to be like.
The second step is to make the choice to make the changes. Remember we have the free will to do so or not and as I keep saying God respects our free will. If we are willing to do things with Him He is willing to help us do them.