Faithful churches are looking forwards and backwards – forwards in methodology and backwards in creed.
Dying churches are looking forwards and backwards – backwards in methodology and forwards in creed.
Faithful churches exist for getting the gospel out and welcoming failures in. We are always looking for new, creative, innovative, and box-breaking ways to do it. Credally, we are ad fontes, back to the sources from which we sprang, back to Jesus, the Bible, the early church. It’s an old story we’re retelling. But the language in which we tell is is always new.
Dying churches do it exactly the other way around. Methodologically, they say things like, “Remember how we did it 20 years ago? Wasn’t that great?” They go back to the same styles, the same sounds, the same vocabulary, and often the same (stagnated) leaders. Theologically they may (or may not) then be open to wandering. They have little left to be committed to than the way things used to be. Going back as far as Jesus is a dangerous thing for them to do, because in him they’ll find a pioneer and an adventurer who will leave the religious people who feel safe at church to go looking for someone who is lost (Luke 15). They tend to replace theology with tradition.
If you’re following Jesus, he’s only going forwards. The front windshield is bigger than the rear view mirror for good reason.
2 thoughts on “Forwards and Backwards”
Do you find room in your forward-looking to reflect upon the “great cloud of witnesses” who have gone before us and to whom we owe an accounting of our faithfulness not to depart from the truths they have died defending? Overturning traditions in order to be in tune with current thinking does not always bring, but may aggravate, breakdowns in communications between generations and leave young people bereft of many advantages.
I am considering that the many missionary biographies with which I am acquainted, testifying to the faithfulness and miraculous provisions and leading of God, may be included in the rubbish bins if we do not expose young people to them. If we keep the old hymns merely in memory, or rob them of their potency by dropping out verses of the poet’s composing because they make the song longer, are we not losing out on the substance of the exhortation? These testimonies are analogous to nourishing food stored in the pantry for winter. During dark times, when food is scarce, they are meant to sustain us. If young people are missing what the elderly have to share of God’s faithfulness, they are bereft indeed. And, many are not near grandparents; so, the church may be their only source of such fellowship.
The veterans of the spiritual battles may need help as well from the younger, tech-savvy generations to help them share their stories in more modern packaging. I just want to plead for the church to go counter-current to the culture and teach young people to honor the experiences and wisdom learned in the “schools of hard knocks” their elders endured to grasp the lessons. Young people may be assured that their lives ahead will include many painful, sorrowful experiences that could be avoided by making the effort to find and listen and read what generations before have stored up for them.
I remember my high school English teacher assigning us to read Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. This classic allegory, written centuries ago, seemed comical to me at the time. Years later, when the Lord met me during a lonely period in college, I discovered how very relevant his story had become. It was so comforting to know that I was not alone…that others generations before me had also come to know the same struggles and victories. I got a chance to visit her and thank her as I shared my initial reaction and newfound faith. I did grow up in the church, and learned many hymns, singing alongside my folks during service as I read the words, learned the melodies, and picked up the musical notations. Some of it made sense, but not fully. Those hymns, however, are stored away in my brain and the Holy Spirit has access to them. He has often brought me a line or two with the remembered melody, sending me fishing on the bookshelf for the hymnal, only to open a treasured truth and word of comfort aimed straight for my heart like a bear hug from Heaven. I do so want this generation not to lose out on such memories and nourishment!
As I said, faithful churches look backwards when it comes to creeds, which you seem to agree with. As to the value of hymnals, which publishing companies aren’t even printing anymore, you might contemplate why you don’t worship in Latin and sing Gregorian chant.