Today we see an emerging divergence from traditional structures, and even some orthodox beliefs within the American church. Of course many would say, What is orthodoxy? Perhaps we need a more "generous approach". A structure that is often dysfunctional, non-relational, task-driven, individualistic, non-communal, theologically divisive, more concerned with producing erudite thinkers than with contrite broken hearts, and modeled after success oriented businesses- rather than an organic living body that is adaptable fluid and mobile, should certainly be questioned. All things considered, perhaps we should have some degree of apprehension in how far we let the pendulum swing. A radical divergence is taking place that brings with it greater diversity, potential for greater division, and higher degrees of separation in an already all too polarized Church. We must be cautious in the steps we take as we move forward. If we abandon all that is to be learned from our historical heritage as believers, then we will be as those who in forgetting the past- are destined to repeat it's mistakes.
The reformers believed in the concept of "semper reformanda" or always reforming. For us today, perhaps this would mean nothing more than a simple, practical and constant "refinement". It would be a harsh overstatement to say that any reformation is a call to "throw the baby out with the bathwater". Even reformers like Luther were simply bringing the Catholic Church back to what he saw as orthodoxy. Much of what Luther found in Augustinian literature was once embraced by the majority of early Catholic Christians. His call to reformation was perhaps, really a "bringing back" to what he believed was Biblical orthodoxy and not an abandonment of "all that was". As a side note, I'm not stating this to push us all towards embracing an Augustinian-Reformed theology. I'm simply using this as an example to make a point.
The Bible is our reference point to keep us stabilized in times of upheaval. Christians should embrace "Sola Scripture" or "Bible only". That is the Bible,- not merely as one authority, but as the authority above all other authorities for truth. The Bible only, yet we do not have any private interpretation of Scripture. The body of Christ is corporate, not individual. Therefore, we come to the Bible in a corporate sense when interpreting its truths. We learn from those who came before us, and we learn from those who surround us now. There is a strong sense of accountability in the Body of Christ. This of course is an excellent way to safeguard us from running too far in the wrong direction, based on our own presuppositions and biases. We do not base our beliefs merely on the popularity of a concept or ideal. On the contrary, much of what we find popular today, may actually be categorized as heretical. Yes, we have the Holy Spirit, but our perceptions are often tainted by the flesh and our finite comprehension. Perspicuity of the Scriptures as its often used today (the simplicity and intelligibility of the Scriptures) does not mean that we abandon accountability. We must embrace each other knowing that no member survives or functions apart from the other. Each member of the body works in a complementary way with the others. Each member is of vital necessity in completing the tasks that God has placed before us. Considering these things, we may need to be sensitive and cautious when using terms like "mainline" and "traditional" in regards to the Church. The Body of Christ is one universal church.
Maybe we could move towards allowing each man be to convinced in his own mind, while maintaining accountability in the core doctrines of our faith. Maybe we should release the grip that we hold so tight on all those things we are so convinced of are black-and-white and yet may be quite gray in a Biblical sense. It would be a tragic waste of a life to have spent one's days trying to delineate concise answers to every single theological question that arises within one's own sphere, while the world outside perishes.
As I ponder these things I wonder if what we need is a change in our "ethos". Don't get me wrong theology really matters, and I'm against the idea in many postmodern minds that thinks orthopraxy is all that is needed, while orthodox theologies come under fire. I have a very open mind in many ways, and yet find myself somewhat alarmed with "fresh perspectives on Paul" that disregard two-thousand years of Church history, while the assumption is made that only true scholars today are able to interpret the true meaning of Paul, or the Scriptures. Or the idea that the Church is only now arriving at a point of understanding. I believe, looking back into history, that we should strongly acknowledge the concept of a progressive revelation. However, the term progressive in regard to revelation implies a gradual & greater degree in understanding over time, rather than a complete misunderstanding leading up to an enlightenment. Could it be that today it's not just incorrect theology that stands in our way? Might it also be that what we have set our focus on is slightly or even greatly misguided? Perhaps what we most greatly treasure is everything but God.
Those who focus strictly on outward obedience to God's Word, can often have a tendency towards rigid legalism. Those who focus strictly on teaching God's Word, quite often miss the mark by assuming that knowledge alone will lead to transformed lives. Those who focus strictly on the churchs tasks, have a tendency to mow over people and miss the relational and communal aspect of Gods Church. On the other hand those who focus strictly on a relational, communal church, often have a diminutive theological perspective while devaluing authoritative teaching. Those who strictly focus on cultural relevance have a tendency to elevate temporal things to the status of the eternal.
Have our methodologies been weighed and found wanting? Many revivalists speak of the danger of so strongly emphasizing strategies, while so greatly neglecting the need for transformed hearts and lives through repentance. There seems to be then a need for refinement, or even a reformation of values. Especially when taking into account our American mindset, we need to ask where a break may be necessary in our thinking, perspective, and values.
We need to ask ourselves whether the ethos that we live by is bringing about actions that embody the heart of the Gospel. Are our hearts burdened with the things of God? Does the way that we live our lives send a positive signal to the world, about where our true affections lie? Are we piercing the darkness for Christ, and transforming the world around us, or does it transform us, and conform us to its ways. Do we rely more on mere strategies of men rather than power from on high? As so many great men have warned us, we must repent, and we must learn to be a people of prayer. Our nation cannot afford to sit by idle while the worlds philosophies, and ideologies consume a generation starved for meaning. People greatly need vision, and so many people truly hunger to be challenged. We must wake up and consider our ways. We need to seek God in prayer and consider how we might adopt a new and radical ethos that sets the world ablaze for the glory of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We need a new ethos that pervades all that is Godless in this world with His infusive light and love. A new ethos that would love Gods Church and die for it as Christ did. Thus identifying ourselves with the words and life of the Apostle Paul who said: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christs afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church. Colossians 1:24
For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen Romans 11:36