In recent years there has been an emphatic return to historical Christianity. This return has been partly a response to the current expression and setting that we find in our churches and Christians today. This call or rediscovery of common roots has illuminated numerous problems that persist in our churches and congregations today. This move has not come quickly, but has been a process that can trace its roots all the way back to the apostolic age.
When Christianity emerged through the apostles a world was turned upside down. Being as succinct as possible, we know that the resurrection, appearances, and ultimately ascension of Jesus sent a shock wave through the entire Roman world. However as time ventured on the teaching and teachers progressively changed adapting to the cultural situations that existed in their day. This transition can be followed as: Apostle, Priestly, Pedagogy, and finally professional. These transitions in part are a current effect that we face in and around our 21st century today.
The 21st century and the role of the professional pastor can find most of its roots stemming from the enlightenment and modernity. Modernity would tell us that a good preacher is one that can express himself well and give good biblical knowledge to his congregation. This over emphasis on preaching coalescing with the idea that if you speak it, and they hear it, then they will know it, and ultimately do it; does not suffice. One does not have to look far to see that most people statistically remember about one sermon a year, and forget 90% of what the preacher said by that evening. This role that the Pastor is put in allows tremendous amount of unwarranted strain on his sermon and on the individual. His duty then is not so much to express his faith by example, but to show his faith through mere words and intelligence. This does not seem to fit our whole self; being strength, soul, and mind. It also encourages autonomous lifestyles of others in the church. The tendency from there is moralism, which we will now turn to.
Moralism or simple Christianity, expressed ascetically in practices such as reading your bible, praying, and going to church, again overemphasizes the self. Much of this moralistic teaching has been through our Sunday Schools, and many of these teachers have little biblical teaching joined with lack of exegetical understanding. The result is taking bible stories and expressing that because this person did good, he was blessed. In other words all stories have a moral understanding to them and the bible is simply reduced to a set of good and evil dualism, and therefore choose good and everything is great. This then shapes the individual to form a checklist in his or her mind, and they therefore can judge their Christianity based upon their moralistic tendencies. This simple Christianity, though the practices are not evil, misshapes the individual into either a autonomous lifestyle or into a very small esoteric group. We therefore have a whole lot of individuals in church and forget that we are all part of the same body. This body requires togetherness and fellowship, stems of the early church who met together regularly and broke bread and cared for each other and their needs (Acts 2:42). The current dynamic that is found today albeit is not expressed this way. Where most don’t even know who might be struggling. In fact the deepness of the relationships is so surface level, that most are only interested in seeing whether or not you came to church. As if they are keeping a checklist for your moralism, and if needed will take action to get you back on track. The gospel cannot be reduced to such simple understanding and is not so much interested in our ability to make right choices, but is interested in our character formation which ultimately leads to correct living, but also the ability to decipher how to respond to the gray areas of life.
This is again a brief overview of some of the overarching setting that we face today. So what is the solution? Well as I have already stated in the beginning it is a return to our historic roots. A journey back into historic Christianity and though their cultural setting is not the same, their orthopraxy and orthodoxy was sound. As you uncover the expression of ancient Christianity you find that the setting is vastly different. First of all, the importance of community as already suggested above was high. They were praying together, eating together, and caring for one another. And as Paul said, if one of them was hurting the whole body was hurting, if one was rejoicing they were all rejoicing. This communal aspect derives itself from our communal God. God and his perichoresis shapes our life here on earth. As he is in community with himself, and wholeheartedly desires to be in community with us so strongly that he sent his son to die for us, then we should respond by being in community with one another. This emphatic expression around community will eradicate the idea of the individual, and replace it with a piece or part of the body. This will also reduce the need for the preacher to be doing all the work, and the culmination will move from the sermon to what I believe it should be, the Eucharist. Our services are not about us, or about hearing a sermon from a person, but they are about the redeeming nature of God as expressed through his Son Jesus. This ultimate remembrance must be brought and expressed, through the simple yet profound practice of the Eucharist. This practice reminds us about God being broken for the world, and should encourage us to do the same. It also reminds of our broken state; yet justified through Jesus death, to remember to accept those who are broken, just as we were accepted. This common root which can be traced throughout most of church history needs to find itself again expressed, helping to maintain our focus or worship on God and not ourselves.
In doing so the Pastor will move from his state of high esteem to a place with the people. Where though he might be the teacher, he is more importantly part of the community. In this community he can be challenged once again to serve as Jesus served who washed the disciples feet.
Secondly, we must remember our common roots or our orthodoxy. Those expressed through our common creed, whether it be the Apostles or the Nicene. In doing so the division between our denominations and our bodies can begin to be healed. Pastors and denominations alike need to move from the popularity that we got it right in our orthopraxy, to we might have it right. This tendency in our churches to say that we have everything figured out correctly, whether it be in regards to the Calvinism, Arminianism, Dispensationalism, and so on, creates barriers in the Christian faith. Though the study of the Bible should be important it should not formulate itself to an attitude of “I Know it all.” But instead should encourage humility realizing that the more I learn the less I know. The statement therefore when it comes to theological statements should be I believe it to be, instead of it is. This macho/arrogance does not seem to fit the selfless humble attitude that a Christian should abide by. To much theology and not enough bible can get you into a lot of trouble. However, to much bible and no theology can also do the same. That is why we need to agree on the creeds and though we disagree on the pragmatics, still love one another. This will also keep the esoteric societies and communities out of the picture and once again encourage the community of the saints, part of the Nicene creed. This unity and solidarity will help to keep the consumeristic lifestyles of Christians in today’s world to a minimum, and in doing so push them towards Christ, not self. This union again returns us to a more historic view of Christianity, discovering our common roots.
There is a whole lot more I could say on this matter, but as I often say this is the beginning of the journey, not the end.
Much of these thoughts though not in its entirety have been spurred on by Robert Webber’s book entitled Common Roots,” I encourage you to read it for yourself.