Skip to main content

Sitting Light to Tradition

Genesis 12.1-4a
One of the problems often faced by congregations in traditional churches is that the church members cling to the ways of their ancestors. They stick rigidly to patterns of worship and organisation which suited their parents and grandparents, who were often members of the same churches, even when these aren't suitable tools for reaching out to their contemporaries and making new Christians. These churches are in maintenance rather than mission mode. Like King Canute, they want to hold back the tide of change washing through the world around them and keep things as they used to be.

Holding back the tide makes a fun game on the beach, but it's no way to run a church and it isn't what God wants us to do. Like Abraham, God wants us to go where he tells us to go, even if it means leaving cherished traditions behind in order to connect with the people around us in new ways. That's the only way our churches are going to be blessed.

Romans 4.1-5, 13-17
In a series of complicated arguments, Paul makes the case that what counts is not sticking to tradition or doing the right thing - in this case keeping the Jewish Law - but being faithful to God. If the Jewish Law were crucial to being put right with God, what hope would there be for people who have never lived under that Law? Yet, Paul notes, Abraham was promised that he would become the father of many nations, not just of one nation. This is because keeping things the way they used to be is not part of the believer's mission. Trusting God, and putting our whole lives in God's hands, as Abraham did, is all that matters.

John 3.1-17
Here John is even more specific than Paul, although elsewhere Paul says exactly the same thing. Believing in Jesus and being filled with his Spirit is what trusting God really means. Of course, traditionalists would argue that they too have put their faith in Jesus and in the unchanging Gospel values which are enshrined in their traditions. But 'the wind blows where it chooses, and [we] hear the sound of it, but [we] do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.' We can't pin God or Jesus down to some fixed set of traditions which we happen to like. While it is true that the essential truths of the Gospel, such as John 3.16, remain unchanged for all time, we have to be ready to follow where the Spirit leads us and the Spirit may take us in new directions in order to communicate the eternal message that God 'gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish'.

Comments

Anonymous said…
I'm always nonplussed by our inbuilt resistance to change. Without change we die, literally and metaphorically. Perhaps when the whole world seems to have gone mad people hope that the church will remain an island of unchanging predictability - if so we are not true to the challenge of Christ (and we are also every so slightly boring...!).
METHODISTBISHOP said…
I agree absolutely - with your analysis of why church members resist change and why they are mistaken.

Popular posts from this blog

I don't believe in an interventionist God

Matthew 28.1-10, 1 Corinthians 15.1-11 I like Nick Cave’s song because of its audacious first line: ‘I don’t believe in an interventionist God’. What an unlikely way to begin a love song! He once explained that he wrote the song while sitting at the back of an Anglican church where he had gone with his wife Susie, who presumably does believe in an interventionist God - at least that’s what the song says. Actually Cave has always been very interested in religion. Sometimes he calls himself a Christian, sometimes he doesn’t, depending on how the mood takes him. He once said, ‘I believe in God in spite of religion, not because of it.’ But his lyrics often include religious themes and he has also said that any true love song is a song for God. So maybe it’s no coincidence that he began this song in such an unlikely way, although he says the inspiration came to him during the sermon. The vicar was droning on about something when the first line of the song just popped into his head. I suspect …

Giotto’s Nativity and Adoration of the Shepherds

John 1.10-18
In the week before Christmas the BBC broadcast a modern version of The Nativity which attempted to retell the story with as much psychological realism as possible. So, for instance, viewers saw how Mary, and Joseph especially, struggled with their feelings.

But telling the story of Jesus with psychological realism is not a new idea. It has a long tradition going back seven hundred years to the time of the Italian artist Giotto di Bondone. This nativity scene was painted in a church in Padua in about 1305. Much imitated it is one of the first attempts at psychological realism in Christian art. And what a wonderful first attempt it is - a work of genius, in fact!

Whereas previously Mary and the Baby Jesus had been depicted facing outwards, or looking at their visitors, with beatific expressions fixed on their faces, Giotto dares to show them staring intently into one another’s eyes, bonding like any mother and newborn baby. Joseph, in contrast, is not looking on with quiet app…

Why are good people tempted to do wrong?

Deuteronomy 30.15-20, Psalm 119.1-8, 1 Corinthians 3.1-4, Matthew 5.21-37 Why are good people tempted to do wrong? Sometimes we just fall from the straight and narrow and do mean, selfish or spiteful things. But sometimes we convince ourselves that we’re still good people even though we’re doing something wrong. We tell ourselves that there are some people whose motives are totally wicked or self-regarding: criminals, liars, cheats, two-timers, fraudsters, and so on, but we are not that kind of person. We’re basically good people who just indulge in an occasional misdemeanour. So, for example, there’s Noble Cause Corruption, a phrase first coined apparently in 1992 to explain why police officers, judges, politicians, managers, teachers, social workers and so on sometimes get sucked into justifying actions which are really totally wrong, but on the grounds that they are doing them for a very good reason. A famous instance of noble cause corruption is the statement, by the late Lord Denni…