Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

In a world where conspiracies are rampant, Catholics are not immune. Check out this story, in which conservative Catholics blame liberal academics for the current priest shortage! Unbelievable. But conservative Christians are certainly looking for people to blame when the world, society, and religion naturally evolve over time, as it should. Also on the Catholic front, a priest mourns the recent decision by the Pope to revive the Latin Mass, apparently nullifying some of the work of the much needed Second Vatican Council in the 60s. I knew that Catholicism under Benedict XVI would be regressive and, well, here we go.

Many of the new movements, confessions, and declarations popping up today are obvious attempts to hang onto old ways in a world that has, well… moved on. Reforming can be a very good and much needed thing. “Returning” to anything instead of carving out new space, though, is probably not a good thing. It’s akin to trying to shove everything back into a closet in which the contents have outgrown the space. It’s pouring new wine into old wineskins:

[36] He told them this parable: “No one tears a patch from a new garment and sews it on an old one. If he does, he will have torn the new garment, and the patch from the new will not match the old. [37] And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins, the wine will run out and the wineskins will be ruined. [38] No, new wine must be poured into new wineskins. [39] And no one after drinking old wine wants the new, for he says, ‘The old is better.’ ” (Luke 5)

There is always going to be tension between the new and the old. It’s the way of life and of evolutionary processes. Nothing is really gained by going backwards except to further isolate those who cannot be flexible. Jesus knew this and told the above parable to point out the inflexibility of the Pharisees and those who would not move with the new Kingdom and new Kingdom ethics. Sticking to this or that form because “it’s always been done” is stifling and allows no room for the Spirit to move. Confining people’s lives through ancient practices is also akin to stifling the Living Spirit. Sadly, it’s also a common tactic to demonize those who wish for change; feminists, religious progressives, those in gender studies, genetic researchers. It’s an attempt to blame such people for all the ills befalling society today rather than reach out in love and respect.

I’ve always been keen on inclusion rather than exclusion in the Body.  It’s not for me to say who God loves or who God doesn’t love. I’m always amazed at the audacity of those who claim to know these things for sure.  For me, love is the only glue and mercy the only test for inclusion. All else is idolatry.

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11 thoughts on “Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back

  1. Hrmm… I think that “regression” should apply principally and not chronologically. In this case, amen, the regression to a past practice is not so great.

    However, if you look at things like alcohol, chronological regression can be a GREAT thing. The bible never says that drinking is a sin, only drunkenness. So to go back and allow for liberty and discernment when it comes to drinking alcohol, thus shedding a relatively modern trend of doctrinally disallowing drinking by all Christians, is quite progressive in principle.

    Great post!

  2. Brad,
    This is true. Neither drinking, nor gambling, nor eating or anything like this is a sin, only the addiction to such things. I think looking at the spirit of rather than the letter of the law is what I think should be the focus in decisions of this kind. All else seems like legalism to me.

  3. “Neither drinking, nor gambling, nor eating or anything like this is a sin, only the addiction to such things.”

    So true, particularly when we make “idols” of them, as you suggest.

    “I think looking at the spirit of rather than the letter of the law is what I think should be the focus in decisions of this kind. All else seems like legalism to me.”

    Also very true. Jesus does not expect us to literally cut off our hand or gouge out our eye if they cause us to sin. It is an illustration used to communicate the seriousness of it and the steps we should take in fighting sin.

    In re: to legalism… I wrote a 4 part series comparing cheap grace (part 1) and legalism (part 2), and how we should be maintaining a balance of both liberty and law, while not straying off the road into either ditch. If you’re interested, go here:
    http://bradedwards.wordpress.com/2007/06/18/cheap-grace-legalism-and-the-emergingent-church-part-4/

    But yeah, legalism sucks. Nuff said.

  4. Gah. The writer of the paper doesn’t seem to comprehend that nothing occurs in a vacuum. I don’t think it’s coincidental that the liberalism of Christianity is occur around the same time as globaliziation. We’re no longer isolated like we once were, and so can’t just cast the ‘other’ as a Satan-filled enemy. Yes, it’s a generalization, when but when seeing someone of another religion have a devout faith and sense of peace, it’s not as easy to call them ‘lost’ as it once was.

    Plus, he also doesn’t seem to get that you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.

    It makes me wonder: if the Reformation hadn’t occured, would the Catholic church be in absolute control of the Bible, and the layman be forced to rely on them to know what the Bible says?

  5. Heather,

    Yes, control of what people see, read, or hear is a big issue in religion. There is constant fear of people thinking for themselves, which is why the Reformation happened in the first place. Now, the Reformers are in that boat and are angry if believers still want to keep reforming the church. Those who think they “KNOW” wish to stop there and not receive new light, but the Spirit moves where it wills, regardless of men’s plans, and I mean men’s literally.

  6. It’s important to not use “reform” for “liberalize” though. I’m a happy moderate, for the record.

    The reform that the reformers fought for was far less a progressive evolution of the faith than it was a return to the original intent of the faith. If reform does not seek to return to the roots of the faith, then it is most certainly not reform at all.

  7. “I’ve always been keen on inclusion rather than exclusion in the Body. It’s not for me to say who God loves or who God doesn’t love. I’m always amazed at the audacity of those who claim to know these things for sure. For me, love is the only glue and mercy the only test for inclusion. All else is idolatry.”

    That’s a great quote. I think so much of it is wrapped around the notion of power. One way to maintain and exercise power is to take on the role of gatekeeper. Getting to decide who is “in” and who is “out” is a key facet of the exercise of power. This is, of course, the opposite of what Jesus taught, but there you have it.

  8. mystical seeker,
    Welcome to the blog! Power has such a hold on people that some do not even think about how they wield it. You’re right that it’s the exact opposite of what Jesus taught. Giving up power in the name of love is what is true. Thank you for the comment.

  9. Mystical,

    **Getting to decide who is “in” and who is “out” is a key facet of the exercise of power. This is, of course, the opposite of what Jesus taught, but there you have it.**

    Exactly. One thing that I often walk away from after reading the Gospels is that humans never defined those who were in and out correctly — Jesus kept reminding the religious elite that the decision didn’t rest with them.

    So often when someone informs me of my spiritual status, I have to bite my tongue so I don’t say, “Oh, I”m sorry, I didn’t realize you were God! Was there a memo somewhere? Did I miss it?”

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