Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Not Starting with a Blank Slate

Tabula rasa.  There are those who would believe that the Church is a blank slate to be written on by each age and generation as it deems needful or helpful.  In classic terms it means that knowledge comes from experience and perception.  In Church terms, it means that every age and place will come up with definitions of what is to be believed about God and how He is to be worshiped.  Okay.  Maybe it is not quite that crass.  But it is close.  Maybe no one actually believes that every age and place starts completely from scratch.  I do think, however, that many do tend to begin with fewer givens, fewer essentials, and fewer non-negotiables.  And this, to me, is scary.

We are a Church of the Word made flesh in a given place, at a given time.  We believe in the Christ of history whom God has made known as His very own Son.  We believe Scripture to be a book rooted in history and historical fact.  The Gospel is not an idea which each generation reshapes to make its own.  The Gospel is that this Jesus became flesh and blood, the Son of God incarnate, to suffer and die in our place on a cross that was made by us and for us, and to rise again that death may not claim us but life is ours forever.  Jesus insists that this Gospel is fact, history, and concrete reality.

But when it comes to God, its seems impossible for us NOT to redefine God or to reshape His Word and the Gospel to fit our own presuppositions and parameters.  In other words, we do not have a Jesus Christ who is yesterday, today and forever the same but a Jesus who is only the same for a moment and then becomes someone new and different as we need or as we shape Him.

The world may enjoy this a bit but it certainly does not need such a God or such worship.  It may be entertaining for a moment or even comforting for a moment, but the world does not need such religion that has to be or allows itself to be reinvented every age and in every place.  And that is why those who insist upon redefining the Church and worship have to be ahead of every trend or they are but a moment away from being out of date or irrelevant.  The Church that is moved by such fear cannot confess the authentic Gospel of Jesus Christ for this Gospel confronts and casts out such fear.  Its greatest comfort to us is that it is not something subject to reinvention or redefinition by us but is revealed by the Father by the work of the Spirit, the once for all sacrificial death and life-giving resurrection which is applied to each and every moment but which, itself, remains forever the same.

So it is with great sadness that I read of so many "contemporary" worship congregations where staff and committee must begin each Monday with a blank sheet of paper to decide how to confess this God and how to worship Him next Sunday.  What we do in the name of relevance is, in reality, the height of irrelevance to a world confronted by every kind of change yet in search of Him who changes not.

Language changes and so how we speak this Gospel can and does change... Music changes and musical forms in the liturgy may change and adapt.  But the Gospel itself dare not change and the word lifted up by that music must not change.  We cannot afford to stake our claim on one particular period in history and attempt to recreate that moment in time but neither can we afford to disdain what has come before and re-write the creeds and begin each Sunday with a blank sheet of paper.  In reality, we worship not the God who is forever the same but ourselves -- and we are never the same but always changing. 

1 comment:

ErnestO said...

"Not Starting with a Blank Slate" but rather we start with Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans. The following is quoted from Tozer on Christian Leadership:

And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.
-1 Corinthians 3:1

I believe that it might be well for us if we just stopped all of our business and got quiet and worshiped God and waited on Him. It doesn't make me popular when I remind you that we are a carnal bunch, but it is true, nevertheless, that the body of Christians is carnal. The Lord's people ought to be a sanctified, pure, clean people, but we are a carnal crowd. We are carnal in our attitudes, in our tastes and carnal in many things. Our young people often are not reverent
in our Christian services. We have so degraded our religious tastes that our Christian service is largely exhibitionism.

We desperately need a divine visitation-for our situation will never be cured by sermons! It will never be cured until the Church of Christ has suddenly been confronted with what one man called the *mysterium tremendium-the fearful mystery that is God, the fearful majesty that is God. This is what the Holy Spirit does. He brings the wonderful mystery that is God to us, and presents Him to the human spirit. The Counselor, 66-67.

*Mysterium Tremendum et Fascinans - Latin phrase coined by the German Protestant theologian Rudolf Otto to name the awe-some (fascinating and full of awe) mystery that, he argued in his German work on comparative theology, Das Heilige (1917; translated as The Idea of the Holy, 1923), was the object common to all forms of religious experience.