Sunday, January 9, 2022

The past, present, and future. . .

I do not recall who said it but it has always stuck in my mind.  "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."  We have spent a good deal of attention recently on the past, not on the past as it was but as we wished it were.  We rewrote history and we tore down statues and we changed the names of our holidays.  Those in charge sought to make a new present by rewriting the past and they thought this was the way to a new future -- a future they controlled because they owned both past and present.

Politically I suppose it might work.  "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."  In part that is what politics is about.  Controlling the past, writing the narrative of what was to fit the vision of what they want it to be, the parties and political figures come and go.  Knowing that this constant pendulum swing was unsustainable, what began as an effort to bring continuity to the process became sort of a shadow government.  The people who came and went were served by people who were there year in and year out.  In the end, it might seem like the roles were reversed and the elected have become the pawns of those who remain in place after votes and terms are over.  I fear that this is the case only because it does not seem like conservatives do much more than slow the pace of change -- change cast in the progressive mold.

But does it also run true for the Church?  "Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past."  Is that something that we need to worry about as pastors and people of God?  I fear it is -- at least to a certain degree.  When it comes to the Scriptures, those who have doubts or reservations or distaste for the things in them have to a certain degree rewritten the Word of God.  They do so without touching the words of the text itself but by changing how we receive them.  Facts become metaphors, history becomes myth, and the narrative changes without changing one jot or iota.  Certainly this has been done.  Progressive Protestants have recast what Scripture says about homosexuality, marriage, sex, gender, children, family, race -- the whole of the woke agenda has been given a legitimacy simply by deciding how to view the past.  Progressive Roman Catholics are in essence doing the same thing and, in so doing, have created a battleground among their bishops, priests, and parishes.

The same is true for liturgical matters.  By picking a golden moment in history to use as that which defines the present and portends the future, the churches have effectively detached themselves from any hermeneutic of continuity to cast a pall over what they do not like.  Certainly Pope Francis is rewriting the future by controlling the past -- abrogating the Latin Mass in favor of Novus Ordo.  But Lutherans have done so as well.  The early Church has become the beacon of light to define what today ought to look like even for Lutherans and their version of the liturgical movement.  Other Lutherans pick a moment in Lutheran liturgical history -- from early times to 1941 and insist that this is what Lutheranism looked like and must look like now and shall look like in the future.  They learned this from those who advocated a theoretical faith that inhabited no particular form on Sunday morning.  In essence both have done the same thing.  In contrast to this is the deliberate and often plodding development of the liturgy which always displays its ancestry in the forms of the past while carefully evolving to meet the changes in the present and presenting the same process of slow development to the future.  Sadly, the voices of this latter view seem rather silent amid the worship wars that have plagued both Rome and Wittenberg.  It is no wonder that the faithful may seem to have PTSD.  

What unites past, present, and future for the Church is Christ.  Christ the same, yesterday, today, and forever.  That is the mantra of the faith and of the faithful.  We look into the history of God's people and see Christ.  We look around in the present and see Christ.  We look to the future and we see Christ.  Where Christ is the focus, there is no need to control the past or present or future.  This is what is so sorely lacking among us today.  Political practices have come to predominate.  Bishops and whatever we call those who exercise ecclesiastical oversight have become political offices and officers with agendas that compete with the proclamation of Christ alone.  Parishes have become political assemblies in which personality and demeanor count for more than doctrine and in which pastors are constantly testing the waters to judge their level of support and the people of God can dismiss him with a vote of no confidence.  Survival modes abound among us when closing parishes and finding ways to pay pastors less is as important as proclaiming Christ.  Success modes abound among us in which emulating the latest and edgiest version of Christianity is more important than doctrinal fidelity.  

In the end, viewing the past in Christ and the present through Christ and the future as Christ's own, we find ourselves less worried about the ups and downs of living in but not of the world and we act less out of fear than out of faithfulness.  It gives us not control (which is the sinful desire in us) but confidence, not power but courage, and not authority but service.  These are the things that endure, that enable us to endure, and that earn the good reward promised by our Lord.  We are not here to take control of the past or to control our present or to create our own future.  We are here to serve Christ, who is the center of the past, the life of the present, and the promise of tomorrow.

1 comment:

Carl Vehse said...

In Geroge Orwell's book, 1984, this is one of the Party slogans that Thought Police agent O'Brien commanded Winston Smith to repeat:

'There is a Party slogan dealing with the control of the past,' he said. 'Repeat it, if you please.'

"Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past," repeated Winston obediently.

"Who controls the present controls the past," said O'Brien, nodding his head with slow approval. 'Is it your opinion, Winston, that the past has real existence?'

Again the feeling of helplessness descended upon Winston. His eyes flitted towards the dial. He not only did not know whether 'yes' or 'no' was the answer that would save him from pain; he did not even know which answer he believed to be the true one.