Monday, 27 September 2004

Pressing forward, not looking back.

"I imagine there are a lot of people that could find incredible richness in the traditions and theology of their denominations"

I took this quote from a post on The Heresy about the Anabaptists, and their rise and decline. The thrust was that there is a great deal of value in the traditions of the various denominations and movements scattered through church history. Maybe because of what God is saying to the church line I'm part of, and maybe because He's saying it to me, but I feel quite strongly otherwise.

"You say 'I am rich. I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing'. But you do not realise you are wretched, pitiful, poor blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire so that you can become rich..."

This was not spoken to individuals, but to a church. This particular church had an appearence of godliness, but was neither persuing God with all it's heart, nor turning away from Him. Sound familiar? To me, with every move of God's spirit has come fresh reminders of different aspects of the truth He wants us to walk in. For example one can draw the need to confess our sins to our bretheren from Catholic practice, the need for each individual to find their own faith from the anabaptists, the need to be baptised from the baptists etc etc. The problem is that what has become of these 'traditions' are man's way of holding on to what they've got when the Spirit of God has progressed to the next truth He planned to reveal. The tradition is a way of making sure everyone keeps on doing what they did, rather than following the cloud.

Paul grew up in a culture rich with traditions given them by God. He had position and credibility in those traditions, yet what did he say? "I count it all rubbish compared to knowing Jesus". I appreciate this is slightly out of context, since he was referring to Judaism vs Christianity, but I think the comparison is a sound one - he was comparing a set of traditions that had been organised to substitute for a living faith in God and seeing they could not measure up to *knowing* God.

Please don't think I'm throwing away all the theology that goes with church history. However a portion of it has been carefully constructed to support whatever heresies were used to build and maintain the tradition, and it all needs thorough and careful examination before it should be accepted.

We recently were visited in the main church in Oxford by John Kelly from Bangor in Northern Ireland. He preached an impassioned message about how important it was to never be satisfied with seeing fulfilled God's promises to us. The thrust was that as one set of 'promises' are completed, so God opens up a wider expanse of possibilities to us, with 'promises' to match the wider scope. As an example he used the 'missionaries' sent from Ireland throughout Europe in the middle ages (he gave dates and much detail, but alas, I didn't record them) planting churches and bringing both education and the word of God to the courts of europe. His point - it was inconceivable that an insignificant church in a geographical backwater could have such a major role in a burgeoning world. It was only because several generations built each upon the previous, getting hold of God afresh for greater things that it was able to happen.

The essence of all this is that while there may be some nuggets to be found, I believe traditions are just man's way of keeping the clockwork wound long after the electricity of the Spirit has departed. I am sure that if Wesley appeared tomorrow, he would ask the methodists "What on earth do you think you're doing?" He would not be worrying whether people would still be talking about the things he talked of - he'd be wanting to know what God had done over the last couple of centuries. He wouldn't want people to find comfort in methodism - he'd want people to cast themselves on God for their ongoing salvation.

I want it to be said that I served God in my generation, but I certainly would not wish to leave behind anything that will allow other men to walk as I did, rather than find their own walk with God. This is not a negative word, but for me at least, a call to press forward, leaving behind all that has been and straining for the goal.

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