We can never “go back,” only forward, seeking what it means to live faithfully in the time and culture where God has placed us. ~ Francis Chan
Can we go forward if we are constantly looking backwards? Let’s pretend that a self made millionaire, Donald Fox, launched a non-profit organization one hundred years ago designed to feed, house, and serve 100,000 poor, destitute, and hurting people in every city in the U.S. He named it the Cosmopolitan Coalition and he set his headquarters in Atlanta. He gave specific instructions on the exemplar behavior he wanted among volunteers, like do not be judgmental, be sure to be caring and understanding, love all people, if angry and resentment occurs, apologize and forgive, etc…Let’s say this vision died out after sixty years, and a local community begins to revive this organization.
But something strange begins to happen, no one can figure out how to go forward. After a long internal debate over whether or not they need to make another headquarters, and if they did, did it have to be in Atlanta, the majority decide to rebuild the headquarters in Chicago, another rebuilds the headquarters in Atlanta, and yet another group leaves because they feel the headquarters is to expensive, so they work out of homes.
After the groups go on their separate ways, a new internal struggles ensues, between team Daphne and team Donald on how to interpret the writings of the volunteers over the years. They had a blueprint of what the headquarters and the community centers in each city looked like, but their were difficulties in figuring out some of the finer points for these buildings. Team Daphne frantically argued that the inside of the building was to be dark blue while the team Donald rebuts that they are misinterpreting the writings, and that it actually refers to the outside of the building if you do more research and put all the accounts in the writings together. Dissenting voices in both teams argue that the word blue, one hundred years ago actually came from blut, which had more of a turquoise hue.
Furthermore, they couldn’t agree on the religious ordering of the morning chapel meetings. Mr. Fox had written that when we meet for chapel, we should always have prayer, a word of encouragement, and some good strong singing from the heart, and more importantly good food . Team Daphne, with there strong emphasis at taking history seriously, insisted that we always begin with a prayer, have a word of encouragement, and some good strong acapella singing from the heart, and to end it off with good food. But because of an incident where Mr. Fox chastised the volunteers for not sharing with the poor who were invited to chapel, they refused to have a full meal. Team Donald thinks that the order isn’t important or that the list is comprehensive, since in another letter he gives a different set of instruction, they also interpret “from the heart” as heartily instead of non-instrumental. Also, Team Daphne, only had one messenger teach, because if two people spoke it would be words/messages of encouragement; Team Donald disagrees.
Worst, they cannot come to agree on name. Team Daphne insists that it be named Mr. Fox Cosmopolitian Coalition, because without Fox’s name it isn’t really his coalition at all–they don’t say Donald Fox our of respect. Team Donald believes that Team Daphne is actually adding their own opinions because no writings actually say “Mr. Fox’s Cosmopolitan coalition.” The disagreement gets so heated that they go their separate ways. Team Daphne forms the “Mr. Fox’s Cosmopolitan Coalition” who begin chapel meetings with prayer, then a word, then singing, and finally a thimble of food, they have a blue interior and exterior with a kitchen next to the building. Team Donald forms the “The Only Cosmopolitan Coalition” which has an unrestricted open chapel meeting, a full course of food, with a turquoise blue on the inside and a darker blue on the outside. From these two spawn Team Daphne A and B and Team Donald A and B, because some believed in a rigid chapel pattern but turquoise interior, while others wanted a open chapel with dark blue interior.
We haven’t talked about what’s going on in “Organic House Cosmopolitan Coalition” or the “The One True Coalition in Atlanta!” Time would not suffice. If you’ve taken the time to read through all the dizzying fractures and splits above, then I commend you, ha! You probably found yourself agreeing with some of the camps above, I know I did. But what you, I, Team Daphne, Team Donald, Organic House, and Atlanta are missing is the original goal of Donald Fox. Can you still remember what it was? ” to feed, house, and serve 100,000 poor, destitute, and hurting people in every city in the U.S.” These groups were so focused in the pixels that they missed the picture; debating over whether it was a thimble of food or a full mean, neither invited any poor to eat with them. And worst, it appears none of the groups have actually taken the mission to help the marginalized all that well, instead that debate and splinter over disputable matters.
As a disciple of Jesus I cannot help but notice that we’ve done the exact same thing. Jesus came announcing the Kingdom of God, he gave us specific instructions on how to love (Matthew 5-7; Matt 18) and his early followers gave us similar instructions in their letters. The goal has always been to give glory to God and live totally immersed in Jesus and his word, in life and deed, and to love all people–this is the reign of God. Jesus can easily say to us “But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.”
Can we ever truly move forward if our eyes are fixed on the liturgy and traditions of churches of the past and not forward on Jesus? Will we allow the Spirit to breath into us? Maybe then we can have a birth of the church, a 21st century Pentecost, where the word will be preached with boldness, the poor and broken will be healed, our possession will not be our own and will be freely shared, the wise in the world confounded, and Jesus glorified as Messiah and judge. Jesus is the pattern.
Where shall we go from here?