Church: Old and New
A Transcultural Teaching
Wednesday, October 30, 2019
Every disciple of the kingdom is like a householder who draws out from his storage room, things both old and new. —Matthew 13:52
This text inspired this year’s Daily Meditations theme of “Old and New: An Evolving Faith.” Christianity isn’t done growing and changing. Jesus himself invites us to take things out of our faith-filled “storage room” and discern what is essential. We don’t want the church or the Christian tradition to become an antique shop just preserving old things. We want to build on old things and allow them to be useful in different ages, vocabularies, and cultures. We want our faith to be ever new, so that it can speak to souls alive and in need right now! Otherwise, the faith we cherish so much stops working and it can’t do its job of turning our hearts to God and to one another.
One thing will never change, however. Our faith is founded on the life and death of Jesus the Christ. Sebastian Moore (1917–2014), was a Benedictine monk of Downside Abbey in England. He insisted that we as Christians could not lose sight of the fact that the church was formed by clinging to a scandalous memory—the shameful execution of Jesus. Moore wrote:
The Church came into existence as a community that preserved the dangerous memory of Jesus—the memory of his public crucifixion and his subsequent return among his frightened followers in a way that was totally without reproach but was rather utterly new and beyond anything that could have been previously imagined. This new radical community has held together over two thousand years, as a community based, at bottom, on mutual love and not, as with other human institutions on fear.
The Church’s contemplation of this dangerous memory is what we call ‘theology’, which is actually founded on the marriage of sacred Scripture with philosophy—particularly classical Greek philosophy. This is important. A religion . . . that is without theology quickly becomes fundamentalist as it begins to interpret Scripture in a literal way, full of cultural bias and with little rational underpinning.
Fundamentalism is always culture-bound, whereas, although the story of Jesus is historical, set in a particular time, place and culture, his teaching is essentially transcultural. So, too, should be the teaching of his Church. . . .
The Church should not minimise the radically different nature of its revelation. Christian revelation is founded in the person of Jesus who invites us into the freedom of God’s love . . . nevertheless, for too much of its history, indeed since the time of Constantine, the Catholic Church has not in practice demonstrated this God-offered freedom but has rather been associated with worldly power . . . [and] it is important to acknowledge this historical failing of the Christian Church.
Like Sebastian Moore, I believe that at times we as a church have lost the thread, so to speak, and been more concerned with power and privilege than Jesus’ life and teachings. Too often our leadership has relied on shame and fear to influence people far more than love, which Jesus was all about.
Sebastian Moore, The Contagion of Jesus: Doing Theology as If It Mattered (Orbis Books: 2008), 59-60.