Not too long ago, I wrote up a book review on John Eldredge’s The Way of the Wild Heart. I do appreciate what Eldredge has had to say in all of his works. As I came to the end of The Way of the Wild Heart, this being my third time through the book, I read these very interesting words in the final section on the life of the sage:
‘I recall a phrase I heard years ago, speaking of the men who led the church early in the twentieth century: “Yesterday’s Men.” At the time I liked the phrase. A young Warrior itching for his moment, something in me said, That’s right – these guys need to move over. It’s our turn. In retrospect, I repent of my arrogance. For now, twenty years downriver, I hate that phrase. We need more men around who have lived through yesterday, seen it, and even if they haven’t conquered it, they have learned from it.’
These words struck me as mightily important for today. For Christians who live in the modern, 21st century, we can many times get this idea that things started with us. ‘Who cares about what was said and done before. We are the ones. We have the ideas. We have arrived. It’s all about us.’
Or, to take it even further, today I find that many hold to the motto, ‘Who cares about what was said and done before. We are the ones. We have the ideas and our ideas are that we reject everything that came before us. We have arrived. It’s all about us.’
This kind of mindset is extremely dangerous. In the end, as Eldredge points out, such views are absolutely arrogant! Do we really have the audacity to think that it all started with us? Are we just going to chuck out the great ‘cloud of witnesses’ (Hebrews 12:1)?
Listen, I understand that the church has taken up some seriously unhealthy practices at certain periods in history. We all know the proverbial joke about the Dark Ages and why it was labeled as such. And I understand that, at times, unhealthy and unbiblical tradition has developed in both the past and present. By no means am I suggesting that we put tradition equal to the Scripture. The Pharisees and scribes did that at times and look where it got them (see Matthew 15:1-9).
But I also believe the church is to humbly approach our Christ-centred faith remembering that it isn’t all about us. We actually came from someplace. We actually have quite a few billion in that cloud of witnesses that have gone before us. The gospel did not become a reality in the late 20th or early 21st centuries. It’s been around for quite some time. I think about 2,000 years total.
But too many people have begun sipping from the chalice that says, ‘Forget them. We got it all figured out.’ God save us and humble us from such an ungodly mindset.
I have typically found this kind of thinking in many people within the recent emerging church movement. Listen, I am not here to bash the emerging church. For those who do spend the better part of their time doing so, I think it is ridiculous. There are a few more important things to get on with than to heresy hunt, trying to point out all groups that are wrong. Sometimes we need to simply get on with living out the gospel truth rather than focus on everyone who is not, or at least those we think are not.
But what I would challenge the emerging, or emergent, movement with is that they not be so quick to throw so much out of the window. It simply is too prideful and arrogant to do so. Again, some things need to be laid aside, and I leave you to decide which of those really need to be. But we are not called to scratch the whole card and completely make up a new one. We have come from somewhere. Those who have gone before us were involved in the conversation a long time before we were ever thought of.
Of course I believe that God is always doing ‘new things’ (see Isaiah 43:19). And I believe this Scripture not only spoke into Isaiah’s day, nor simply into the initiation of the new covenant in Christ’s day, but it also becomes a reality with our present day. Interestingly enough, the One who is faithfully consistent has continued to do new things along the centuries. But, in the midst of new things, the Faithful One does not ask us to disconnect from the past. He asks us to remember our history, remember the line from which we have come.
We see this in Paul’s plea to the Galatians:
This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise. (Galatians 3:17-18)
The Law was given, and Paul says it was given so that we would ultimately be pushed to Christ (3:19-29), but God did not annul nor forget that which He previously promised to Abraham – righteousness by faith (Genesis 15:6).
So, the lesson applicable to what I am trying to get across is that, even when God stirs a new thing in our midst, He does not ask us to completely forget those who have gone before us. There are people who have given their lives for Christ and the gospel of the kingdom. Most of us will not even come close to such a path. Therefore, I think it safe to say that those who have given their lives in such a way just might have been graced with a little more wisdom than you and I. Maybe? Maybe not? But it’s worth considering.
And, even in the midst of such new things in our midst, I would remind us that Scripture teaches us elsewhere that ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ (Ecclesiastes 1:9). The Teacher of Ecclesiastes reminds us that things really did not start with us. Again, God can stir new things in us and there will definitely be a sense of newness and freshness in our midst. But do we really think that this is new in the bigger perspective? Isn’t there an eternal One who sees it all at once?
Such truth and such reality reminds me of how Job responded after God appeared to him and began to speak to him: Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth (Job 40:4). Or, in modern English: I’ll shut up and crawl back into my hole now.
Therefore, let us be encouraged to keep pursuing our God. He is a dynamic and living God who is always doing new things. In this we find much encouragement and strength. But let us never walk down the arrogant path where we discard everything and everyone who has gone before us. Such is unhealthy. Such in unbiblical. Hey, I even think the cloud of witnesses will help us endure in the race set before us (see Hebrews 12:1).