Red and blue. Progressive and traditional. These words have become battle lines and rallying cries in our alarmingly divided nation. Yet, in the midst of this battle, the Church must stay the course by sticking to the mission entrusted to her by her Head (even and especially in the midst of a culture that rushes to drop tradition in lieu of a notion of progress).
The Church should always be traditional, so much as she should be looking back to measure herself against the standard that the Word of God, passed down the ages, has set for her.
Our culture, our hearts always search for the shiny and new. The same seems to be true of the Church. We love conferences on the “new” theology, the “new” strategy, the “new” perspective.
The obsession with the “new” is nothing new. Jeremiah cried out, on behalf of God, to God’s people, “They have healed the brokenness of My people superficially, saying ‘Peace, peace,’ but there is no peace…Thus says the Lord, ‘Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls.’ But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.'” (Jeremiah 6:14 & 16)
I am not saying the Chuch ought to stick with tradition merely for the sake of tradition, as we all know that the Church is a beloved but broken bride and has been since her inception. However, I am crying out, like Jeremiah, that tradition, insofar as it is lined up with the standard of God’s word, deserves a weighted vote. “The democracy of the dead,” as Chesterton calls tradition, merits a sound hearing.
The Church should always be progressive, so much as she should be looking ahead and moving closer to the vision set before her in the Word of God. Here, I am using progressive in the truest sense of the term. Christ’s bride and body here on earth should always be moving closer and closer to the New Jerusalem, to the picture of the New Heavens and the New Earth so artfully captured by the captured John, imprisoned on Patmos and recording Revelation.
G. K. Chesterton addressed the wrong notion of progress present in his England in Orthodoxy. As usual, his assessment applies today.
“We have mixed up two different things, two opposite things. Progress should mean that we are always changing the world to suit the vision. Progress does mean (just now) that we are always changing the vision…We are not altering the real to suit the ideal. We are altering the ideal: it is easier.”
The mark of true brilliance is the ability to bring thoughts from the highest shelves of human thinking down to the lower shelves in such a way that the average man can access and understand them. G. K. Chesterton shows his brilliance by illustrating this wrong idea of progress in the example below.
“Silly examples are always simpler; let us suppose a man wanted a particular kind of world; say, a blue world. He would have no cause to complain of the slightness or swiftness of his task; he might toil for a long time at the transformation; he could work away (in every sense) until all was blue. He could have heroic adventures; the putting of the last touches to a blue tiger. He could have fairy dreams; the dawn of a blue moon. But if he worked hard, the high-minded reformer would certainly (from his own perspective) leave the world better and bluer than he found it. If he altered a blade of grass to his favorite color every day, he would not get on at all. If, after reading a fresh philosopher, he started to paint everything red or yellow, his work would be thrown away; there would be nothing to show except a few blue tigers walking about, specimens of his early bad manner.”
If Christ told the Church her purpose was to proclaim the gospel and the Word and the supremacy of Christ in all arenas of life, then we must stay the course. Watching the gospel advance soul to soul is painstaking work. Blade by blade, we are to be painting the world blue. The work is slow and far from sexy. It seems old-fashioned in such a technicolor world. In light of these realities, one can understand how tempting it would be to alter the vision of the Church to something simpler, quicker, more attainable, to start painting the blades of grass another color.
But we must be the traditional, progressive Church. We need to glance back and glance ahead from time to time, but our gaze must be on our bride-groom, Christ. And blade by blade, we must work to see His will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
The new thing is the old thing with new people.