I’ve edited this post because one of the ideas didn’t commuincate as clearly as I would have liked, and in some cases, communicated something unintended. To be understood, the communicator has a large responsibility to clearly communicate. I failed at that, and rather then leave something there for confusion, I have taken responsibility my taking out what was confusing. Please accept my apologies.
I wonder how many of us need to stop trying to get back something that is long gone? Get back to a point in our marriage, get back to a kind of church, get back a feeling, get back a relationship/job/financial status, etc. Wouldn’t it better to let it go so that we can grab hold of the new thing before us? Because in all likelihood, once we get back what we want, it won’t be the same. So let it go. Loosen the grip. Move on. Yeah, it’ll be scary as hell. We know the past. We don’t know the future. We don’t know what will change and what won’t change. And all this fear about change is true. Change is hard and painful and riddled with grief. Worst of all, change changes me.
And I really hate that.
Despite my aversion to change, I have been thinking about this idea of “getting back” to something. I don’t know if it is still trendy or not (I’m not trendy enough to know) but I remember, not too long ago, all the talk about “getting back to the ancient church.”
I hate that phrase. Not just necessarily the “ancient church” part, but the “getting back” to part.
Getting back to what?
We hear this phrase all over the place. “If only America could get back to the intent of the Founding Fathers.” “If only we could get back to the time when people had morals.” “If only we could get back to when kids had good work ethics.” Pick your hobby horse. There is probably some glory day in the past that would change the world if only we could “get back” to them.
I don’t believe there is any place for that in the church.
Wanting to get back to anything is a futile effort in romanticizing a past that doesn’t exist. Nothing is as good as we remember it or imagine it to be. We can romanticize getting back to Christendom because it seemed society had better morality. But we would be neglecting the fact that families in the 50’s were broken too. It just looked different. And was better hidden.
But it isn’t just our longing to “get back” to something in society. The church has its romanticized glory days as well. Everybody wants the Acts 2 church, but forgets to read to Acts 6 where the church was in a dispute and wasn’t awesome anymore. The past never looks the way we imagine it.
I also believe it is anti-gospel to dream of “getting back” to something. As Christians, we are never looking back. We are looking forward. We are not trying to get back to Eden. God is not calling us back to the way things were, but God is calling us to what will be. Revelation does not end with John seeing Eden restored, but seeing a “new heaven and a new earth.”
The moment we desire to “get back” to something, we idolize something that does not exist.
No, I don’t want to get back to anything. I want something new. I want a new way of doing church. I want a new way of discipleship. I want a new way of being in the midst of relationships. I want a new life. But we don’t think like that, do we? We hear God say, “Behold, I am making all things new, ” but we act as if God said, “Behold, I will return all things to the way they were.”
The minute Christians focus on “getting back” to anything we stop being a faith centered on hope. A faith centered on trying to get back to something is a faith centered on nostalgia and good ‘ol glory days. Hope cries out for the future. Hope does not long for what was, but longs for what is to come.
Every time the church gathers around the table and breaks bread and blesses the cup it practices, not looking back, but a hope forward. We don’t long to get back to the cross and the sacrifice of Jesus. We remember the cross and hope forward to the banquet table. We don’t long to get back into the presence of Jesus in the upper room. We hope forward to God making his dwelling with humans.
You see, wanting to get back to the way it was or the glory days or the ancient church or the ____________ is an old wineskin. It will burst.
We can’t move into the future if we are still trying to get back to the past.
We aren’t going back. Christianity is not a faith trying to conserve anything. In a very real sense, all Christians should be progressives because the gospel, the story of God making all things new, is a story of the progressive unfolding of God’s work in history. That isn’t a political statement. That is a hope-filled statement embracing the death of what was so that, in its place, something new can exist.
More importantly, there is nothing to “get back to” once death occurs.