Friday, August 2, 2013


I'm noticing an uptick of a certain type of marketing of our faith, a new emphasis, ironically, a new emphasis on the word "ancient." Signage, websites, and whatnot proclaim an offering of "ancient" faith. People are exploring "ancient" faith in online blogs and communities. Interest is growing in old writings, old liturgy, etc. Older cultures in the Christian stream, the Orthodox and Catholics delight in this because of course to them belongs the largest aggregation of years, the greatest seniority, the most ancientry.

It's all tosh. We are bowing down before numbers. 'Many' years, 'many' lives of men are not long in comparison to, for instance the lifespan of an angel, or God himself. God is the Ancient of Days. All of man's past is as the grass... And is two thousand years ago really ancient times? Is this not the new age of the Spirit? Is this not the promised time of the kingdom of God? The time that all the (actually) ancient prophecies were pointing to? ..

What's at stake here? Three things. First is the equality of all believers, those long ago and those present. If God is the same God as revealed by Jesus, then our access to him is or ought to be the same as for all our past brothers and sisters. If we venerate the past, we can never attain or even surpass it.

Secondly it is not normal or right to treat the past church as the glorious time that we must get back to. That verse in Proverbs about the path of righteous growing brighter and brighter must surely be God's ideal for the church. That glow has to be on the future, not the past. Somehow we have to believe that the best is yet to be, that we "ain't seen nothing yet!" If not, we're doomed. And besides, any such attempt to return to the first church is doomed to failure. We are not of the same culture and never can be.

Thirdly, if we can divest ourselves of this idea of ancientry, if can see ourselves as being in the same moment, the same new day, as the first century church we might be free as necessary to undo prior mistakes or make new choices in the church without feeling any guilt. We might be able to rethink stuff. It might be as simple as turning around to get the (oops!) forgotten camera before a holiday trip. But if we cling to our ancientry we're locked into whatever came before. All the historic responses to bygone cultures are immutable decisions that handcuff us against actually dealing rightly with today.

1 comment:

  1. If you will allow a side comment from a sympathetic but unrepentant papist . . . even in those dread papist Catholic and patriarchal Orthodox communions, 'ancientism' is considered a heresy. I just posted something about this with an odd title: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Ignorance. One of the Jesuit masters of the interior life wrote a classic work on spirituality in which he notes;
    We cannot for this reason accuse the Church of laxity, as do the inventors of new opinions, who extol only the ancient Church, and its customs and usages, which they appear to wish to restore, not considering that the same Spirit who governed the Church of old governs it now, and accommodates His ways to the times and the different dispositions of the faithful (p. 155).
    Even the most ancient communions of the Church believe that the Holy Spirit continues to guide the Church and that there is an 'organic development' in its beliefs and practices. This development leads to deeper, wider, more systematic understanding and may alter disciplines and practices (which are not regarded as doctrines), but may not result in a radical break with foundational teachings in area of faith and morals. As defining point of belief they believe that this development cannot overturn the deposit of faith and that post -modern views regarding moral relativism are false. We cannot have a radical break with the beginning because we believe it is based on a foundation laid by Jesus and his chosen apostles. Members of these historic communions can't suddenly say, contrary to 2000 years of consistent belief and practice, (for them: always, everywhere, and by all) that we have decided polygamy (polyandry?) is now OK. We are well aware that this is completely contrary to the views of modern moral relativists. Yet all of this is the early morning rambling of an avowed papist.
    If I understand right you are suggesting we substitute instead the evil-deplorable-papist-patriarchal-idea above an every-person-for-themselves reading the Bible and then guided by the Spirit they will discover the self-evident understanding of the faith which will emerge from the easily found consensus that such seekers will discover. I guess my only question is: How's that working out for you?