I talk about this a good bit. People get tired of repeating themselves and others get tired of hearing the repetition. The thing is, we actually need this repetition. If we don’t continually repeat things, we forget them, or we fall away from the practice.
For example, if you’re into physical fitness like me, you know the constant repetitive practice of physical exercise, while not always exciting, will eventually create a better and more healthy lifestyle. If you will discipline yourself enough, eventually it becomes less of a discipline and more of a lifestyle.
This is one of the reasons liturgical worship is used in the historic Church. The things we repeat are the things that stick in our minds, hearts, souls and bodies (lex orandi, lex credenda). By the way, think about that as it relates to what kind of media you consume on a repetitive basis…
Anyways, repetition. What’s my point, you may ask?
I’m not sure if you’ve noticed or not but things in our world seem to be in constant flux. Everything changes on a daily basis it seems. Sometimes, it feels like everything changes moment by moment. In this ever-changing and constantly innovating world in which we live, it can feel like there is nothing to hold on to that remains the same. It feels like the whole world has gone mad and taken us for a ride and we just honestly want to make it all stop and hold on to something that’s not moving.
The Church has become like that as well.
In the one entity that should be eternal and unchanging, there has been constant change. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we shouldn’t use electricity and have indoor plumbing in our churches. I’m not suggesting we don’t take advantage of advances in technology that can help us. What I am saying is that new is not better when it comes to innovations in the Church. The Church should never adapt to the world and “modern man.” The world should be adapting to the Church.
The Church does not and should not change. Doctrine and dogma do not “develop.” There is a difference in finding new ways to say what has always been said and completely changing what the Church has always said. The Church is eternal and does not change precisely because Her Bridegroom is eternal and does not change. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us in Hebrews 13:8,
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
Because He does not change, the Church should not change.
It’s sad to me that those who wish to innovate the worship of the Church (which indeed changes the theology of the Church) always have such negative things to say about those of us who hold to tradition. We are “rigid” and “creating division.” My response to that is the faith does not change so, in the reasoning of the innovators, the faith must be rigid and create division. I believe it was our Lord Jesus who said, in Matthew 10:34,
“Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”
Does that mean that Jesus is a quarrelsome guy? No. Rather, His message creates conflict with the world and its so-called values. If we follow Christ as He is to be followed, there will be conflict. Even with others who claim the name of Jesus.
I heard a sermon recently by Fr. Josiah Trenham that has prompted this train of thought and thus this post. In that homily, Fr. Josiah, in talking about our forefathers in the faith who have held fast and unchanging, said this, “Novelty is the soil of heresy.”
Marinate on that for a minute.
That statement reminds me of what we read in Jude 3,
“Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”
Even in the 1st century, just a few years after the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of our Lord, they were already having to remind the faithful to hold fast to the faith once for all delivered to the saints. Jude did not say, “It’s cool. I know times have changed so we can do what seems good to us now.” No. He said to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” The faith hasn’t changed and neither should our approach is what he’s saying. Don’t be tempted to novelty and innovation. Don’t be tempted to appease the world.
It’s too easy to fall away. Again, the writer of Hebrews in chapter 2:1 says,
“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away.”
Lest we drift away from the faith once for all delivered to the saints and the things we have heard, remember, “Novelty is the soil of heresy.” The writer of Hebrews again exhorts us in 10:23,
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.”
Hold fast without wavering. Why? Because He who promised is faithful. Christ is faithful. He hasn’t changed a thing. Why should we? Who is it that has changed, us or Him? It ain’t Him.
Why is it that, over and over in the New Testament, the writers talk about holding fast if we aren’t tempted to fall away?
“Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong.” – 1 Corinthians 16:13
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.” – 1 Corinthians 15:58
“Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.” – 2 Timothy 1:13-14
“Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” – 1 Timothy 6:12
Christ, in John’s Apocalypse, tells the church in Sardis (Rev. 3:3),
“Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come to you.”
And again, to the church in Philadelphia (Rev. 3:11),
“Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.”
Dear brothers and sisters, God’s Word has not changed. The Son has not changed. The deposit of the faith has not changed. Our charge is to hold fast to the faith once for all delivered to the saints (that’s called Tradition) and not to give in to the impulse to be constantly innovating and changing and trying to make God fit into what we want and are comfortable with. As you seek for His Church, ask yourself this question: “Who has changed and who has not? Who has held fast to the Faith without wavering?” I’m not saying that all churches are perfect. That would be foolish to assume. After all, the Church is made up of you and me and we are imperfect sinners. But, who is that keeps innovating and changing things?
Be wary of those who call good bad and bad good,
“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness;
Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” – Isaiah 5:20
May we run to His Church, the ark of our salvation and may we remain steadfast, rigid and immovable! If we do that, if we are true to Christ, our Savior and King, then we will have the same joy as St. Paul,
“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” – 2 Tim. 4:7
Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!
When I was a Protestant church planter, there were a lot of buzz words we used. One of those was “community.” We were coached to “build the community.” To be honest with you, I look back at that now and I really have no idea what that means. This is a popular phrase among younger people as well. I suspect our older relatives don’t know what we mean by that either.
It sounds really awesome. The media loves to use this kind of language as well. I can’t tell you how many TV shows spend time talking about this sort of thing as well. We are told that we are to “give back” to our community and “serve” our community. These days, we’re told we need to wear masks and stay home so that we can take care of our community. We’re all in this together. Doesn’t that sound nice?
I submit to you that we are not all in this together.
Those of us who follow Jesus are not in “this” (whatever the world means by “this”) together. At least, we shouldn’t be. If you are a follower of Christ, your “this” will look very different from the rest of the world. Well, let me re-phrase that. If we are a follower of Christ, our “this” should look very different from the rest of the world.
The rest of the world is obsessed with self. We see this in our society with the preoccupation with safety and comfort at all costs, freedom from aging and dying, freedom from suffering, the forced acceptance of unholy things and many other things. Our society forces its own definition of tolerance on its members. And you will comply with their definitions or you will be ostracized, called names etc. You get the point.
So, why are Christians so worried about being part of the world? Do we really think we can “be in community” with the world? Now, by “the world,” I don’t mean other humans. I mean what the New Testament biblical writers called “principalities and powers.”
St. Paul says, in Ephesians 6:12,
“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”
So, it’s not, like, Coca-Cola and owning homes that we’re talking about here. There are forces at work that we cannot see with our naked eye that currently try to control this world. St. Paul calls them “the rulers of the darkness of this world.” There are forces at work that are against us, against human flourishing and, specifically, against those who claim the name of Christ.
St. John, in his Apocalypse, describes it this way (Revelation 12:17),
“And the dragon was angry against the woman: and went to make war with the rest of her seed, who keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
Go and read Revelation 12 and you’ll get the full picture. The world is not your friend. If you are a follower of Christ (the rest of the seed of the woman), you cannot “live in community” with the world. I’m not saying you can’t go the same grocery stores or be friendly or eat out or go to the movies. I’m not saying you can’t live in this world. I’m saying you can’t follow Christ and “be in community” with this world. The two are diametrically opposed to one another.
Jesus Himself gave us the meaning of Christian community. He told us how we are to live and those who are our “community” when he said,
“For whosoever shall do the will of my Father, that is in heaven, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.” (Matt. 12:50)
Read that again. There are some things that Jesus said (actually a lot of things He said) that are really hard. What He said (and says) demands something of us. When He said that it is only those who do the will of the Father that are His brothers, sisters, mother, His community, we are required to do some things.
If we want to be in the “community” of Jesus, we must do the will of the Father. That means that there are those who are not doing the will of the Father that we cannot be in community with. And that may include other people who claim to be Christian. I know that will sound really harsh and will probably make some reading this angry. But the hard fact is that there are those who claim the name of Jesus that are not part of the “community” of Jesus.
Our Lord tells us,
“Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.” (Matt. 7:21-23)
Now for some good news.
We can be part of a community; the community of saints. The great cloud of witnesses that have gone before us (Hebrews 12:1), those who are of the faith and keep the faith now and those who will faithfully follow after us, they are our community.
And that community is vast beyond number. St. John tells us that a “great multitude” stands around God’s throne worshipping Him even now (Rev. 7:9) and will for all eternity. That is community, my friends! And that community is all in this together because we know the One.
The One who has wrestled with and for us with the principalities and powers and has conquered them!
The One who has given us His testimony to keep and wage war against our great enemy Satan!
The One who has given us the Spirit, by whom we may learn to do the will of the Father!
The One who, if we are faithful, will keep us until the day of His glorious return!
Rejoice, brothers and sisters, in the community of the Lamb who was slain!