In early October, the Hembree boys and I had the opportunity to commemorate the Protestant Reformation 500 Conference at Wycliffe College in the heart of downtown, Toronto. Chocked full of Reformation scholars, each presentation respectively and diligently underscored contextual juxtaposition between the contemporary, or better, modernized sense of Church theology and Protestant tradition to its intellectual forefathers: the sixteenth century scholarship of John Calvin, Martin Luther, John Wycliffe, Huldrych Zwingli, William Tyndale, Erasmus of Rotterdam, among others. Unlike today, in 1517 Europe the Church and State were married, for better or for worse. The Catholic Church had its hand in every back pocket and its face in every bedroom, so the level of impact that the Reformation had on the social, political and economic scale, and especially that of Christian missiology, was colossal. Now with the Gospel in every hand and household, propagation was personal and easily accessible. For those who, perhaps, have never been acquainted with the term missiology, it is a branch of practical theology that explicitly deals with a wide variety of evangelism from interpersonal to mass forms of communication. In laymen, it is known as the Great Commission; in scholarship, its core concept is referred to as the Missio Dei (“Mission of God”), where the sole purpose, mandate and duty for each missionary is to spread the Gospel: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) as well as “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19-20). As simple as this may sound, its scope is so pervasive that people often get their knots tied up on how to do it right, specifically in relation to God’s Will in the Old Testament. And, like most Reformation scholars, temptation to isolate the Epistles in place of the Gospel and favour theology over the historical narrative is readily available.
It sounds like more people nowadays are just saying they only do ‘what the Bible says’ because the ‘Bible says so’ and they ‘believe in the Bible’ while the opinion, interpretation and application of what select Biblical texts might mean varies from Christian to Christian, denomination to denomination – most of whom appear to be followers of Christ, or at the very least, dedicated to good works. Though this may appear as some people compensating for the burst of moral and intellectual relativism infecting the Western world, I’m surprised to say that legalism with its younger brother literalism are running rampant in the modern church.
Firstly, I apologize for the abysmal title. I just couldn’t for the life of me conceive a more appropriate headliner. If you could find it in your hearts to forgive me, we can proceed. If not, I suppose your journey ends here.
“I’m right, you’re wrong!” has seemingly become a self-conscious adage for the millennial generation. Worst of all, the negligent, irresponsible and unaccountable behaviour the Internet stimulates from both anonymity and popularity has enchantingly swollen this sense of self-righteousness. Albeit, such a blatant claim is a massive generalization on my part, but it does not lack justification – Western society cultivates the belief that right and wrong birth in the eye of the beholder and the only person we ought to hold accountable is our self. While personal responsibility is undoubtedly noble, the greater context of such belief is found wanting. Weaved from the same fabric there is a polar socio-moral that emphasizes truth ought to be subjective and therefore should be determined by a majority ruling of embellished belief, which more often than not leads to “peer pressure” dissemination through social movements.
“Early twentieth century America may very well be the most identifiable period dominated by change: Woman won the right to vote, blacks were overturning the racial blur, banks offered the middle-class a so-called “credit”, a box in living rooms performed live music, classical art fizzled into dada rah-rah and moving pictures got a voice – just to mention a few. Amidst all the change, Union and Confederate veterans sat and waited as their grandchildren marched and died side-by-side in what seemed to be a ‘never-ending’ aimless war. The aftermath left those living with a lack of faith in the old ways; the traditional system of things was adrift.
Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910), a Christian anarchist for reasons pragmatically understandable but theologically disagreeable, thematically touches this concept in his grand piece of literature War and Peace. Why does an assigned executioner who desires not to kill his fellow man still fire his gun? Tolstoy suggests it is out of fear for his own survival that the individual at large does not stand up for what he or she believes – whether that is social survival in times of peace or physical harm in moments of war. He highlights that the systematic separation of aristocratic commonwealth and peasantry, similar but not identical to our modern centralized government and lower class, is perpetuated by that self-imposed will to survive at all costs. Tolstoy vividly illustrates a cyclical pattern in society, one that spirals an unconscious looping social system that immobilizes the individual from acting upon their conscience. He underscores the ‘system’ is driven by an acquired appetite for landscapes over law, for goods over good. This system inevitably causes war, death, and suffering.