Saturday, January 20, 2007

From Movement to Institution: Can We Rekindle the Zeal?

Below is an interesting excerpt from The Quest for Understandable Hermeneutics by Hal Hougey (Manna Books, 1997, pp. 11-13), a wonderful book written a decade ago.
Movements usually begin as revolutionary attempts to abolish the traditions and correct the mistakes of the past. First generation revolutionaries generally have strong convictions and are committed to their task. Their zeal provides the impetus that results in effecting the changes they believe need to take place.

However, it is the nature of movements to change over time. The sons of the revolutionaries are more complacent. After all, their parents solved the problems and effected the changes; not to worry -- all is well in Zion. So the movement settles into comfortable complacency. New customs and traditions develop, and become resistant to change. The movement becomes a tradition-bound Institution again.

At this point one or both of two reactions usually occur: (1) The descendants of the revolutionaries continue to sink into passivity and complacency until the original fervor is gone, or (2) A new generation of revolutionaries arises, determined to overthrow the entrenched and stifling traditions of their fathers. Thus, the process repeats itself.

The Restoration Movement was just such a religious revolution when it began. Today, however, the grandchildren are restive and feel the need for change. Old issues must be reexamined. New issues have arisen which previous generations did not address, because there had been no perceived need. Out of this will ultimately come a new orthodoxy. What it will be is too early to tell.

Both the older and the younger generations are committed to the authority of the Scriptures. Customs may be changed; truth may not. But the younger generation, quite properly, cannot uncritically accept the conclusion of the past; the Bible needs to be studied and applied by every generation. What new issues are stressed will be determined by those who follow us.

Perhaps our greatest danger in such a crisis is pride and stubbornness. On the one hand some may rigidly resist change in areas of customs and expediency. This would probably lead to a stubborn and demanding call for change, even in areas where the Scriptures have plainly spoken. Stubbornness begets stubbornness. But patience, forbearance, understanding, generosity, and flexibility are needed in times like these. If we refuse to adjust, the children will leave for friendlier fellowships and their parents will be left to attend the wake and bury the remains.

Churches of Christ are at such a crisis point as we have described. The "Boston movement" churches should serve as a warning. They see mainline churches of Christ as lacking in evangelistic zeal and headed into oblivion. We admire their evangelistic zeal, but deeply deplore the cultic mind-control and life-control they maintain over their members.

On the other hand, the classic protest against change is, "Well, maybe the change you propose is OK, but I am afraid of where it may lead." If this statement has any validity, we would have to give up eating, since it might lead to gluttony. Dignifying this argument by giving it any weight whatever will change the church into a Museum of the Status Quo. The response to this objection is this: If we are committed to the authority of the Bible, change will lead only to following the Bible more closely; if we are not committed to the authority of the Bible, it will make little difference anyway.

We believe the most serious mistake we can make is to fail to respond positively to the cries for reform. If we refuse to accommodate in customs and traditions, and to reexamine carefully our hermeneutical framework, we are destined to sink into the quicksand of complacency, and die. Or, we can experience a new birth of freedom and zeal to proclaim the Good News of the Risen Savior to a dying world. The natural tendency to resist change can be our worst enemy.


Richard said...

We’ve moved way beyond funny Friday with this compellingly energizing quote!

I have a very subjective way of assessing things I read. Namely, if I read something and wish I had written it, I know it has touched a deep place within me. This is exactly what I felt when I read this. What a powerful set of observations.

We desperately need to take a proactive stance as a fellowship. If not, we will simply be a fossilized version of our predecessors’ passions. We must refuse to live off the crumbs of the past and must demand that each new generation think, act, worship, and live out Christ in their own context – connected to the past, yes, but not chained to it.

Dana said...

As I read this, all I could think was, "Yep! This sounds like where we are living right now." Sometimes, I wonder if previous generations see us (well, me) crying out to re-examine the text in terms of scripture vs tradition. I don't want to rewrite scripture but I do want to look at how we have interpreted it. I have a great desire to keep the body alive but, like the article said, it all comes down to how open we are to change.

It also makes me wonder how open I will be when the generation after us is ready to re-examine what I am so convicted about. I hope that I will remember this passion and push when they approach me if years to come.