Originally published on the Forge Scotland blog.
I’ve been thinking about time quite a bit recently. Now – I have watched a couple of time-travel related films: About Time and Edge of Tomorrow – but that isn’t the source.
I’ve been thinking about the oft-quoted C.S.Lewis term of “chronological snobbery”, what it means, and where we are in danger of falling prey to it. Specifically, for those of us interested in “missional movements”, I think we run the risk of becoming snobs from 2 different directions.
Originally Lewis (along with Owen Barfield, according to Wikipedia1) coined the term to describe the erroneous argument that the thinking of past scholars was inherently inferior to those of the present. Or, to put it more simply, “….but now we know better”.
I think, in the past, the charismatic wing of the church has been guilty of this, dismissing practically any discussion of the Spirit prior to Asuza Street. And we’ve often seen it when it comes to addressing “contemporary” issues, whereby the voices of the past are silenced merely because they came from a different culture – a culture that didn’t “know”.
Obviously, this is somewhat sweeping. And I hope that if you, like me, have been guilty of this in the past, that you have managed to dig down beneath some of the more prescient internet quotes to find the depth of riches from authors such as C. H. Spurgeon, J. C. Ryle, J. Gresham-Machen (and many, many more).
It is always worth remembering that we are part of a missional movement that isn’t younger than 20 years old, but almost 2000 years old, with a weight of church planting experience that we can draw upon.
But it isn’t, I believe, just a snobbery of that which has gone before that we need to be wary of. We also need to make sure to remove our rose-tinted glasses (which have often have Western philosophical frames) when it comes to viewing the “New Testament” church, giving it a higher place of honour at the ecclesiology table than anything since
We need to be careful to remember how much of our New Testament scripture has come to us because of the mess of the early church, rather than because of it’s perfection! We need to frame the great fellowship of Acts 2 and 4 with the failings of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5) and the neglect of the Hellenist widows in Acts 6.
I am not an old man. But even in my relative youth2, I have heard numerous different ecclesiological and missional frameworks described as “going back to the New Testament church”. And I’m not convinced that any of them truly are. Nor am I convinced that this is a desirable thing anyway! A Biblical church, yes. But one that goes beyond Acts3, and engages properly with the whole of Scripture. And a church that takes seriously the whole of church history, not just the “trendy” portions.
Time is on our side. We have a wealth of history spread behind us, an unmeasurable future ahead of us, and one Lord of all. Let’s treat all 3 with the honour and respect they deserve, no more, no less.