The Old Paths

Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. – Jeremiah 6:16

Bill at ughleethoughts wonders about “the proclivity of many in our 21st century U.S. culture to view anything that is old as something to be discarded”. This is as true in the church as it is outside of it. If something doesn’t seem to “work”, we assume that _it_, not _we_, is wrong and we discard it in favor of a new philosophy, hermeneutic, program, approach, or whatever.

We abandon a plain way of understanding the Bible. We abandon the way we “do church” in favor of house churches, emerging churches, purpose-driven churches, and seeker-sensitive churches. We redefine “discipleship” to mean something other than “keeping Christ’s commandments” and come up with new definitions and new kinds of Christians. We decide that centuries of instruction on practical steps to live a Christian life is “legalism”, and decide that if you just love Jesus enough you’ll automatically stop sinning, start reading your Bible, praying, and fellowshipping with others. Theology becomes dry and wooden; church is stifling; preaching against sin is moralizing behavior modification legalism; the music is dull; the traditional Bible translations are too hard to understand. We’ve even changed the actual format of the Bible because two columns of words are boring – the Bible now looks like Cosmo!

If you have something that has apparently been successful for a long time, and then it is apparently unsuccessful, it’s silly to conclude that it’s just broken. The problem is more likely with _you_.

I want the old paths. Give me that old-time religion.

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18 Responses to The Old Paths

  1. Jared says:

    There are some good thoughts here, although you make an awful lot of unsubstantiated generalizations about people who do things in a “new” way.
    I don’t know of anyone who subscribes to any “new” sort of ecclesiology or methodology who has abandoned the tried and true spiritual disciplines of our faith.
    And while your final point can be true, it can also be true that a lot of right-thinking, spiritually mature, and decent people aren’t having “success” because they are doing things that don’t really work anymore (I’m talking about methodology here, not theology or watering down messages and what-not).

  2. Bill says:

    I agree with your overall point. We do suffer from a lot of what Chesterton called “Chronological Snobbery”.

    But – and don’t read too much into what I’m saying – I think you’d have to ask yourself how “old” your perception of church done rightly is. For instance, you mentioned house churches as something new. Has it occurred to you that perhaps the oldest form of Christian church is the house church? You want old time religion? Go to a house church.

    (disclaimer – my church is not a house church. But we do meet for small group bible studies in houses).

  3. because they are doing things that don?t really work anymore

    Our approach is typically that “this doesn’t work anymore, let’s do something new”. I got “The Spirit of the Disciplines” for Christmas and he makes a good point, similar to the one AW Tozer makes in “The Pursuit of God” – if you want the spiritual life the old saints had, try doing what they did.

    I don’t think things change nearly as much as we think they do. Things don’t just stop working. The problem is with _us_.

    I?m talking about methodology here, not theology or watering down messages and what-not

    I think one’s methodology is very important, and I view the Bible as proscriptive and not merely descriptive in these areas.

    Has it occurred to you that perhaps the oldest form of Christian church is the house church?

    The first church seems to have met both corporately and in small group settings (Acts 2:46). I don’t think the modern notion of a house church is analogous to the first century church. Certainly if you did have a house church, you ought to follow the Biblical model when it comes to things like organization, leadership, offices, worship service, etc. Those are the essentials, and, from what little I can tell, many house churches take all kinds of liberty with that.

    I agree that you have to be careful that you remember “old” is not “200 years”. The first time I heard Christians talk about fasting, I thought “What kind of strange new thing is this?”. Seriously. I’d never heard of Christians actually fasting before. “New” can’t just mean “new to me”.

    The Bible is full of themes of looking back, remembering those who’ve gone before you, modelling their lives, things like that. That’s what I’m saying. “Right” is not defined by a thing’s perceived effectiveness. We can’t just abandon the Biblical and historical traditions because we think that we live in such unique times and cultures that we get to remake our religion in our own image. If it was relevant and effective for 2000 years, can I be so arrogant to think that it’s not going to be relevant now? Because I’m just _so_ different from all those other people.

    Of course, sometimes there will be necessary changes. Like if Christians are being persecuted, you might have to stop meeting corporately. But aside from really drastic stuff like that, I think we are wise to stick to the old ways.

  4. Jared says:

    The problem is with us.

    This is true, of course, in a sense. I mean, maybe the problem with us is that we insist on outdated churchy-ness, things that are spiritually neutral but are currently disadvantageous to sharing the Gospel.

    I guess I just know different people than you. Because the strongest Christians I know, the ones committed to the “old” spiritual disciplines — committed to lives of prayer and Bible study and living redemptively — are members of “new” kinds of churches. And the weakest Christians I know, the ones who seem perfectly comfortable with the religious routine and apparently couldn’t care less about lost people, are members of “old” kinds of churches.
    I wouldn’t doubt you, though, if you’re experience is the exact opposite.

    I think you lump too much in together, equating new methodologies with an abandonment of the classical spiritual disciplines. This is a false dichotomy. If you think seeker churches and what-not are “wrong,” you need to explain from Scripture why. Not just say “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” I think lots of people recognize something is broken, and I believe for most of them it is not them in the sense of their spiritual maturity (as you seem to imply).

  5. Karl Thienes says:

    Great post Robert.

    Jared writes, “I don?t know of anyone who subscribes to any ?new? sort of ecclesiology or methodology who has abandoned the tried and true spiritual disciplines of our faith.”

    How about submission and obedience to the Church?

    Bill writes, “We do suffer from a lot of what Chesterton called ?Chronological Snobbery?.

    CS Lewis is actually the coiner of this phrase..but I get GK and CS mixed up all the time myself!

    Robert asks, “If it was relevant and effective for 2000 years, can I be so arrogant to think that it?s not going to be relevant now?”

    This is a dangerous line of thought…it is one of the things that lead me to embrace the Orthodox Church.

  6. Jared says:

    Karl, an “embracer” of the Orthodox Church, I see how you’d think “submission and obedience to the Church” is an essential. But then, of course, you think the Orthodox Church is the true church, right?

    Thanks, I’ll pass. I believe in submission and obedience to Christ. (Not to mention I don’t recall the “submit to the church” thing in the Bible. But there I go with that sola Scriptura thing . . .)

    Btw, while Lewis may have used the exact phrase “chronological snobbery,” I believe he was building off of the ideas of Chesteron in his book Orthodoxy, particularly the chapter “The Flag of the World,” in which Chesteron talks about the nonsense of believing a dogma may have worked for the 12th century but not for the 20th.

    Sorry if I sound curt. It’s only 12:45 and it’s already been a long and trying day for me.

  7. Karl Thienes says:

    “The Church is one and the same with the Lord ? His Body, of His flesh and of His bones. The Church is the living vine, nourished by Him and growing in Him. Never think of the Church apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, from the Father and the Holy Spirit.” St. John of Kronstadt.

    The Church is called the Body of Christ (Rom 12; 1 Cor 10, 12; Col 1) and the Bride of Christ (Eph 5; Rev 21). It is likened as well to God’s living Temple (Eph 2; 1 Pet 2) and is called “the pillar and bulwark of Truth” (1 Tim 3:15)

    The dichotomy you pose between Christ and the Church is neither Scriptural, historical, or patristic.

    Participation in and submission to the Church *IS* submission to Christ because the Church is the Body of Christ Himself.

    In re: to Lewis/Chesterton: You are correct of course. But Lewis was the first to actually use the phrase “chronological snobberby”. I was simply pointing out who actually said the phrase–not where the original idea came from.

    I hope I have not sounded curt. Long and tiring days are tough.

  8. Jared, you sound like a postmodernist! “It must be right for me because it works for me. Maybe something else works for you and is right for you.”

    This wasn’t really about seeker sensitive churches, but what the hey…

    The perceived problem is (1) Not enough people are making professions of faith, (2) Not enough lost people attend our church, (3) Not enough lost people think well of our church. Or something along those lines.

    I think the right approach is to look at the Biblical and historical model churches have used to carry out the great commission. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Sending missionaries. Church planting. Stuff like that.

    One possibility is that we aren’t doing those things. Maybe we have only very dim lights. In that case, the solution is to figure out how to turn our light up through repentance and conformance with the will and word of God. Maybe we lack evangelistic zeal. That’s a problem with us.

    But if we are actually following the Biblical and historical model, letting our light shine, and we have a bright light (meaning, genuinely changed lives that conform to the word of God), and we have an evangelistic zeal and are using the old ways, it still might not be “working”.

    One approach would be to assume God is still on His throne and may have sovereignly decided that America will not experience a revival now. Maybe Jesus was right about the world hating and rejecting us.

    But our approach is not to try to identify and fix the problems that cause us to deviate from the Biblical and historical standard, or (having done that) to accept the results as God’s will. No. We use marketing methods to see what “Saddleback Sam” likes and mimic the world.

    You know, we humans are very good at marketing. We can make folks buy and do all kinds of things. I read an article the other day about how De Beers has convinced women to buy “right hand” diamond rings to show their independence. We can talk folks into all kinds of things. Is it any wonder that we can get them into church if we’re willing to change almost everything to specifically attract them?

    This is just an example. The same sort of thing could be said about any number of things. I wasn’t primarily thinking about seeker sensitive churches when I wrote it.

    I don’t know if you’re familiar with the concept of open source software. Essentially, it means yu get a copy of the source code and have full rights to modify it any way you see fit. You can make it meet your needs. Great idea for software; bad idea for Christianity. Christianity is not open source. It’s proprietary and God holds the copyright.

    I am not a postmodernist. I believe, in moral and religious matters, that there is a hard and fast right position, and many wrong ones. And I do not believe “does it meet my perceived or actual needs?” is the way to evaluate a position or belief or practice. And particularly not if it just seems to have stopped working in the past few decades or even couple of centuries. We aren’t just SO different from everyone else that the same Christianity that worked for so long just won’t work for me, I’m just so special.

    People should conform to the historic Christian church, not the other way around.

    Now, about these newfangled electric lights I see everywhere. What’s wrong with good old-fashioned, time-honored torches? Oh, I’m getting a little carried away I think… :-) But next thing you know, Karl will be insisting that the Orthodox church uses the exact same lighting methods as they used in Acts. :-D

  9. Karl Thienes says:

    Robert, you’re sounding more Orthodox than you know!

    And yes we do use electrical lights…we’re not the Amish you know! *wink* ….

  10. Karl Thienes says:

    Speaking of lights…here is our answer to that age old question: How many Orthodox does it take to change a light bulb?….. A: “Change? What is this change you speak of?”

  11. And the Calvinist take: God has already decided whether the bulb is destined for light or eternal darkness, and nothing we can do will change that.

  12. Jared says:

    You honestly think I’m espousing postmodernism? Give me a break.

    I make no compromises on theology. I nowhere have said “Hey, maybe Jesus isn’t Lord for you, but that’s okay.”
    I’m talking methodology; maybe you want to call it marketing, because in your mind if it doesn’t look churchy, it must not be right. In the meantime, more people are embracing Jesus as their Lord and Savior in my kind of church than they are in the others (at least in my corner of the universe).
    You seem to make some bold generalizations and “heart assumptions” — they are only buying into self-help or whatever. Believe that if you want.

    Karl, the Church is the Body of Christ, yes. Are you insisting some sort of literal equivalence? I believe Jesus is an actual Person. I submit and obey Him.
    When the Bible calls the Church the Bride or the Body of Christ, it doesn’t mean they are equivalent. It means the Church is the spiritual manifestation of the Christ to the nations and is to represent Jesus to them. It doesn’t mean they are the exact same thing.

    Historically, patristically, and biblically, submission to Jesus over submission to men is the approved path.
    And, by the way, which Church am I supposed to obey? Why, the Orthodox Church, of course! Right?

    The Church to me is the invisible Body, all believers in Jesus the Christ bound together by the Holy Spirit. Not an institution or physical church body. I might would agree we should submit to the Church and obey its teachings, but I don’t think this is the same thing as you mean.

    Thank you for understanding about how my day is going. I know you weren’t just being sarcastic.
    Gotta run. Have a couple of sick kids to tend to, and I’m coming down with something myself.
    Take care.

  13. You honestly think I?m espousing postmodernism? Give me a break.

    It sure sounds a whole lot like your approach. Use whatever method works. Your experience is key. Different things are right for different people.

    I make no compromises on theology.

    Only in the narrowest sense of the term. You are pretty quick to define things as spiritually neutral methodology that is dispensable. I consider many things “theology” at least in the sense of a practical theology.

    In this case, I believe it is a theological question of who and what the corporate worship service is for. It’s a question that can be answered Biblically.

    In the meantime, more people are embracing Jesus as their Lord and Savior in my kind of church than they are in the others (at least in my corner of the universe).

    More people are making professions of faith, hence you are doing it right. Is that a fair assessment?

    Finney was a good revivalist. Tons of professions of faith. Was his theology correct? Should we adopt his methodology? No, because it came from his bad theology.

    I believe the Bible addresses our methodology both explicitly by historic example and instruction, and implicitly through our theology. We are not free to abandon Biblical and historic practices for something that feels better or apparently works better.

  14. Jared says:

    How exactly does using an organ reflect good theology? Pews instead of chairs? Expository sermons, too, right? Because Jesus used those.

    So if my church uses Acts as a model of a community of believers, pairs that with Paul’s exhortation to the Body of Christ assimilate believers according to spiritual gifts, and takes the Great Commission seriously, we’re still not doing things right if we have video screens?

    How old do we have to look before you’re comfortable?

    I still reject your assessment of my “if it’s okay for you” thing. You either don’t know me as well as I thought you did, or you’re purposefully missing the point.

    With that, I bow out. Feel free to critique, correct, and rebuke unabated.

  15. Jared says:

    I lied. One more thing; then I’m gone for good.

    In a later post, you write:
    The goal of the gospel is not to produce good music, good books, good philosophy, happy people, good finances, strong marriages, or healthy interpersonal relationships, and we must not communicate it that way. The message of the gospel is believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. The pressing need to be met is resolving a spiritual enmity against God and the prospect of eternal damnation. Let?s meet that need

    That sounds an awful lot like just getting professions of faith to me.
    I don’t know which churches you’re railing against here exactly — I suspect it is just some stereotype of “seeker churches” — but I thought the goal of the Gospel was to make disciples of Jesus, a process that includes embracing a life with the quality of eternity now, not just fire insurance for later. In my view, the Gospel is more than just “ticket to Heaven,” but — yes — how to live your life — marriage, philosophy, music, relationships, etc — the way Jesus would.

  16. Karl Thienes says:

    ” submission to Jesus over submission to men is the approved path.”

    Of course, but you would have to prove that submitting to the Church is merely submitting to men and not God also. A tough task if you take the Church Fathers seriously.

    Consider it this way: How would you like for your wife to use your line of argument? “Sorry Jared, but I only submit to Jesus; not to you as a husband.” You then might pull out Ephesians to show her the errors of her thinking but then you’d be proving my point: that physical, incarnate submission to, respect for and participation in the paths given us by God (whether that be marriages, Church, etc) *IS* respect and love for God himself.

    The Church is not merely a human institution. Just as Jesus was both fully God and fully Man, so also is the Church. That’s just Patristic Christology 101. The implications are mind-bending.

  17. How exactly does using an organ reflect good theology? Pews instead of chairs? Expository sermons, too, right? Because Jesus used those.

    I believe the “worship style” one uses, not to mention the choice of particular songs, flows from one’s theology, or ought to. Is the music intended to glorify God or induce emotional states in the worshippers? Who is the audience? I was at one large DFW area church where the “worship leader” said something to the effect that he and the worship team really worked hard to put on a good show for us. Are you singing songs to and about God or about yourself and how you feel?

    As far as sermon style, I think this is one where we ought to be guided by tradition. Preach the whole counsel of God. I don’t know if the historic model has been a topical or systematic one, or if there has been a definitive model whatsoever.

    we?re still not doing things right

    I’ve never even been to your church a single time; far be it from me to criticize you! This isn’t about a particular type of church or anything – it’s about our proclivity to disregard anything old instead of looking at ourselves and our expectations first.

    That sounds an awful lot like just getting professions of faith to me.

    I thought you knew I believed in Lordship Salvation (more or less). The gospel does provide for the total redemption of man and should include all those things. That’s what discipleship is. Much more than a profession of faith.

    But the offer of the gospel is not one of a fixed life. It’s one of eternal life. And that’s what we have to offer. That’s our whole message. The rest is important, but is a part of discipleship that _follows_ conversion. The lost have no need to hear seven helpful steps to handling conflict at work. They need to hear the gospel.

    I don?t know which churches you?re railing against here exactly ? I suspect it is just some stereotype of ?seeker churches?

    I was thinking of a specific discussion/disagreement I had with an elder from my church, a specific topic that came up in my theology class, a specific discussion I had on a blog once (not yours), and a couple of sermons I’ve recently heard on the radio and TV from a couple of specific popular preachers in the DFW area. It had nothing to do with any stereotypes of any type of churches.

  18. Bill wrote:
    the oldest form of Christian church is the house church? You want old time religion? Go to a house church.

    Now, Bill, you know me well enough to know I’m not going to let that sit uncommented upon by me . The key question is WHY did they meet in houses? Because it was different? (NO, because it was quite common for poor pagans and jews to turn their houses into synagogues and temples), Because it was cool? (maybe), or could it be because they HAD to?

    Keep in mind, the EARLIEST Church kept right on worshipping in the Temple – for as long as they were permitted to. And in that same Church today, you can still see the remanants of that Worship. :)

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