By P. Andrew Sandlin
Published May 1, 2008
For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear, some new thing (Acts 17:21)
. . . they soon forgot . . . (Psalm 106:13)
Richard Weaver said in Ideas Have Consequences: “It has been well said that the chief trouble with the contemporary generation is that it has not read the minutes of the last meeting. Most modern people appear to resent the past and seek to deny its substance for either of two reasons: (1) it confuses them, or (2) it inhibits them. If it confuses them, they have not thought enough about it; if it inhibits them, we should look with a curious eye upon whatever schemes they have afoot.”
Our generation is abominably, embarrassingly, hatefully anti-historical. Much of this hatred of history is the result of political liberalism, with its love affair with the present and the future, the belief that the latest generation in time is necessarily the most advanced generation of all time. The politically correct crowd love to hate the past, because it represents to them all they oppose-sexism, racism, homophobia, and religious orthodoxy. The farther we can get from that past, they think, the greater chance we have of escaping from these evils. Two factors, if they would only think a bit, may give them pause: first, they have no guarantee that the future cannot “revert to the past.” Some of the leading views of history are cyclical-the idea that history just repeats itself. This view is in error, but they have no means to disprove it. Second, the enemies of the past forget that it was often the very ideas of the past that destroyed the supposed evils they so loudly oppose. For example, they hate slavery in any form, but do not recognize it was the ideas of Jefferson (a man who owned slaves) that in this country helped to abolish Negro slavery.
The church is no better in its attitude toward history than is the wider society. This was highlighted for me at a ministerial association meeting in Cleveland I attended some time ago. The slick leaders were hyped up over the “relational” work of the Holy Spirit in “unbinding” Cleveland (apparently, the city was constipated) that was going on. I soon discovered few there knew even a modicum about the heritage of the church-and most of those who did carelessly cast that history aside in favor of “the new wave of the Spirit” in this hour. Orthodox Christianity was for them passe. They wanted the spanking new, shiny, glitzy, updated version. They are this susceptible to every little fad (“move of the Spirit”) that comes along, led around by the nose by quick-speaking quacks. And they never know the difference.
When this happens, the members of church lose the gains of the past. The first gain they lose is orthodoxy. Because they hate the past, they are forced to reinvent the wheel. And they never do as good a job as their forebears did-and often they do much worse . . . heretically worse. They damn (or neglect) the creeds of catholic orthodoxy and the confessions of Reformation orthodoxy in favor of “restorationism”: the idea that without recourse to history they can restore primitive, Biblical Christianity. They do not believe the Bible when it says that God will preserve the Faith intact in history. Therefore they end up espousing the very heresies the fathers so capably refuted-subordinationism, modalism, docetism, Nestorianism, Pelagianism, etc. They repeat too the errors refuted at the Reformation.
The second gain they lose is knowledge of the lessons of the past-for example, that unity without doctrine is an impossibility, that the inability to distinguish primary from secondary doctrine is unnecessarily divisive, that doctrine without practice is deadly, that the church must not (under ordinary conditions) assume the sword, that a low view of the visible church is destructive, that evangelism must be comprehensive, etc. The moderns do not know that there are no new problems-only old problems in new clothes. They do not have the benefit of the past because they hate the past.
Perhaps worst of all, they develop an anti-historical and anti-intellectual arrogance, according to which they consider themselves and their own little group true Christianity. They are so ignorant that they assume they could come up with Trinitarian Christianity with no recourse to church history. They turn their backs on the Faith preserved in the martyrs’ blood. They turn up their noses at the creeds and confessions that give them any semblance of orthodoxy they may retain. They bite the hand that feeds them.
They may appear oozily and humbly spiritual, but they are peacock-proud, vacuum-headed moderns, no better in the religious realm than liberals in the political realm.
And they are an affront and embarrassment to historic orthodox Biblical Christianity.
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“Here I stand … I can do no other!”
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