The American political landscape is divided into two principal camps. We have official names for them, Democrat and Republican and nicknames like liberal and conservative or wackos and Nazis. It can mostly be boiled down to two opposing and fundamental opinions, either we believe our fathers had it right or we believe they had it wrong.
Where we fall on the political spectrum is how strongly we feel about the job they did. “Our fathers were mostly right” makes you a conservative. “They never erred” makes you a right-wing nut job. It’s the same for the left side. If nothing that came before you makes sense, you’ll be a radical bomb-throwing liberal. If you can see major mistakes in the past, then you’re a regular liberal.
And many people shift their thinking over time. Once a past injustice has been rectified or policies have been adjusted to reflect a changing world, they might return closer to the political center, confident that our fathers did a fairly good job and we’ve adjusted the few places they failed.
We tend to analyze the world of our fathers from one of three angles, how it affected us personally, how it compares to a set of principles we’ve embraced and how it holds up to the changing times. And we can use one, two or all three of these at different times and regarding different subjects.
Some tend to focus on their personal experiences. He had a very difficult childhood, therefore society must be changed. She had a Mayberry-like childhood and wants to maintain that world for her children.
Others can look outside their own experiences and tend to embrace a set of principles which they hold up society to. If their father’s world violates their principles, they seek change, if it embraces them, they remain content.
Others often just want change for the sake of change. This reflects an immaturity that we all are prone to fall into from time to time. Our father isn’t cool so therefore we need to undo much of what he set in place. The pictures of fathers and sons look remarkably similar until about the 1960s when the children started dressing in a style as different from their fathers as possible. Obviously, something changed.
We can all recognize these people and patterns within the Church as well. Do we accept, reject or modify what those who came before us did? And why?
Many of the topics we wrestle with like theology, Scripture, hymns, prayers, forms of worship, methods of discipline, forms of leadership, and programs are all bandied about by people who are trying to figure out what to do with the world their fathers left them.
We look to be arguing with each other, but really we are arguing with the past.
We might want to change the hymnbook. Some might change the established hymnbook because they think it’s old-fashioned and tired. Others might change the hymnbook because so many of the next generation are creating beautiful new songs. So, is changing our hymnbook wrong?
We might add programs. Some could add a program because the parents have gotten too lazy to do the work themselves. Others might add a program because so many of their flock wants to learn Mandarin to minister to the Chinese. So, are programs wrong?
We might change communion. One church just might switch from wine to grape juice to be sensitive to a group of alcoholics. Another switches back to wine. And another adds a little bit of gluten-free bread to the communion plate. Is modifying communion then wrong?
Each thing that came before us will get examined and either embraced, altered or removed. The past is neither fully sacred nor pure folly.
In our handling of the issues of today, we are going to be partially correct, blind to some things and wrong about others and our children will make changes of their own once it’s their turn to make the decisions.
How and why they make these changes will depend a great deal on how and why we change their grandfather’s world.
Praying for wisdom helps.