This should be the final post in this series, after having introduced the topic, praised some of its impulse, criticized notions of perfection in the early church and a disregard for history. Now, on to my final bit of criticism, and hopefully a word about how to go forward.
I only addressed one part of the ahistoricism inherent in the myth of primitive perfection in my last post, the other is this: it absolves us from the responsibility of dealing with our painful history as the church. We can simply pretend that it was “those people” (which means Catholics, of course) who did bad things and delude ourselves into thinking that we do nothing of the sort.
Another problem with this ahistoricism is that it also ignores the fact the evangelicalism grew out of a specific historical context for specific historical reasons. And yet modern evangelicals continue to pretend that it’s only the Bible which influences their faith and practice, keeping them ignorant of the ways which their history has most definitely shaped them. The problem with this is that many of the historical reasons which caused evangelicals (and their fundamentalist forerunners) to look back to the Bible have now been divorced from these historical reasons. Answering today’s issues with yesterday’s answers proves nothing.
Instead, I think that we need a church which recognizes that we’ve historically been a bunch of assholes (and continue to be). Instead of thinking we can divorce ourselves from this history and return to a primitive perfection, we instead need to live out our sorrow for what the church has done and is doing that is counter to the love of God. We need to accept that the past 2000 years of church history have shaped us profoundly, and we need to draw on the strengths of that history to deal with the problems of that history and the myriad of ways they express themselves in the world we find ourselves in.
This is a profoundly difficult (or even impossible) task, one that should clue us into it being the right path, since we will absolutely need God’s presence, wisdom and guidance to do so. And one of the lessons I think that I have gleaned from the history of the church is that it has always been this way. Every generation has required those who would follow after Jesus in ways both new and old that connected to their own context. Faithfulness is not a formula that says “sola scriptura” or “tradition,” but rather the path of holy fools who only look back to clarify the way forward.