Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Only Rule of Faith and Conduct

How long does it take human beings in any grouping to veer off a course set by a founder? Human will is strong and unmanageable, even if it is in bondage, and the egotistical drives of our natures seek to leave their own stamp on the baton we were passed from the runner before. In our own day, any of us who've been around as long as, say, me, have heard a few anecdotes concerning the phenomenon or witnessed the reality ourselves. Someone founds a company, leads it successfully toward the attainment of a vision, dies, and in comes Jr. and everything changes. The company loses its soul.

The church world is replete with such examples. I remember well the so called, third generation rule, so relentlessly pounded into me and my peers while in Bible College: by the third generation, the descendants of a revival have lost touch with its experience and do not share the passion or drive for its distinctives that the revived generation had. Between the founders and the third generation drift set in. We actually see the reality within one generation, but by the third, it is so unmistakably clear as to be unmistakeable.

Given the proven nature of mankind, even supposedly Christian mankind, I'm puzzled by those who rely on church history to boost their notions of what was a more pristine, and therefore more authoritative, approach to doctrine and practice. The problem with that approach is that it ignores the reality of what we see before our own eyes, regardless of how far we've lived from the good old days: humans drift, quickly from the original visions of founding shepherds.

The problem is already evident in the epistles of the New Testament (most written by ~65 AD), as so many of them contain warnings to those contemporary with their writing about drift, change of course, misappropriation of doctrine, false prophets, etc, etc, etc.. We know the Apostles were handpicked by Christ to pass on the faith, to bear the authority of eyewitnesses: after them drift set in, quickly-- before their bodies were even cool in the ground. To give drifters the same authority as eyewitnesses is nothing but an invitation to play Leapfrog and Whisper Down the Alley with our souls.

Most fundamentally, this is an issue for the Catholic and Orthodox churches, but Protestants are not exempt from attempting to rest the gravitas to state what the scriptures do not, clearly, on the backs of the church fathers. The faith was once delivered to the saints, and written about by those that did the entrusting. Therefore, the scripture itself stands as the only objective basis for knowing what the unfiltered, untainted faith is. When I met Jesus personally, in my first few days as a Christian, he did not tell me to look to my elders to understand the faith, he told me to look to the Bible. Since then, and hopefully always, my only rule of faith and conduct is the Bible.