Christopher Columbus was 41 years old when he embarked on his first voyage to discover a new passage to the far East. It was a perilous, pioneer adventure into the unknown.
Although he believed that the earth was spherical, he had no idea of its circumference. Neither did he comprehend the breadth, depth or fierce nature of the vast Atlantic. Every mile was one of discovery.
What he did have was ‘historical reference.’ For centuries, the Spanish had sailed the Mediterranean Sea and the coastal waters of the Atlantic. Columbus had been tutored well as a seafarer and had even been given the title “the Admiral of the Seas,” prior to his westward departure in August of 1492. He was as equipped as one could be at the time.
He also had the advantage of the centuries old ‘science of shipbuilding,’ developed by sailors and shipwrights through maritime successes and losses over many centuries. Columbus did not build his own raft, nor did he disregard the accumulated maritime knowledge available to him. He incorporated that body of historical tradition into his present endeavour and projected it into his uncharted future. He would have ignored ‘maritime history’ to his own folly and the peril of the ninety sailors he took with him.
Intuitively Columbus was certain that there was something exciting still to be discovered. He knew that the future of exploration would be greater than the past, and he knew that the limitations of the present must not paralyze him from launching into that future.
There is a parallel for us as Church leaders in 2021. We stand trying to get a glimpse into the dim horizon of an undiscovered future. We believe that there are endless possibilities for the expansion of the Kingdom of God yet to be realized. The Mission of the Church is not yet accomplished. It will be discovered by young ‘spiritual’ Columbus’s willing to go into that unknown with courage.
However, it would be folly to forge ahead while disregarding the accumulated wisdom of the past.
The past builds the vessel in which we sail successfully into the future. Young leaders who sever themselves from the wisdom of their past will run aground, to their own peril and the detriment of those they lead.
The rich spiritual heritage and accumulated wisdom of centuries of faith must undergird all of our forays into the future.
If the expression of tomorrow’s Church is to remain true to its mandate and fulfill its mission, here are six planks from the bottom of the ship of the past that cannot be safely removed. While attempting to press onward and forward, we must avoid the popular trend towards the ‘deconstruction’ of the tenets of the Christian faith and the integrity of the Gospel.
The Primacy of Scripture: From the time of the Church fathers onward, the orthodox practice of Christianity has held to the firm conviction that the Canon of Scripture is the inspired Word of God. It contains all that is needed to be a strong follower of Jesus Christ and it is immutable (cannot be changed). There is presently a subtle and constant pressure to modify the Biblical narrative, to moderate the demands of Christian discipleship and to mock the idea that Scripture stands as the final authority of all faith and doctrine. Any message that attempts to neutralize or modify inspired Scripture is heretical at its core.
The Essentiality of Biblical Morality: At the expense of public censure and ridicule, we must hold to Scripture’s teaching on the sacredness of life from conception, the dignity value of every person regardless of age or disability, the exclusivity of marriage between a man and a woman, Scripture’s definition of ‘porneia’ in all its manifestations, personal honesty in business, and holiness in lifestyle. They are unchanging tenets of the faith.
The Prevailing Power of Prayer: A prayerless church is a powerless church. For reasons unknown to us, God has placed a very high premium on prayer; seeking His hand, His face, His heart. Scripture is rife with the petitions of God’s people and the reciprocating responses from heaven on their behalf. Wherever the effective church goes, it goes on its knees. Prayer is not a substitute for action but is it a prerequisite for action.
The Exclusivity of the Cross: From the 1990’s onward, several prominent public Christian leaders began to teach a modified view of Biblical ‘soteriology.’ Inherent in their thesis was the idea that the love of God ultimately disallowed anyone from having to face the possibility of eternal punishment. This teaching has gained great popularity in evangelical circles, but it does not affirm the teaching of Jesus, nor the revelation of Scripture. While it may be more popular and expedient, it is ‘another Gospel.’ Expediency does not have the power to cancel truth regardless of how unwelcome or unrelenting that truth may appear. The blood of Jesus Christ is still the final offering for sin.
The Reality of a ‘transformational new birth’: Self help, self improvement, behaviour modification techniques, recovery programs all have their subsiduary place as we strive to assist people to find equilibrium in our topsy-turvy world. However, none of those replace or supersede the divine work of the Spirit of grace, which alone can take a soul dead in trespasses and sins and breathe spiritual life back into it. While not popular or in vogue, the reality is this, you must be ‘born again’ by the Spirit of God in order to inherit eternal life. There is no other program to attain the same result.
The Return of Jesus as Conquering Lord: We may hold vastly different ideas of the sequence of events concerning eschatology. It appears that the Scripture offers that latitude. However, upon this we must agree: there will come a moment when the Lord Jesus will descend from heaven, His church will be gathered, and every person will stand to give account for their life.
An Urgent Passion to Reach People with the Gospel: The final words of Jesus provide the motivation for all we do: Go and make disciples! Paul expresses his response to that mission in these words: The love of Christ compels me – woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel of Christ. There is no other justifiable cause to launch the church into post-COVID realities. God is still unwilling that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. Anything else that may propel us into the future is less than noble.
Let us surge forward, holding fast to the helm of the ship that was wisely and carefully constructed over two millennia to ensure success until Jesus returns.