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HISTORICAL OR PNEUMATIC?

I’m writing this on All Souls’ Day. Later at the Eucharist we’ll remember the loved ones of our parish family, past priests who have served here and all the faithful departed. In a sense it is a time when we look back although that backward looking enables us to enjoy communion with those who now look forward to Jesus, the author and finisher of our Faith.

When we say that Christianity is an historic faith we don’t mean it is what the late beloved +Michael Ramsey termed an archeological faith. The motto of the Christian is not “things aint what they used to be.” Looking back to a golden age and seeking to replicate that age is a self-defeating practice. What results is make believe.

Christianity is an historical faith because it rests its faith in historical happenings. Most of such important events are recorded in the Bible. In addition to and following the biblical record we have centuries of “tradition”. It’s a pity that word now seems to mean old fashioned, out of date or irrelevant. Tradition means the memory of the church through the ages, recorded in buildings, documents, music, books, diaries, and in our own time even email! As we live into the story of our faith, into the real time happenings recorded in Scripture and in the Tradition, we add to the tradition one way or another.

There is positive tradition and negative tradition. Positive tradition is witnessed in the lives of those who have approached the recorded testimony of the Bible and the reflections of great women and men on the Bible with reverence and awe and who have sought faithfully to translate the faith once given into the language and culture of their contemporaries.

Negative tradition is instructive. It tells the tale of those who put their own thoughts, feelings and intellect first and claimed some personal or collective inspiration of the Spirit which in short declares that God’s revelation in Jesus is not final, but changes as culture or mood or circumstance change. Believing that God has new things to tell us, rather than new applications of that which God has revealed, they enter into the excitement of “prophecy” as if “prophecy” is oracular.

Making the past an idol, refusing to speak to one’s culture using that culture’s ways as a vehicle for the timeless Gospel is a subtle form of idolatry. Imposing culture on the Gospel so that what has been given is overthrown in the name of modernity or progression is similarly a form of idolatry, the worship of trends and passions in a desire to be respectable or relevant.

At the Eucharist we proclaim that Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. These are all historical facts, with at least as much evidence to support them as that which tells us William the Conqueror arrived on the English shore in 1066. In the Gospel records and the wide sweep of biblical evidence is contained all we, personally and collectively need to know for eternal salvation. That Gospel shifts in emphasis, although not in content, as it is applied in different places, using different languages and in different times. Yet always it is the same Christ with the same message and the same offer of forgiveness, restoration until Kingdom come.

One Response

  1. With respect, I think it becomes a false dichotomy to overplay the issue of whether our faith is historic or pneumatic. (I do love the descriptors, though.)

    Ours in an historic faith, grounded in historic events in which God has acted. But it is also a pneumatic faith, directed by the Spirit and led into all truth.

    The problem, as you rightly describe, when the argument of pneumatic faith uproots us from the historical events and our historic faith, but equally, when our historic faith incorrectly asserts that we had already been led into all truth on such and such a date.

    One of my professors used to say that the Holy Spirit did not die after the Council of Ephesus (or the Council of Chalcedon, or the Second Council of Nicaea). I’m sure he would also have said that the Father didn’t die then either.

    The only person of the Trinity to die was God the Son – and he rose again.

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