It seems these days, in one way or another, many Christ-followers are making an honest effort to return to the roots of their faith. They are seeing the inconsistencies, shallowness, and even corruption that seems to have infected modern-day versions of Christianity. This prompts some to walk away from their faith completely; but for many others, they believe there is something real and authentic to this journey underneath this veneer, and that if they can dig beneath that, they will rediscover a vibrant faith, and reconnect with the faithful and true God they still know exists.
It’s interesting to me, though, how the same basic quest to return to our roots takes people in such different directions. I don’t necessarily see this as a bad thing–just interesting. The church’s history is rich and diverse in expression, and I think God uses those things we connect with in order to meet us where we are. Where perhaps it can get a little off-center for us is when we decide that our journey is THE journey–that we’re the ones who have found it
, and others need to catch up. That attitude is ultimately no different than what we’re trying to leave behind, and leads to the same religious pride that clouds our vision.
That said…the roots of our faith may run deep and wide, but ultimately end up at one Source. So why is it that a search for the roots leads us in so many different directions? I’ve been thinking this over, and I think that possibly the answer lies in how far along the root structure we go, and how far along the timeline.
Lemme ‘splain. 🙂 And lemme do it by identifying three general groups. (By the way, these are just fun names I came up with for them…)
GROUP ONE: Returning Prodigals
There are a large number of what we’ll call “recovering evangelicals” who have come to the realization that while good things have come from the evangelical and Pentecostal movements of the past century or two…ultimately these have detached from the previous 1800 years of our history, and tend to keep their own counsel. Theological issues and recent slick marketing stuff have disillusioned them. For many of these, they look back on the timeline and find a rich history that was going on before the church looked like this, and in connecting with it, they feel more a part of the eternal church, rather than the modern version. So their journey leads them out of evangelical forms into more liturgical, “high church” forms like the Roman Catholic church or the Greek Orthodox church.
I’m not knocking this, but I question: are these really our roots? The historical significance of high church doesn’t change the reality that said history is as “colorful” at times as evangelicalism, if not more so. (The Crusades and the Inquisition come to mind.) Also, it doesn’t change the fact that the church in general has since the first century adopted many things from pagan Greco-Roman traditions that aren’t even found in the Bible. So while there may be redemptive things to be found here…in my view, while it’s certainly part of our root structure, it isn’t the end of the journey. I don’t think this goes back far enough in the timeline.
GROUP TWO–Adopted Jews
There is a huge and still-growing trend today for believers to return to the Jewish Roots (or Hebraic Roots) of the Christian faith. This group of people rightly recognizes that what we know as Christianity was born out of Judaism–that the very first believers were practicing Jews, and that Jesus Himself was a Jew, and functioned as a Jewish rabbi. They see the disconnect that has happened when the church become mostly Gentiles, and how much meaning is recovered when we place the Scriptures back into the context in which they were written. This trend has also affected the wider church (consider how many churches now hold Passover seders).
I don’t knock this, either; in fact, I have gained a great deal of insight by what I’ve learned about Hebraic Roots. But I also think some folks take it much further than it should probably go, because they start acting more like Jews, talking in Hebrew, insisting that the church meet on Saturdays and observe Passover, basically getting all religious about it. I think Acts 16 and the book of Galatians make it quite clear that non-Jews who embrace Jesus do not need to become Jews. So while there is something important to discover here, IMHO, I think this can go too far back in the timeline, beyond the actual roots of our faith.
GROUP THREE: The First-Centurians
Then there are those who look back at the Book of Acts and the epistles, recounting the earliest days of the church and how things were. They correctly see that the modern church looks little or nothing like that group of folks who “turned the world upside down.” They see the church meeting in homes, not in church buildings; they see the sense of fellowship and community they had; they see the open participation of believers rather than a program of events from a stage or pulpit. They see that the first-century church was an organism, and they seek to return to this organic way of being church. The trend toward house churches is largely fueled by this.
I’m obviously not knocking this one; I’ve had a house church meeting in my home for nearly 10 years. And yet…taken too far, people start acting like house church is a mandate of Scripture. I’ve never been part of the “house church movement” for this very reason; house church for us was always something that worked, not something that was mandated. Plus…it should be obvious that we’re no longer living in the first century; so why should we want to be first-century Christians? Certainly there’s great value in recovering the heart of the early church; but again I must ask: is this really the root of our faith? Is this as far back on the timeline as we can go?
So…which of these groups has tapped into the roots of our faith? I’d say all of them, and none of them. All of these expressions have recovered something valuable from the past–part of our root structure–but there’s something much simpler, I think, about the actual root, the place where the church was conceived.
Wanna know where I think the root is?
I think the root of our faith is thirteen guys walking the countryside.
Before the Day of Pentecost, before the five-fold ministry, before any of that existed–even before the death and resurrection had taken place–Jesus spent several years traveling around in a mobile community with twelve other men that He was discipling. They lived together, laughed together, ate together, and walked together…and Jesus taught them as they went. The whole group gathered under a simple, two-word call: FOLLOW ME.
In my search for the roots of my faith…this is where my own journey has taken me. To thirteen guys walking the countryside. This primitive sense of community, this basic sense of following Jesus. And I’m interpreting all other aspects of my faith from this place.
Yes, yes, for anyone who wants to get theological with me about it…I know it wasn’t just the thirteen guys. And I know there were women in the caravan–women of substance, mind you, who cared for Jesus’ needs. And don’t get gender-conscious and sexist about this, either; it would have been inappropriate for Jesus, a single man and a Jew, to live in this kind of intimacy with the opposite sex, and that’s why I believe the Twelve were all male. It isn’t about whether the Twelve were men or women; what matters is that they were following Him.
And when you think about it, it also doesn’t matter so much (at least in theory) how the church ends up being shaped from season to season, or whether they observe the Passover, or whether they do a liturgy. The root of our faith is so simple that it can be expressed in a multitude of ways, depending on culture and circumstance; and I think that may be why the search for our roots can take so many directions. At the same time…I think the unnecessary things we have tacked on to the faith over the centuries happened when we stopped following Him and started building our own thing. And sometimes, those things actually started out as legitimate expressions…but Jesus moved on while we stayed behind and built a tabernacle. These are the things that need to be deconstructed, and that’s why I think a return to the root is so important. It helps us gain perspective on what is necessary, and what is not. It helps us prioritize, to sort things out.
To get back to the heart of why we were drawn to Jesus in the first place.
And not just for our own sakes…but also for a generation of people who have been turned off by all the extra stuff that’s been tacked onto the church. Returning to this root helps us live our faith authentically, in a way that others who watch us can take more seriously, because it’s real, and it’s simple. Real simple. 🙂
So if you ask me what the root of the Christian faith is…it’s following Jesus. The whole thing starts by being a disciple.
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