Friday, December 6, 2013

The Pressures of Plagiarism, Part Four

Perhaps the bigger problem in Church is not the amount of plagiarism, but the lack of creativity. I suspect that if we had an environment that was more innovative we might see better thinking and less rehashing of the same ideas.

Maybe we have become so placid in our canned routines and expectations that we are not producing people who are able to think outside the box. Perhaps our staid practices, perpetuated for centuries, draw only the kind of person who is uncreative and actually resists innovation.

Church has become sedentary in so many different ways that it is actually hostile to creativity and innovation. It is also boring. This pressures pastors to spice it up a bit just to stay “relevant” (read: compete with other churches) within the confines of inherited boundaries in both practices and beliefs. This pressure results in needing to find another message every week that is at least as good as the last. Plagiarism can be the byproduct.

Every time we do this we take more steps away from the beauty evidenced in our Creator. Reconciled to the Creator, we of all people, should be the most creative in this world. But alas, we are the least. Rather than innovate we end up copying the innovations of the world. We sanctify the lyrics of a popular rock song as best we can for our saintly audience to try and make church less boring this next week.
This lack of innovation is especially true in certain domains of the kingdom that emphasize liturgies, hymns, creeds and doctrinal systems developed centuries ago. It is as if nothing new can be learned since John Calvin, John Wesley or Martin Luther.

We dare not question the ideas of great men who died 300 years ago. Realize that these are people who executed other Christians for a baptizing differently, or sold tickets to buy seats in pews. These men couldn’t even imagine a world with mass communication, rapid transit, instant publications, smart phones and global news channels on our LED TVs. In my iPhone I have dozens of versions of the Bible at my finger tips (literally) carried around with me all day in my pocket. What would Gutenburg think of that? They are dead and buried– their brains are but dust–yet still they think for the rest of us. In such an environment, where every thought must be held up to the mentality of long dead theologians, plagiarism is not surprising––an original thought is scandalously shocking.

We haven’t reached the apex yet of learning from God’s word. Luther, Calvin, and Wesley were not the final word in our march of progressive revelation. Creeds written in the fourth century cannot possibly contain the whole of scriptural truth and define all there is to learn. There are insights and understandings that they missed, in spite of how sound and profound their observations were. If encouraged, our Spirit-led children will discover even more than we do in the Bible.

Do not be afraid to dive boldly into the Scriptures without the boundaries of your inherited theological restraints. Keep on learning. Keep on growing. Ask questions of sacred ideas that have been around for centuries! If you have the Spirit of God in your heart and the word of God in your hand (or pocket) get out of the box and start to think for yourself. Feel free to make a mistake or two, that’s how we learn. Is this dangerous? Perhaps, but maybe our Christianity could stand for a little more danger in the mix. In fact, those very creeds we have loved for a millennium and a half came to be because of dangerous thinking.

Am I anti-doctrine? No, but I am against closed doctrinal systems that don’t stimulate better thinking or advance in understanding and application. When all the possible categories are defined, and the walls well established, and all learning must be within their boundaries you have put your god in a box. I am against that.

I am devoted to the Scriptures as inspired revelatory truth that is alive and enduring. The Scriptures are a baseline of all truth, but they are also eternal and inexhaustible. We do them a disservice by making them submit to our theological categories, labels and systems, it should be the other way around. I do not think the creeds or writings of church fathers are equal to the authority of Scriptures––or as empowered to change lives. I'm weary of theologians judging another teacher's orthodoxy based upon how they line up within  the categories of a human designed system of doctrines, rather than simply how they square in the light of Scripture. Those two things are not the same thing and I believe to equate them is less than orthodox...heretical even. I am not against learning from great men, I am against seeing those men as having already learned all there is to learn. I suspect that if they truly are great men, they would agree.

What would Christendom look like if we all agreed, all the time, and no one ever raised a different point of view? Some may say that would be heaven, I think it would be hell. All learning and growing would stop. We'd be monochromatic robots with little beauty or diversity, and we would lack all creativity and surprise. Heaven will be like our Creator who made 10,000's of varieties of flowers and birds, and gave each person a one-of-a-kind DNA so that each one is unique in all of history. Personally, I am grateful for the diversity of opinion. I love people that disagree with me, and those who agree as well. We all can learn from each other. We can discover the rich depth each part of the body brings to the round table if we only humble ourselves and accept one another. Perhaps combinations of thought can produce entirely new realms of understanding.

Doctrine was not meant to be the glue of unity. A statement of faith does not bring people together, in fact, it's designed to keep people out! Humility induced love is the only way to have true unity. Knowledge induces pride and division, only love edifies. If you have to agree to love, than you do not know love. Love shines best when you do not agree. When we make agreement to doctrine what unites us we end up dividing...time and again. When will we learn this?

We need to aspire to be more attentive to the voice of Scripture without hearing the same old broken record of theological systems replaying over and over. Is it possible for the church to break free of this? It will take people that are free and innovative, and right now the church doesn’t seem to favor that kind of person. We’ll see. I have hope, but not in the religious system that exists but rather in the Creator who always has existed––both in the system and outside of it.

1 comment:

Manny said...

I especially liked your last sentence who you are placing your trust and not on where. This series has been liberating and encouraging.