Questioning Religious Tradition
“A truth’s initial commotion is directly proportional to how deeply the lie was believed. It wasn’t the world being round that agitated people, but that the world wasn’t flat. When a well-packaged web of lies has been sold gradually to the masses over generations, the truth will seem utterly preposterous and its speaker a raving lunatic.” ~ Dresden James
Throughout the history of the Christian tradition, and even before it began with the life of Jesus, there have been pivotal moments of change when someone dared to question longstanding traditions and beliefs. Today we regard such people as Martin Luther and Thomas Aquinas as forefathers of our faith, strong and brave heroes to whom we owe the beautiful, rich, diverse religious tradition we know today as Christianity.
Yet, in their days, these men were denounced as heretics and feared for the ways they were rattling the foundations of everything the religious majority of the day believed. They were feared and opposed by Christians who fought tooth and nail to maintain a tight grip on the beliefs and practices they had always embraced as the only plausible way of living out the Christian faith.
For example, a short excerpt from the same book I talked about in my last post (which I have now finished, and highly recommend!):
“Aquinas is called ‘Doctor of the Church’ today, but he was called many, many much worse things during his years of teaching at the University of Paris. He was labeled a heretic on several occasions, and as a man who was sullying the pure gospel with corrupt ideas. Aquinas’s ideas were hotly contested, and the real churchmen of his day thought the professor incendiary and dangerous to the minds of the youth.” (Inventing Hell, p. 155)
This zealous opposition to new ideas within the Christian faith is as old as the origination of the Christian religion itself. Even Jesus and his teachings about the Kingdom of God were staunchly resisted by the dominant religious leaders of Jerusalem. In Mark 3:6, Matthew 12:14, and John 10:45-57, we read about the pharisees plotting to kill Jesus because of his “heretical” teaching and because they were threatened by his popularity.
It seems to be quite a pattern throughout the history of the Christian religion that we have a terrible track record with accepting and integrating big theological shifts. Part of it is human nature, I think. Changing the broadly accepted pattern of how things are supposed to be is frightening to think about. We like our traditions to be familiar, well-worn by time, and when someone comes along and speaks out against the oppression and legalism and general ungodliness of our traditions, our visceral reaction is to denounce that person as a heretic.
Yet these “heretics” are now venerated as the founding fathers of our faith. And it begs the question: who are the pioneers of the Christian faith today, who will lead us into a new way of understanding the Christian religion? Who are the people today that the Christian majority—which, let’s face it, largely consists of conservative evangelicals—has cast out because their beliefs are dangerous? And perhaps a more important question: are we casting them out because we truly believe that what they teach is contrary to scripture? Or are we casting them out because we are afraid of what challenges the status quo, just as the Pharisees were in Jesus’ day?
All these questions are hard to answer, hard to even consider. But we must consider them because maybe, just maybe, God’s Kingdom is bigger than the four walls of conservative theology. Maybe God’s Kingdom is big enough to include truths that will once again reinvent our long-established religious tradition. Just as he did in the life of Jesus, in the life of Martin Luther and Thomas Aquinas, maybe God is working today in ways we never imagined He would, and through people we would never expect.