One criticism often made of Christians (and seen most recently on my website here) is that we’re living in the past. I wonder if, like me, you’ve been accused of having a Victorian or even a Medieval attitude to morality and life in general? If so, then how do we respond? My suggestion is to point out that the criticism doesn’t go far enough. We are neither Victorian nor Medieval in our thinking but, rather, 1st Century, and more specifically Apostolic! Christian thought and ethics are not rooted in the culture of the 1900s or even the 1300s but flow from a Scriptural deposit that culminates in the 1st Century A.D.. But even then we ought to recognise that the thought itself, while being expressed in the 1st Century, actually stands above and outside of time. It is timeless in the sense that it is not fixed at one point in time. It is eternal in its origin. 2 points need to be made here. First, even in their day, the Scriptures were counter-cultural. One example of this general principle will suffice:
Rom 12:1-3 I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Paul’s argument is clear. Rather than being conformed in our thinking to the world around us (in his immediate context the 1st Century Graeco-Roman culture) our minds ought to be shaped by what is pleasing to God. Simply put, Biblical ethics are not a product of their immediate historical context; they so very often stand against it. Second, since our ethics and morality are grounded in what Paul calls the good acceptable and perfect will of God, they may rightly be called eternal. Other things may change but God’s word does not. It endures. Again, just one example of how the Scriptures describe themselves:
Isa. 40:8The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.
Of course, this eternal word of God is rooted in God’s own eternal nature.
Isa. 44:6-8 Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.
Who is like me? Let him proclaim it. Let him declare and set it before me, since I appointed an ancient people. Let them declare what is to come, and what will happen.
Fear not, nor be afraid; have I not told you from of old and declared it? And you are my witnesses! Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any.”
So next time someone tells you you’re living in the past, surprise them by agreeing with them. Yes, we draw from eternity past and look to eternity future because the One we listen to spans them both. And He has spoken most clearly into the 1st Century. I’ll gladly accept the label of “living in the past” because it’s the key to my future and how I live in the present.