Thursday, November 29, 2012

The church's duty to take the long view (Forsyth)

I'm taken aback by this quote from Scottish theologian P.T. Forsyth (1848 - 1921). It's from his 1910 book The Work of Christ.

The ideas at the centre of the Christian faith are too large, too deep and subtle, to show their effects in one age; and the challenge of them does not show its effect in one generation or even in two. . . . Therefore it is part of the duty of the Church, in certain sections and on certain occasions, to be less concerned about the effect of the Gospel upon the individual immediately, or on the present age, and to look ahead to what may be the result of certain changes in the future. God sets watchmen in Zion who have to keep their eye on the horizon; and it is only a drunken army that could scout their warning. We are not only bound to attend to the needs and interests of the present generation; we are trustees for a long future, as well as a long past. Therefore it is quite necessary that the Church should give very particular attention to these central and fundamental points whose influence, perhaps, is not so promptly prized, and whose destruction would not be so mightily felt at once, but would certainly become apparent in the days and decades ahead. [pp. 142-3, bold emphasis mine]

Forsyth's warning reminds me how hard it is to take the long view -- in ministry and in life. There's an emphasis today (and rightly so!) on contextualizing the gospel of Jesus Christ in a way that communicates to the world around us, but there's a fine line between "contextualization" and trimming the message to fit with an ever-changing spirit of the age. Consult the dustbin of church history for numerous examples of what happens when the latter course is taken.

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