Living in a small home limits the amount of stuff we can keep, prompting us to get rid of things we have not used for a while. But which should we keep and which should we dispose? It is tempting to wonder: “When might we use that again?” or “Might we need/want this again in the future?”
Because the future is so difficult to predict the important question to ask is: “What has always had value?”
I still have my grandmother’s manual toaster. Now because it has become symbolic of past frugal living. But as a child I recall I coming off the shelf more than once when a newer and safer automatic toaster had failed. We would use the old toaster for a week or two until a new one could be obtained. It had recurring value.
Phyllis Tickle, in her book The Great Emergence, discusses how the Church has throughout history relegated some practices at least to the attic, if not to the dust bin. In 1861, a hundred and fifty-four years ago, the Presbyterian Church split over slavery, when some felt it was immoral for elders to hold slaves. Two thousand years ago the church had similar debate (see Acts 15) about circumcision, a ritual required of all males, but a stumbling block for Greek converts to Christianity. The future will tell us if the current turmoil over same-sex marriage demonstrates a similar theological housecleaning. Today’s discussion on marriage, like historical debates of circumcision, slavery, and voting rights, has produced much heat and some light as more and more theologians and biblical scholars weigh in on one side or the other.
But for most local congregations the more important questions relate to our call as God’s people in a particular place for a particular ministry. Questions related to what not to do generate much passion, but little action. Instead we need to ask: “How might the gifts of this congregation respond to the needs of a particular neighborhood?” and “How is this consistent with what God has done in the past?” The Church must invest its energy, intelligence, imagination, and love in advancing what we can accomplish to further the Kingdom of Heaven.
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
— Ephesians 4:1-3 (NRSV)