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An Ethics of Continuity

“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.”

So the author of Ecclesiastes speaks his weariness and disillusionment. Call me crazy, but I find it comforting in a way. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Seminary students, the constituency with which I’m most familiar these days, tend to run in predictable patterns. The wild-eyed radicals talk in terms of Christian “revolution”. I heard a student do that just this week. For them the church must change or die.
 
The traditionalists delve deeply into liturgy or Scripture or monastic practices. The gleam in their eyes is that of the true believer. They tend to talk in terms of recovery of ancient truth.
 
The pragmatists are much more interested in what will work in their particular ministry setting right now. They don’t care what you call it. They just want help getting done what needs to be done.
 
The labels keep changing. “Postmodern,” of course, is the big one right now. Seems like a new word for “romantic” to me. Byron was one of those nearly 200 years ago.
 
Then there are the neo-conservatives (fundamentalists). They’re going after the neo-evangelicals (moderates?). Neo-liberals (liberals) are anathema for both of them, as they always have been.
 
The point is worth examining. Like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, who became intimately acquainted with all the types of human evil through her life in the small English <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />village of St. Mary Meade, a wise pastor will begin to realize over time that most variations in human character have come his or her way before.
 
Life has always been a mix of evil and good, innovation and tradition, the push for reform and the pull of the past. Winston Churchill is reported to have said, “The young man who is not a liberal has no heart. And the old man who is not a conservative has no head.” He said it to explain why he himself had switched political parties. I don’t entirely agree.
 
But at 54 I’m beginning to realize we all share and are affected by the rhythms of life more than many of us would like to admit.
 
When we get upset over this innovation or that, we might do well to read a chapter or so of Ecclesiastes. There really is very little that’s genuinely new. And perhaps top it of with a bit of the book of Hebrews: “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever.”
 
Ron Sisk is professor of homiletics and Christian ministry at North American Baptist Seminary in Sioux Falls, S.D.