A continuity problem is simply a jumble, a mishmash, an occurrence in which whatever is happening in a given scene has no meaningful, logical, or didactical connection with what proceeded it. One of the most glaring examples I’ve ever witnessed was in the 1968 cinematic-stinker, Girl in the Gold Boots. In one scene three characters are sitting at a diner having a conversation when a fourth actor inexplicably materializes out of nowhere and enters into the conversation as if he’d been there all along. It was a continuity problem so bad that I had to laugh out loud. Some continuity problems, however, are far from laughable especially when they are found within the Body of Christ – His Church. That is to say, when modern Christianity becomes more or less detached from the redemptive history that came before it, the church finds herself in a fairly difficult place. Indeed, recent studies show that many American Christians are leaving evangelical churches for other branches of Christianity with more seemingly solid historical foundations, such as Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, etc. If you are an evangelical facing this temptation let me prescribe a healthy dose of historic continuity.
Why Continuity Matters...
We are always on the lookout for the next big thing and eager to cast off yesterday’s styles as old fashioned, irrelevant, and out of date. In such an environment it is incredibly important that the Church embraces its innate transcendence while avoiding the temptation to rely upon trendiness. To be trendy today is to be irrelevant tomorrow – just ask Vanilla Ice.
Secondly, historical continuity matters because bible believing Protestants have a more solid historical foundation than any of the other branches of Christianity. Yes, the Protestant Reformation did not begin until the 16th century but it was at its heart a movement to return the Church to her historic, biblical, and apostolic roots.
Moreover, historical continuity matters because the Bible teaches that God’s redemptive purposes have been and are being worked out in history. The God of the Bible is involved in an ongoing, hands-on relationship with His creation and has been since He first spoke it into existence. Therefore a knowledge of redemptive history as well as a willingness to let this history inform our activities in the present is of tremendous importance for the modern evangelical church.
How to Identify Continuity Problems In Your Church...
Chances are if you are an American Evangelical you have continuity problems.
I offer this opinion not as a harsh critic of my evangelical brothers and sisters but as an encouragement for them to examine themselves and their churches.
What is the ethos of your church? What is the focus of its ministry? What are the emphases of your minister? Is all of church-life more or less rooted in the “here-and-now” as if the previous 2000 years of church history had nothing to say to us today? Are influences like pop-culture, pop-phycology, and pop-marketing driving your church’s message, ministry, and outreach? Or is there a deep and abiding awareness of your place in God’s redemptive historical drama? Depending on your answers to these question you might need to fix your continuity problem.
How Continuity Problems Are Fixed...
It is important to note that a skewed view of God’s Redemptive activity in history stems from a skewed view of the Redeemer Himself. The God of the Bible is not the localized deity of 21st century America. He is the Lord of History and the transcendent Triune Creator who sustains, and upholds all things.
Secondly, we need to admit that we are by nature chronological snobs. We love to entertain the view that we are infinitely more sophisticated and clever than the generations who came before us. But are we? Not really. Therefore, we need to open the windows of our minds and allow the “breeze of the centuries” to air out all of our stale and snobbish 21st century thinking. We need to allow the saints of the past to enter into the conversations of the present. We need to read the bible not as a book of random fortune-cookie sayings but as a sweeping redemptive-historical drama. We need to return to the historic Reformed Confessions of the Christian faith (I highly recommend the Westminster Confession of Faith which is readily available online and in print). We need to attend churches where the ecumenical creeds of Christianity are confessed, believed, and reinforced through solid, consistent, expository preaching Lord’s Day by Lord’s Day.
These solutions will help us correct the unfortunate jumble and mishmash of continuity problems in the Church. Thank God that we in the 21st century are not alone on our own little desert island in time but we are the servants of the One who owns history itself.