That which encourages change is education. The farming techniques of America changed throughout the years because of education. It is very difficult for an uneducated people to make changes, for in their lack of knowledge they seek to find stability in the traditions of their fathers. For this reason, it is difficult for an uneducated people to be delivered from the bondage of their traditions. We forget that our fathers did the best they could with what they knew. But the farming fathers of America knew that their children could do better. And in order for them to do better, every effort was made to educate their children.
Our great grandfather who settled middle America in Kansas had only a few years of school. Our grandfather had a few more years in school. Our father graduated from high school. And the one writing these words graduated at the doctorate level. Every generation exceeded the schooling of the previous generation, and thus, the economic standard of living followed behind the greater education of each generation.
Our fathers’ desire to learn spilled over into their spiritual life. Because the generation of Americans out of which we were born were vibrant students, we became vibrant students of the Bible. Our obsession with Bible study made it necessary to change from traditional teachings that were based on a lack of knowledge of the Bible and were handed down from the fathers of the Old World. When we learned something new in the Bible, we accepted it as the will of God. If changes needed to be made in our thinking, we changed. If changes needed to be made in our lives, then we sought to sacrifice tradition for Scripture. Knowledge of the Scriptures inspired a transition from a foundation based on tradition to a foundation that was based on truth. Such was in the mind of Peter when he wrote to his fellow Jews: “But grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pt 3:18). In other words, make the transition from tradition to truth.
Religious groups today who purport to be “following Jesus,” but do not have open Bible study, have doomed themselves to carry on with either the traditions of the fathers, or continually invent for themselves a religiosity according to the changing times of society.
After the tremendous migration of people from Europe to America during the 1700s and 1800s, America became a culture of diversity. People considered themselves to be Americans, not Irish, or Germans, or Russians, or any of the nations from which they came. Though immigrants from all over the world came together to the New World, there was the natural development of what became know as the American way of life. This was particularly true as industrialization began to transform American ways into a cultural identity that was unique. It was unique in that difference was accepted as the norm.
Patriotism congealed the American diversity into being one nation under God. When American soldiers went overseas to settle the wars of others, and then returned home, they went as Americans and returned as Americans with an expanded world view. America had a story to tell the world that was based on education, and thus, Americans assumed that everyone could follow the same socio/economic road to development if they would educate their people. They too would be proud of being their own educated and developed nation. Ignorant citizens were rarely patriotic to the nation in which they dwelt.
But with the conclusion of sorting out the Nazi Germany threat of WW II, American soldiers returned home from being “soldiers on foreign soil”—those for whom we prayed every Sunday when we were children. The soldiers returned home with some different thinking that the war had formed. There were some social rebels among this group who had discovered “overseas” some new ways, ways that were different than the American way. Other people did think differently than Americans. There were different cultures that were parallel with, but not contrary to, the American way of life.
A new word made its way into international relations between nations. “Peaceful coexistence” meant that nations could maintain their “differences” in a world of social and political differences. It was a social behavior that was embedded in the American way of life since its early beginnings. The many immigrants of the many nations of the world who had practiced “peaceful coexistence” gave birth to a unique cultural trait that the international family of nations needed. This “unity in social diversity” has now gone international. World organizations as the League of Nations, and then the United Nations were born out of this desire to be united in our diversity.
The rise of individuals who opposed conformity to all social order was beginning to arise in America in the 1950s. Americans were about to discover something almost unique about their own way of life. Americans were about to discover their “peaceful coexistence” culture that made them great as one nation under God. Freedom to think and behave was about to give birth to a new generation of nonconformist Americans who would change America forever. The traditional farming culture of America that brought the nation into the modern world was about to give way to a changing culture that was led by the cities of America.
With his close friend, Neal Cassidy, Jack Kerouac traveled across America during the late 1940s after WW II. For him, he made a marvelous discovery. He discovered and experienced numerous differences in the American way of life and how Americans learned to live as one nation within the definitions of their unique circumstances. It was a beautiful discovery, one that truly revealed that there was accepted diversity within the whole of American society. The outside world was wrong to stereotype America, or as the world today, judging America according to what they see on TV and the international news media. What Kerouac experienced was the rise of a new nonconformist individualism that would not find its expression until the nonconformist revolution that had roots in the 1950s and became a major movement of America in the 1960s.
Kerouac was at first frustrated with what he had experienced on his adventure across America. He was frustrated with the efforts of the norm to work against change into something different. He earnestly wanted to put into words his “quest for self-knowledge and experience.” His travel experiences had revealed that any healthy society must relinquish itself to continual change.
The only way Kerouac believed that he could reveal his discoveries to the general public was to become a “writing monk” until all his thoughts were put on paper. He had a typewriter (remember those), but he was too impatient to be held up in writing by continually changing individual sheets of paper in his typewriter. He felt that he had to write uninterrupted until he dropped. So he found a roll of paper that was used in a teletype machine, inserted it in his typewriter, and then started throwing words on paper through his fingers day after day. After three weeks of constant writing as a literary hermit in the confinement of his quarters, he came out with a document that would later be published as a book that was entitled, On The Road.
Kerouac’s writings laid unpublished and dormant for years. Then finally in 1955 the book was first published. The book immediately hit the best-seller list and has remained on the published book list ever since. On The Road touched a nerve in the “antiestablishment” movement of the 1960s. People were wanting to think freely for themselves, and live contrary to the accepted traditional way of life. Young people of the 1960s were looking for a changed way of life, something that was new, and above all, different. Kerouac discovered that cultural vibrance is discovered only in diversity, but a diversity that allowed individual freedom. When there is diversity within a culture, then there must also be forbearance among those who are of the culture. The citizens of forbearing cultures blend in their diversity. And when individuals are allowed the freedom to blend, then there is freedom to change and freedom to think. If a culture does not allow change in order to blend, then the citizens of the culture are doomed to stagnation in their own traditions. They remain in the subtle fear of education because they are afraid to think freely and change.
How would this “blending culture” affect the religiosity of the world, since all of us live a long way from America. Simple. After WW II America sent representatives of its culture into all the world through the efforts of missionaries. In order to usher change into cultures, European, and then American missionaries, established schools for education around the world. Languages of local tribal groups were transcribed into writing and grammar books of the local languages were taught in the schools. The Bible was translated into thousands of languages.
The first missionaries brought with them the word of God, but often, they also brought with them a legal system of obedience to how the word of God was to be implemented in the lives of the yet unlearned. A legal system of faith was easy for the new converts to understand and obey.
In reference to Bible schools that often promoted a legal interpretation of the Scriptures, and a legal application of biblical principles in the lives of different cultures, Bible schools often became “cloning institutions” to perpetuate the religious traditions of the religion of the sending churches. Bible schools sought to teach a legal outline of what constituted “the truth.” Application was often cloned after the religious behavior of the sending churches. For example, we once visited an assembly of some disciples in the country of Zambia. All the men and boys obediently sat on one side of the meeting hall. All the women and girls did the same on the other side. Families were thus split in assembly by dividing males and females. This arrangement looked somewhat unnatural to us, that is, odd in reference to our culture. So we asked one of the leaders why the people were so seated. The answer was, “The missionaries taught us this way.”
When Bible schools become factories of legal religiosity to turn out theological clones whose thought processes are unchallenged to think independently, and thus become dysfunctional in reference to common-sense interpretation of the Scriptures, then traditional theology is passed from one generation to another in order to maintain the continuity of one’s faith. When schools fail to train students to think, then the school has failed its definition of being a school of “higher education.”
What many of the first missionaries failed to understand was that the cultures into which they went were cultures where social order was maintained by keeping the traditions of the fathers. It was easy for the adherents to the new faith of these cultures, therefore, to legalize their faith into a simple catechism of belief and behavior that was written in an outline on paper. Preachers were cloned in many mission schools in order to perpetuate the catechisms of each particular faith. These defining catechisms were subsequently transferred from one generation to another. For this reason, it was necessary that each denominated faith have its own preacher training schools in order to perpetuate the unique catechism that was accepted by each particular faith.
Regardless of any resistance to change by traditionalists, change will always occur. We recall one missionary who came to South Africa long before the American church realized that there was a difference between the word of God and the American cultural manner by which this word was to be implemented in the life of a disciple. When we grew up in America, any effort to “celebrate” Christmas was taboo because some had associated the holiday with the birth of Christ. It was supposedly a Catholic doctrine, and thus, everyone abhorred the possibility of manifesting any theology that remotely resembled Catholic doctrine. Our missionary friend grew up in this religious culture of “fear theology.”
When our particular missionary friend came to South Africa, he preached the “sin of Christmas.” Since the origin of his theology was strictly legal as the church in which he grew up in the 1950s in America, he established a legal system of faith where he went as a missionary. He thus brought a faith to Africa that not only had the word of God, but also added legal appendages that he had attached to what the word of God actually stated. The whole of his theology became a catechism of faith for the new believers. Maintaining the catechism determined one’s faithfulness to the “church.”
Our missionary friend brought an anti-Christmas catechism with him to the new land. Nothing is said in the Scriptures concerning Christmas, and thus, such matters lie within the realm of freedom (See Cl 2:16). Unfortunately, those who are legalistic in their understanding of the word of God find it easy to attach their legal interpretations to the word of God. They thus seek to fill in the gaps where the Scriptures are silent. Silence of the Scriptures to the legalist means restriction, not freedom.
When the anti-Christmas missionary came to Africa out of the cloned religious culture of his church, he could only preach that which was a clone of that from which he came. So he preached an anti-Christmas theology. He left this theology with a very traditional culture that sought to honor the fathers by strict obedience to the traditions of the fathers. For years it was “men on the one side of the auditorium and the women on the other.”
There is an interesting conclusion to this story. The time came for the American missionary to return to his home culture from which he came. When he returned to his home, he returned to a post antiestablishment culture of the 1960s where society had changed and fellow Americans were encouraged to think freely and change. The antiestablishment culture of America had changed forever the cultural function of maintaining the traditions of the fathers. No longer were people expected to clone others with their fathers’ traditions, whether in ordinary behavior of life, or in ceremonial religiosity. In reference to the church, no fundamental doctrine had changed. What had changed was the manner by which fundamental doctrine could be manifested in the life of the individual disciple. There was freedom to think and behave in those areas where the Scriptures were silent. Silence of the Scriptures, therefore, meant freedom of thought, not restriction, the very understanding that the Scriptures teach in Colossians 2:16: “Therefore, let no one judge you in food or in drink, or in respect to a festival, or of any new moon, or of sabbaths.”
So when the missionary reentered his native changed culture, he too learned to think and behave individually and freely. In reference to his faith, no longer did he feel compelled to mold his thinking and behavior around the traditions of the fathers. The subsequent result was that he, and those he taught at home, enjoyed the freedom we all have in Christ, whether Jew or Gentile. We had to laugh when in the 1990s our missionary friend sent us a Christmas card with a glorious Christmas tree on the front. He changed, but the traditionalists he taught in South Africa were still living with the legacy of his legalistic binding where God had allowed freedom. Though it is changing in South Africa, there are still the remnants of those who condemn trees, that is “Christmas trees.”
So we in Africa live with what was brought to Africa out of a ceremonial legalism that was a cultural identity of the American church until the middle 1960s when there was an antiestablishment that promoted freethinking individualism. What we have discovered is that those of the American and European faiths have long restored the times of refreshing among themselves, while those in the “mission fields” to which they were first sent as missionaries have hardened themselves in a legalistic religiosity after their own traditional world views. The returned missionary to their homeland changed, and moved on to freedom. Unfortunately, they left a legal legacy that has been refined into a hardened legal traditionalism.
The good news is that Africa has enrolled in the local university. As young Africans are introduced to free thinking through education, they too are transitioning into an enlightenment of objective study of the Bible. Their interpretations and applications are turning from the “legal catechismal boxes” that were handed to them from a culture that eventually changed from legalistic cloning to freedom to interpret the word of God. We would request that all those in previous missionary-sending nations who at home transitioned from legal religiosity to freedom in Christ, would in some way let those of their legacy throughout the world know that it is OK to change. We are of a faith that demands growth, and inherent in growth is change. We must never allow traditional religiosity to either distort our view of the Scriptures, nor determine the application of Divine principles in our lives. It would be good for those who were left with a legacy of legal religiosity to read what Paul wrote to those of the same theology: “You have been severed from Christ, you who seek to be justified by law. You have fallen from grace” (Gl 5:4).
[Next lecture: June 17]