What’s the equivalent of the Red Flag Act within the church?
Philip Sudworth poses this question in a recent post on the PCN Britain discussion forum. He raises the question in connection with a passage from William Barclay’s commentary on Matthew 9 16-17. The quote and Philip’s footnote is reproduced below. To respond please go to http://www.pcnbritain.org.uk/index.php/forums/viewthread/27/
New Wine – William Barclay’s Commentary on Matthew 9:16-17
“No-one, said Jesus, tries to put new wine into old wine-skins. To put this into modern terms: our minds must be elastic enough to receive and contain new ideas. The history of progress is the history of overcoming the prejudices of the shut mind. Every new idea has had to fight for its existence against the instinctive opposition of the human mind. The motor car, the railway train, the aeroplane were in the beginning regarded with suspicion. Simpson had to fight to introduce chloroform, and Lister had to struggle to introduce antiseptics into the work of the doctor and surgeon. Copernicus was compelled to retract his statement that the earth went round the sun, and not the sun round the earth. Even Jonas Hanway who brought the umbrella to this country had to suffer a barrage of missiles and insults when he first walked down the street with an umbrella.
“Within the church this resentment of the new is chronic, and the attempt to pour new things into old moulds is almost universal. We attempt to pour the activities of a modern congregation into an ancient church building that was never meant for them. We attempt to pour the truth of new discoveries into creeds which are based on Greek metaphysics. We attempt to pour modern instruction into outworn language which cannot express it. It may be that we would do well to remember that when any living thing stops growing, it starts dying. It may be that we need to pray that God would deliver us from the shut mind and give us the open mind.
“Viscount Samuel was born in 1870 and he begins his autobiography with a description of the London of his childhood. ‘We had no cars or buses or tube trains; there were no bicycles – except the high penny-farthings; there were no electric light or telephones; no cinemas or broadcasts.’ We are living in a changing and an expanding and a growing world. These verses are Jesus’ warning that the church dare not be the only institution which still lives in the past.”
William Barclay wrote this commentary in 1956, over 50 years ago. Just think how much society, our awareness of the world around us, our use of technology and our knowledge of the vastness and complexity of the universe have all changed in the five decades since then - and how little the church has changed. In the early days of the car, a law was passed in 1865 that a man had to walk 55 metres in front of a car with a red flag and the speed restriction in towns was 2 mph. What’s the equivalent of the Red Flag Act within the church?