The Living Founder
It struck me today that many times in debates about the direction of an organization or movement one of keys is the extent to which people see continuity with the founder or founders. This comes up frequently in a myriad of debates about the direction of our nation. Some are devoted to the direction set by our founders while others believe that changes in the world require alterations in the original intent of the founders. On top of that, different people interpret the initial direction in different ways.
I am seeing this more and more in the Disciples of Christ denomination. Some are devoted to the vision of the founders of the movement while others respect their initiative but believe the denomination has made and continues to make necessary adjustments as culture changes. People choose the things the founders said that they resonate with most and highlight them while downplaying things that may not fit as well with their perspective.
Christianity is no exception to this conundrum. Jesus is the founder of the movement now called Christianity, but as you look at the wide array of things that call themselves Christian you can see the varied ongoing responses to the direction he set for his movement. Alan Hirsch said, “As the founder of Christianity Jesus has the right to shape it.” I agree with him, but I’m not sure we can assume that is a statement all would accept. Some may respect the contribution of the founder but believe changing times require tweaks in direction. However, there is one massive difference between the first two examples I cited and the last–only Christianity has a living founder. Jesus is present through the Holy Spirit to continue to direct and shape his movement. With Christianity you cannot debate the wisdom of the founders’ direction for a movement or organization like you can with other things. You can take Christian principles and go a different direction than the one set by Christ (and that continues to be set by him) but then you necessarily have something other than Christianity. You may have some sort of religion, but it is not his.