For a tree to be healthy and strong it requires good roots. The same is true of a building – if the foundation is suspect then, as we have sometimes seen, the consequences can be devastating.
The problem for the birds or animals living in the tree or the people in the building is that they usually have no way of knowing if the roots are diseased or the foundation is unsound.
The same is true in the realm of faith and religion.
I have recently been reading a series of books based in the times of the Protestant Reformation in England. As with the history of the Reformation in Scotland, which we looked at here some time ago, I was appalled by the brutality, political intrigue and corruption involved in the foundation of that movement. And, lest we forget, the adoption of the Protestant faith in England was brought about solely to facilitate the divorce and remarriage of King Henry VIII.
Henry, as we know, promptly made himself the head of this new church, a position, strangely enough, still held by our current Queen who is officially – ‘Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England’.
It is said that King Henry VIII ordered as many as 72,000 executions during his reign – yet he was accepted by the early reformers as ‘God’s representative on Earth’ (as opposed the Pope). Not only so but the early Reformers, in common with their Roman Catholic contemporaries, did not seem to have an issue with the torture and execution of those they saw as their opponents or enemies.
This then is the root of the ‘Reformed’ faith both in Scotland and England – and the root of the religious environment in which, partly, I was brought up.
Of course, as a bird nesting in a tree with rotten roots or a resident in a building whose foundation has such serious flaws, neither I, nor my fellow tree/building dwellers, had any knowledge of the danger that lurked just under the surface. And that is no reflection on them or their character.
Yet, over the years, for me, there were tale tale signs – most of which I ignored. I saw the bullying, sense of entitlement, arrogance and hate that some of the spiritual descendants of these early clerical ‘Reformers’ still displayed. I saw how they looked down on others – and tried to belittle those with less knowledge than they. Of course not all were like that – far from it – but those who were troubled me greatly.
I sometimes imagine how it would go today if a group adopted the same principles as those of the ‘Reformation’. Imagine a group who declared they were the true heirs of New Testament Christianity and committed themselves, by any means, to promote it. Yes, of course they believed in a God of love – but they also believed that the end justifies the means. So to bring their new heaven to earth it might mean killing those who openly disagreed with them and torturing others till they agreed with the views of your new movement – but it would be worth it to get to the goal!
I suppose the real question for today is – ‘If what we have outlined is indeed the root or foundation of our religion or tradition – is that all just water under the bridge and not in any way relevant or of concern in 2021.
The Apostle Paul says in Romans 11:16 – ‘For if the roots of the tree are holy, the branches will be, too.’ It would stand to reason, I would have thought, that the opposite is also true – if the roots of the tree are corrupt so are the branches. And this is what concerns me.
I know of birds in the tree who have based their lives on the assumption, and sometimes against all the evidence, that it will stand forever, or at least be restored in some way, to be the tree they though it should be.
There was a house not far from where we live that developed a serious crack some years ago. Structural engineers found the foundations to be faulty – and the only option was for it to be demolished and completely rebuilt. However, for years the family that lived in the house held on – effecting what repairs they could even in the face of the inevitable. Today there is no trace of the house – and all the effort, time and money spent in the hope of keeping it standing were wasted. The problem was foundational!
And the question for many thinking christians today is – how long do we go on maintaining a structure which is crumbling because the foundations are faulty?
It is not my place to judge or condemn others who live in the their preferred tree or the tree of their tradition. But I am responsible for my own behaviour and actions in the light of the knowledge and truth which has been revealed to me.
My own conclusion is that the tree will fall – the building will collapse – for the law of nature teaches me so. I have also concluded that to spend time and effort in attempting to delay the inevitable is futile. And it has taken me a long time – far too long, to reach that conclusion.
But there is another shoot growing, upon which I am placing my hope for today and the future. It is a tender shoot sprouting from a root in dry ground. It is not adorned in beauty and pomp as are some of the trees we see – in fact it represents the One who has no pretensions to the power or grand religious displays of this world. It has no political or temporal ambitions – wishes no fame and has no desire to dominate others. It is a shoot despised by many and rejected by most. It is not a master clothed in the finery of religion garb – not will you find it present among the grandeur and ceremony of religious palaces – for this shoot in quintessentially The Servant (see Isaiah 53).
But for me, the true beauty to be seen here, surpasses what the eye can see – for the ‘shoot’ is the One of whom the beloved speaks as ‘altogether lovely’ (Song of Solomon 5:16). So for this ‘shoot’ I abandon the tree with the diseased root and the building with the corrupted foundation – hoping, with grace and mercy to build my house, with the wise man, on The Rock and not sand. (Matthew 7:26)
‘Take a careful look at my servant, my chosen one.
I love him dearly
and I find all my delight in him.
I will breathe my Spirit upon him
and he will decree justice to the nations.
He will not quarrel or raise his voice in public.
won’t brush aside the bruised and broken.
He will be gentle with the weak and feeble,
until his victory releases justice.
And the fame of his name
will birth hope among the people.’
Matthew 12:18-21 (TPT)