The main subject of today’s sermon from our local pastor was one that draws a great deal of attention in life, but one that is seldom addressed directly. Being creatures of habit, we generally expect (or should not be surprised to see) a great deal of continuity in life. That said, there are some points in life where we expect discontinuity, where we expect change to result. A great deal of disagreement can result because different parties view the same situation as time passes from different perspectives, if one person expects there to be continuity and the other person experiences or expects discontinuity. Unless these matters are brought into the open, they represent a hidden area of massive disagreement, whether we are dealing with personal situations among friends or family or loved ones, or whether we are engaged in political and theological discussions where the disagreement hinges on such issues. Although time does not permit an exhaustive look at this, we should at least be able to see some general outlines where these unexpressed expectations can result in immense difficulty, and perhaps at least start to think about such matters in our own lives.
The subject of today’s message dealt with theological expectations of continuity or discontinuity. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the question of continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Covenant has been a source of a great deal of debate and disagreement in my life. Yet the question at its core is one of continuity versus discontinuity. Those who view there being an essential discontinuity at the death and resurrection see no reason to follow the example of Jesus Christ, nor to look for examples of the continuity between that example and the behavior of the early church. On the other hand, those who see essential continuity, of which I am one, see the problem as being within the heart and mind of people who make covenants they are not able or willing to fulfill. This would include such covenants as marriage and baptism as well. Ironically enough, I suppose, a belief in the continuity between the Old and New Covenant as to terms and conditions (see, for example, Jeremiah 31 and Hebrews 8) tends to include a belief in the discontinuity of the life of someone at the point of baptism and the laying of hands and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which is to result in decisive and visible change as a result of a changed way of life.
When it comes to questions of politics, the issue of continuity or discontinuity can also be great. I have reviewed at least a couple of books for the De Re Militari that addressed the question of the continuity or discontinuity between Rome and the Middle Ages. Those who wanted to paint the Middle Ages as a time of darkness and barbarism would argue heavily for discontinuity, while those who point to the survival of Roman ways and a conscious tradition of imitatio imperii in the successor states of European Christendom in the Middle Ages would argue for far more continuity. Likewise, the case of the Civil War and its aftermath are a clear example where competing visions existed. Southerners and Northern ‘conservatives’ in the postwar environment wanted as much continuity between antebellum and postbellum life, which tended to encourage the passage of Jim Crow laws and an establishment of a racial and social order that limited freedom and upward advancement for blacks and poor whites. On the other hand, those with a greater concern for social justice sought for discontinuity, and for a new beginning free of at least some of the institutionalized injustice in American society. In many ways, the sort of continuity and discontinuity one wants is related to the sort of world one wants to see.
Finally, in our own personal lives and those around us we are often concerned with questions of continuity and discontinuity, though we may not always imagine it so. For example, to what extent do we expect our own lives and the lives of those around us to be continuous or discontinuous at certain phase changes, like the change from a single person to married (or vice versa), or from child/teen to adult, or from someone who is actively in the work force to retired. All of these changes in status can be irrelevant to our conduct while being immensely relevant to the changes of the expectations that people have of our conduct. If not handled well, they can be the sources of a great deal of stress and unhappiness and difficulty in life. The way in which we are able to navigate these pitfalls of our own behavior and the expectations we have for others and that others have for us makes a great difference in the sort of success we see in life. No one ever said that managing the changing contexts of life was an easy matter, but at least by talking about such expectations openly and honestly and respectfully, and by building good communication with those around us to the greatest extent possible, at least we may hope for success in our lives.