Today's PAYG told the story from Acts where Gamaliel counselled his fellow religious leaders not to get involved in trying to suppress the new Jesus-movement, noting that other movements had come and gone, sometimes attracting a substantial short term following. If this is of God, he observed, we won't be able to stop it. Two thousand years on, we would assert his wisdom.
But it did make me stop and think (not in the way PAYG guided, it rarely is!). What new (or newer) movements or developments within Christianity cause bother to those in authority? For example, would the ordination of women or the Toronto blessing (to pick two diverse ideas) pass Gamaliel's test?
I am struck that some parts of the church perceive other parts as sliding into heresy or apostasy because of new developments - be they setting up in pubs or cafes, affirming same sex relationships, exercising charismatic gifts, singing with guitars/organs/not singing at all, political involvement, non-violent protest, green issues, Fairtrade or a whole host of other weird and wonderful combinations and permutations. What will the test of time reveal about any of these? If we could fast forward a century or two, which of these 'new things' would survive, and which would not?
I am also intrigued by the correlation of longevity with divine approval - is it really that simple? Is there not also a place for the 'krisis' and the 'karios' - the 'aha' moments, the paradigm shifts, the 'change or die'? Is it not the case that some long-lived praxis eventually proves sinful - slavery being the obvious and overworked example.
I think Gamaliel spoke good sense. I would argue that his test proved correct. But, we have to beware of simplistically and narrowly applying it. Not all that is fleeting is bad, not all that lasts is good. As the writer of Ecclesiastes said, to every time there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.
If this is of God, then nothing we do or say will stop it... whenever something in church life challenges us, I suspect we do well to remind oursleves of this.