Old vs. New


“Liberal” and “conservative.”  The definitions of these terms are seldom stated.  Usually they are just presumed.  Often people call “conservative” those who like old-fashioned things and “liberal” those who favor the latest ideas, trends, and values.

 But for the Christian, the ultimate question is not personal preferences of style, or whether something is old or avant garde.  It is rather whether or not it fits into the Kingdom of God.

To discern what fits with the Kingdom, we first need to know what that Kingdom is all about.  First of all, we know that God is truth.  So the kingdom of God is where God’s truth reigns and his commands are observed.  As the Lord’s Prayer says, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.”  To be a good “fit” with the Kingdom, things must be in accord with God’s word expressed in Scripture and Tradition and interpreted authoritatively by the Magisterium of the Catholic Church.

We also know that God’s will is for our good.  Jesus said in John 10:10 “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” In John 15:12 Jesus says that he has come “that your joy may be full.”  The Kingdom of God then is where there is intense life, freedom and joy because a loving Father is in control.

In the early Church, there was a lot of debate about whether Christians could eat certain things, particularly meat sacrificed to pagan idols.  Paul’s response was clear: “The kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17).  If he were speaking today, he might instead insist that the Kingdom is not Latin or the vernacular, novenas or prayer meetings, organ or guitar music.

The person who understands the Kingdom of God, says the Lord Jesus, “is like the head of a household who can bring from his store both the new and the old.” (Mat 14:46).  Archbishop Fulton Sheen was a great example of this.  He loved the traditional faith and piety of the Church (old), but proclaimed it by means of television (new).  Another great example was Pope John Paul II.  He was devoted to the rosary (old) but enriched it with the luminous mysteries (new).  He defended the sexual morality of the church (old) but expressed that morality in a fresh and intriguing way through his “theology of the body” (new).

There are some old things that just can’t fit into the kingdom.  Polygamy.  Gladiators.  Emperor worship.  But there are also some “new” things that can’t fit into the kingdom either.  Elective abortion.  Human cloning.  Artificial contraception.  The Kingdom is the pearl of great price.  If we recognize the value of it, it makes sense to “sell” such things in order to purchase it.

But there are also many things both old and new that are not incompatible with the kingdom at all and actually can be wonderful expressions of it in certain times and places: Gregorian chant, the Papal tiara, the Tridentine Latin Mass on the old side, exuberant LifeTeen Masses and charismatic prayer meetings on the new.  But if devotion to these expressions, based on personal preference, causes strife and tension, there is something wrong.  There is a difference between the Pearl of great price and its packaging.  The Pearl always comes in a wrapper.  But if we love a particular wrapper so much that in clutching it we let go of the pearl, it doesn’t matter if we are liberal or conservative–we’re being just plain foolish.  Together with Solomon, let us pray for the wisdom needed in every situation to correctly identify the Kingdom of God and hold fast to it.


About Author

Grew up in Providence RI. BA at Providence college, Ph.D. in historical theology from Catholic University of America. Former professional musician and theology professor at Loyola College in Maryland and the University of Dallas. Currently owner of Wellness Business Ventures LLC and director of CrossroadsInitiative.com. Father of five.

  • George @ Convert Journal

    To me personally, the terms never equated to old / new as you suggest. Using “liberal” is just a more gentle label than heterodox, heretic, schismatic, pagan, or false. Using “conservative” is to say orthodox, faithful, unwavering loyalty to the teaching of the Magisterium, truth, etc. This is completely unrelated to political leanings, BTW.

    Deacon Joe (over here) suggests the right words are “orthodox” and “unorthodox” alone. He wrote a whole chapter in his book on this topic. “Unorthodox” seems technically correct, but it has a certain rebel, creative, thinking outside-the-box, positive spin and in the context of Christ’s true Church and absolute truths, is not really a good fit either.

    • We should therefore use “heterodox” when we’re feeling polite and “heretical” when we’re not.