But that is exactly what I am warned about and what I am told I must do to "survive." Indeed, I am told by people of all sorts of denominational labels and unofficial as well as official status that the church cannot survive without radical change. The most recent piece of unsolicited mail put it bluntly. "We must find new ways to be the church..." Yep, we cannot depend upon the efficacy of the Word and Sacrament any longer. We cannot afford to hold on to the doctrines and practices that brought us to this present day because they don't work anymore. We cannot continue to catechize, witness, worship, and serve -- we must redefine who we are and what we are here to do. Anything short of this and we will be as extinct as the dinosaurs of old -- and what good would we be to God then!
The only problem is how do you find new ways of being the church without repudiating the old ways or determining God to have told us a fib about what we need to do and be in order for Him to do what he has promised to do? To find new ways of being church nearly always begins with Sunday morning. Give it up, they say! Give up the liturgy, the music of the past, the order passed down from generation to generation, the Word and Sacrament identity, and the preaching of Law and Gospel. Give it up, they say! Exchange those tired old vestments for a new uniform that mirrors the casual style of modernity. Exchange those tired old hymns and, for that matter, the emphasis on singing the faith, and let music entertain us according to our preferred style. Give it up, they say! Exchange those old notions of truth that endures for cutting edge truth that is here and gone so quickly you have to stay connected to the social media to find out what works and what doesn't.
Inevitably finding new ways to be church means ditching old doctrines and the old emphasis upon dogma (what we believe, confess, and teach). Instead let the focus be on us, what we think in the moment, what we feel for now, and what we want to do and be at this particular juncture in time and space. Creeds and confessions are relics of a bygone era and they won't be coming back. So find what works for today, what is meaningful for the moment, and accept a truth that has an expiration date on it. It is simply the way things are.
Jesus does not talk much about paradigms or core values or mission statements or listening to the people. He is quaintly obsolete in insisting that His church preach the Gospel of the cross. Jesus refuses to banish sin from our vocabulary or to forget about death for the moment. No, Jesus gives little inkling of a need to be made over for a new generation nor does He countenance the constant naval gazing that is the common pastime of church growth gurus intent upon justifying their radical ideas and the great disconnect with our past they say has to happen or we will be judged irrelevant. Jesus is dead set against spending all our time on methodology while sinners stew in their sins and the dying long for hope. Jesus insists that we need to leave this part of it strictly to Him. Speak, act, and do what He has called us to -- faithfully -- and He will bring the results He desires (even if they do not turn out to be what we want). Underneath all the effort to find new ways to be the church is a crisis of confidence in which we no longer believe His Word and promises and we no longer trust Him to bring His chosen fruits from our faithfulness.
You bet we need to pay attention to all the changes in the fabric of our society, culture, and lifestyles. But what we dare not do is take our cue from them on who we are and what we are to do. Our Lord has this covered. To abandon His Word for our own reasoned conclusions only presumes that we do think ourselves smarter, keener, and wiser than Jesus. Ya, you betcha (as they say in Minnesota). Ford nearly went broke with the Edsel when it decided it could read the desires of people and tell them what they could not live without. We have only one certainty and one promise -- the Word of the Lord will not return to Him empty handed but will accomplish His purpose in sending it. In the world of Scripture, faithfulness IS success.