Sunday, January 30, 2011

Innovation is not always our friend...

While innovation is generally regarded as the primary American contribution to the world, innovation in the area of religion and faith is not always, I would go further and say seldom, is a good thing.  While it is true that we as Americans have innovated our way from one product to another, from one industrial leap to another, we have also been responsible for innovations that have caused great harm to the Christian faith and to our Lord's Church.  Sadly, Americans seem to be better at innovation than production, for as soon as we perfect something new, it seems to head outside our borders to be mass produced by someone else.  And therein lies its problem with respect to religion and faith.  We are very good at new things but not so good at keeping faith and keeping old things going.

On one level this means that American Christians are as enamored with the newest congregation and the latest trends in worship, music, and education as they are with the lastest trends in fashion, technology, etc.  There has been some work that shows that for all the new churches begun in America, the membership of these new churches reflects more a shuffling of people out of one church and into another than making a big impact upon the unchurched.  Christians in America seem to be great at adapting to new things but not so good at sticking with them.  So they shop for a new church when the current one they attend seems to be getting old, familiar, or predictable.  Look at the lifespan of some of these new churches and you see that some of them are considered very old if they have been around for 25 years.

It seems an American perspective that everything can be improved.  Like the $6 Million Man of TV long ago, "We can rebuild him, we have the technology... better than he was before, better, stronger, faster..."  -- only what we are rebuilding is not some bionic man but a Christian faith and identity.  Where this attitude is a virtue and blessing in some areas, it is terribly destructive in others.  The Christian faith is not some product to be improved with truths and facts that must be changed.  No, the faith is something we need to rediscover because the work of sin, temptation, and trial is always pushing it away from us.  This faith is not raw material to be formed but that which forms us with its changeless truth.

On the store shelves we walk by old familiar products with "New and Improved" on the label.  The great temptation for us as Americans is to take our grandfathers faith and church and make it new or improve it.  But that which makes it new and that which improves it are not the efforts of a modern day people looking at an age old church.  No, that which improves it is nothing less the return to our roots, to the source.  That source is Christ, rooted in history as man incarnate and timeless as the Son of God whose Word spoke all things into existence and to whom all things flow toward their final completion.

Doctrine is not some evolutionary truth as some would say (i. e. old "friend" Bart Ehrman) but the priceless pearl which must be daily reborn within us through repentance and the power of the Spirit, to which even the Church must daily return.  Doctrine and faith are not evolving or changing but rather that which does not change and which we regularly mine in the bottomless truth of the Scripture.  We truly know the depth of the wisdom and fullness of God only in part, through a mirror dimly, but it is not the mirror that needs to be changed and transformed by its truth and power -- rather those who stand before this mirror looking, searching, and seeking.

"What's new?  Not much...." so says the storied introduction to a popular radio show.  We might well echo the same truth -- not in the regret of a people who have not made it better, innovated, or transformed the Church and her faith but with the confidence of a people who know the changeless Christ even in the midst of our constantly changing world.  This is the hallmark of who we are.  The hard truth in all of this is that with each passing generation we become more distant from the Biblical times and the changes of our culture and life make it more difficult to read the Scriptures.  The only lens that can clarify what change and distance have clouded is the Holy Spirit and He is come not to reveal all things but all things in Christ.

Just a few thoughts as we are about to begin another Sunday in the Lord's House....

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The substance of Lutheran theology
will not change because it is based
on the doctrine of Holy Scripture and
the Lutheran Confessions.

Yet the lifestyle of LCMS parishes has changed in the past 70 years.
Woman sufferage since 1969, three
new hymnals (1941, 1981, 2006),
Walther League buried in 1968 with no
successor with Synod wide appeal,
pastoral garb from black cassock alone, to while surplice over it,
to white alb, Directors of Christian Education since 1970's,
Eucharist celebrated more than
once a month and other events which
have impacted the local parish.