Saturday, April 5, 2014

When did change become a positive thing. . .

Change or die.  That is what we are constantly told by the gurus of church growth.  Not your grandfather's church (because, of course, that would be a bad thing).  This "Who Moved the Cheese" mentality has gone on for a long time (most of the time I have been a Pastor and that is 35 years).  We have heard it from voices and conferences, from books and articles -- all portending to be friends of the faith who seek to help the Church.

You have heard it from me long enough to know that I do not buy this argument.  I am always tempted by the idea that there is something new out there to fix all the problems in my parish (and in me).  Every one of us is so tempted (if we are honest).  That is the voice of sin which is always looking for a discounted church, a bargain faith, and church growth on a limited time sale offer.  It is not that I buy into these short cuts to orthodox preaching, teaching, and liturgy.  I don't.  But I would be lying to you if I did not admit that it is frustrating to see the big box non-denominational folks packing people in but offering them nothing of Christ and Him crucified.  Every Pastor grows weary of hearing how well the entertainment church next door is doing while being reminded that attendance and giving are down this year -- AGAIN.

It occurred to me, however, that we once saw change as a bad thing, a mark of the deterioration and not progress. Henry Francis Lyte (1793–1847) authored what remains one of the most popular hymns of the faith.  It was a century and a half ago but the words then were hardly radical.  We sing them now and cherish the words:

Swift to its close ebbs out life’s little day;
Earth’s joys grow dim, its glories pass away;
Change and decay in all around I see:
O thou who changest not, abide with me!

Change and decay are here not the domain of God but the mark of sin's death.  In stark contrast to the change and decay all around us, the Lord who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow stands.  Implicit in this is the acknowledgement of the Church who endures and does not fall victim to mirroring the "progress" of culture.

The author's words which are much less familiar and seldom found in modern hymnals build on that stanza:

Thou on my head in early youth didst smile;   
And, though rebellious and perverse meanwhile,   
Thou hast not left me, oft as I left thee;   
On to the close, O Lord, abide with me!

Here change is identified as the domain of a rebellious and perverse youth, always in love with what is new or different.  With this stanza comes the confession that such love of change and trust in progress resulted in man abandoning God instead of growing nearer to Him.  Have you noticed how often throughout Scripture we find the steadfast and changeless Word of the Lord contrasting with change and decay?

Let me make it clear here that I am not saying that we should remain insulated from the world around us.  We must know the culture and the world around us in order to effectively speak the Gospel to those not yet of the kingdom.  I am not suggesting that we should pick a moment in time or history and hold on to that moment.  We have no golden age to repristinate and should not attempt to recreate a snapshot in time.  What I am saying is that too often we lose confidence in the means of grace because we do not see immediate results -- this is a faith problem.  We too often allow our fears of standing out from the crowd intimidate us into an unhealthy and insular piety and practice instead of engaging the world on the terms of Law and Gospel as God Himself wills.  We too often find ourselves tied to statistics alone as the barometer of the church's health and success instead of faithfulness.  We too often close the doors behind us and isolate the church from the very place where our confession and witness are most needed.

Change is not a good thing when it means we sacrifice doctrine and faith, piety and practice, in our pursuit of bodies to count, dollars to spend, and calendars to fill.  I am not sure that change in and of itself is ever a good thing.  It can be but for most of our church's life it has not be positive or beneficial to us.  And that includes Lutherans.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

I agree. Not all change is good. Tell that to the post modernist theologians and progressives who are comparable to communists in their disdain for those who disagree with them.

Anonymous said...

Amen and amen!