It’s an ongoing conversation. Leaders in a church propose new ideas for relating the Gospel to the next generation. Some in the church cross their arms and roll their eyes. They wonder why it’s necessary to make changes in the Church if the Gospel is timeless and eternal. “What’s wrong with the way we’ve always done it?”
For starters, the way we do it is not the way we’ve always done it. It’s true that contemporary choruses projected onto screens are not the way we’ve always done worship, but neither are hymnals. Neither are pews. Neither is the King James Bible. Neither is Sunday School. Those familiar resources are all recent innovations unheard of in the Old or New Testaments.
Consider this gathering of God’s people described in Nehemiah 8:1 – 3. And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the LORD had commanded Israel. So Ezra the priest brought the Law before the assembly, both men and women and all who could understand what they heard, on the first day of the seventh month. And he read from it facing the square before the Water Gate from early morning until midday, in the presence of the men and the women and those who could understand. And the ears of all the people were attentive to the Book of the Law.
How comfortable would you be standing in the city square with thousands of others, quietly listening to someone reading from the Bible for six hours? As much as you love God’s Word, I suspect you’d prefer something more contemporary, right? After all, there wasn’t a copy of the Torah in every home back in Ezra’s day- not to mention electronic copies on I-pads and smartphones! Public reading was the only way to get the Word into as many heads as possible.
Methods change because things are constantly evolving in the world. Typewriters and phone booths and buggy whips and transistor radios and egg beaters have all come and gone, replaced by different ways of doing things. It’s not a problem in the world because most people don’t imagine tools like those are sacred. But in churches, it’s easy to confuse the timeless with the temporary.
- Worship is eternal but worship center decor is a fashion of this age. There aren’t many solid gold accessories in sanctuaries these days. There weren’t many silk flowers in ancient Jerusalem.
- The Bible is timeless but the way the Word is packaged and distributed is always in flux. We haven’t used scrolls in a long, long time!
- Discipleship and teaching have always been staples of our ministry, but Sunday School rooms and education wings are a recent innovation. Paul did it just as effectively in private homes- maybe even better. And Moses didn’t even have a building, but Joshua and Caleb turned out okay.
- Preaching the Gospel goes all the way back to Jesus, but he wore sandals. John the Baptist was probably half naked and Jesus still gave him high marks. The Gospel never changes but attire for preaching it has varied from age to age, nation to nation.
Since grace is such an integral part of the timeless Gospel, what could be more biblical than showing a little of that amazing stuff to our spiritual leaders as they guide us across the bridge to the next generation? Give me a little grace in what I wear to worship and I won’t demand that you stand with me in the hot sun all morning while a cantor chants the Torah.
If new is always such a bad idea, why did God go to such lengths to give us a New Testament? According to Ecclesiastes, there’s nothing really new under the sun.
Lift up the Cross!