Being Afraid of a Somewhat-Changing Church:
We previously talked about being afraid of a never-changing God and being afraid of an ever-changing culture. God is obviously more than capable of provoking fear if He wishes. After all, He does have all power and knowledge. He could make us more afraid than we have ever thought possible. But when the Bible talks about godly fear, it is talking about being in awe, so as to seek His love and guidance. There is no place for fright in Christianity (1 John 4:18). When it comes to our culture, it will always change. However, God has always met man where he is. In fact, many times, God will take the struggles, technologies, and ideologies of man’s culture at the time and use them to communicate with His creation.
But finally, I’d like to talk about being afraid of a somewhat-changing church. What can change about the church? How do we know what is cultural and what is not? Is everything cultural? Or is everything from Scripture intended to be taken as universal (as opposed to some things in the Bible being cultural commands/guidelines)? Or is it both? And how do we know? What can change, and what must stay the same regardless of the culture?
In 1 Corinthians 11 the women in the church wore head coverings while assembling. We know that is something they did in that culture but is that something God expects us to still do today? Very few congregations do that, and most who do it don’t do it in the same way. They didn’t have official church buildings, song-leaders, located preachers, regular formal collections, or lightbulbs in the first century. They met in houses, temples, and by the river. They sang psalms or chants together. All ministers were either volunteers, shepherds, or traveling evangelists. Giving was a way of life unless otherwise requested, not a formal thing to be done every Sunday. The Sun, moon, and candles were the light of the church in that time. There were no songbooks, bulletins, Facebook pages, secretaries, church buses, PowerPoints, or church properties. Wine was used for communion, not welches. One cup seemed to be used for the Lord’s Supper, not many. No microphones were used in the services. In fact, the words “worship service” weren’t even in the New Testament, they just had gatherings for the spiritual encouragement of the Body (1 Cor. 14:26). Are these things okay? And what happened to head coverings, women staying at home, slaves obeying their masters, and greeting one another with holy kisses?
We divide over so much in our 21st century, comfortable, Americanized version of Christianity. And we do so while many are being killed for confessing Jesus as Lord in other areas of the world. I’m not saying that we should sacrifice truth for emotional reasons, even if the emotions are because of death and persecution. Let God be true, and every man be a liar! But what I am saying is that we better be SURE we are in the right if we are going to divide the bride of Christ over what is possibly either a tradition or a matter of intellectual/spiritual growth as a Christian.
What Doesn’t Change?
To best answer this question, we must ask two others. What is the church? What is the purpose of the church? The New Testament was written in Greek, and the Greek word translated “church” actually means “the called-out ones.” But, as you know, words don’t just go by their definitions. Words are defined by how they are used. For instance, “awful” is literally defined as something full of awe. But we use it to say that something was terrible or gross. “Gay” meant happy, and then it meant someone was homosexual, and then that something was stupid or boring. “The called-out ones” is literally what church meant, but more specifically, the semantic range of “church” meant “assembly.” There was a “church” that wanted to kill Christians in Acts. That means there was a gathering of people or a mob. When talking about Christianity, Jesus’ church is spiritual. So, when we talk about the church, we are not talking about a specific denomination or building or movement, we are talking about a spiritual gathering of Christ followers.
The purpose of this spiritual gathering is to grow. Yes, it is to grow numerically. We plant seeds and water, and God gives the increase. However, the major emphasis of the church in the New Testament is spiritual growth. We grow by the Spirit’s guidance and by the words the Spirit, of course. But where growth happens the most is when this spiritual gathering of people assembles physically in local congregations. In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul says that everything in the assembly is to be done for edification. That word is a fancy word being to build up or encourage. In 1 Peter 2:4-6, Peter talks about Christ being the perfect foundational stone and how we are being fitted to Him in order to become a house of God. Ephesians 4:11-16 tells us that every part of the church is intended to help us mature into the fullness of Christ. We are to teach one another, encourage one another, and pray for one another. We are to allow the Spirit to use us to help one another conform and transform into the character of Jesus (2 Cor. 3:18; Rom. 8:28-29). The purpose of the church is to build up one another into the image of Christ. We worship God and have His Spirit within us as temples 24/7. But the gathering is intended for growth into godliness. Do we worship while wwe gather? Sure! But that isn’t the purposee of the gathering.
What Do We Need?
In Acts 4, unskilled and uneducated men helped to turn the world upside-down. They did so not by their own power, knowledge, and abilities, but by the grace of God. We should strive for morality, knowing that Grace is there. We should strive for theological knowledge, knowing that grace is still there. We should strive to interpret and obey Gods words to the best of our human ability, knowing that grace is there. We are not saved by moral, intellectual, or emotional perfection. We are saved IN Christ, BY grace, and THROUGH faith (Eph. 2). If Christ was the only safe room in the world, and grace is the healing He gives, faith would be the door by which we enter the room for healing. It doesn’t cost anything to enter this room, but you must open the door and enter to be healed. Saved from a life without God and saved for an eternal family with Him. Faith is more than just cognitive belief. Faith is a trusting commitment. I strive for correct theology, interpretation, and actions not because I am saved by them, but because I am madly in love with the one who provided the grace by which I am saved. If I trust in who He is, His wisdom, His love, His story, His promises and His justice, then I am immersed in His grace. What do we need? Simply to give God our whole heart. His grace and Spirit will take care of the rest by maturing us more and more each day into the likeness of His Son day by day. Meanwhile, we must encourage and be encouraged by the spiritual and physical gathering of His people.
What can change?
The method can change, but never the message (the Gospel). Imagine with me the beginning of a world where God makes you, and all He wants you to do is plant seeds. He provides for your life, food, water, love, and all He wants is for you to spread seeds. How many seeds doesn’t matter. The productivity of the seeds after being planted doesn’t matter. All He asked is for you to spread speeds.
It’s a new world so, you have to start off digging with one hand and carrying the seeds in the other. One day, you accidentally tear your shirt a little and find out that you can carry the seeds in a sack you made out of your shirt. You run into a rock and decide you can dig better with it. You find a stick and attach the rock to it, and now you are really moving! Your neighbor tells you about how you can train a mule to carry a device that will dig the holes so much faster. Someone makes a huge tractor that runs on gasoline that can both dig the holes and spread the seed. Finally, someone makes a robotic machine that does all of this on its own. All you have to do is monitor it, keep up the maintenance, and fill it up. You can listen to music, eat your lunch, or buy new land and you don’t even have to look after this robot very much.
Did you change the message God gave you or the purpose He intended? It was never about the amount of seeds or the productivity of the seeds. Those things are all in His control. It was from your love and appreciation of Him and your dedication to the goal that you constantly looked for ways serve Him and take advantage of the technology and techniques that were used to best spread seed. You were being a good steward. You didn’t change the message, just the method.
God calls us to spread seed. Seed of conversion to the world, and seed of encouragement to the spiritual Kingdom. The productivity or amount of seed is not what we are judged by, but the dedication to Him and His message because of His grace. We will never know everything or be perfect as long as we are alive. But God is working on us. Things of tradition might still be good, but maybe they aren’t. And things of truth, so long as it isn’t the Gospel itself, can be learned over time. God doesn’t expect uniformity, but unity by the Spirit.
Augustine said to “love God and do what you want.” Once you have a genuine love for Him, He will guide your character. Yes, you will still get things wrong, but it is the heart and willingness to obey Him that He desires most. Do not fear, His grace is immeasurable to those who commit themselves to Him in mind, heart, and deed. Jesus is the message. He never changes who He is or the purpose of His calling. However, the world is constantly changing. We are to become all things to all men so that we might win some. The church should change in some ways and in others it shouldn’t. But there is no need for fear when God is on our side! – Jesse