Why All This Fuss About Change?

What follows is a minor, largely incoherent, rant.

I have to confess I am bothered by this notion that churches have to change. I hear it from all over the place. I always have. I have been a Christian now for around 25 years, and in every church I have been in there has been a group of people who advocate the need for change. (There have been times when I have been one of them!) What they are getting at, most often, is that the church needs to present itself differently, to be newer, more shiny, more attractive to the outside world. Our old ways are just putting people, off are they not? We are just not relevant.

Lots of churches have swallowed this and are undergoing various degrees of change in their forms and practices. Some of it subtle, some unseemly. My problem is that this all seems like slapping on more perfume to cover up an underlying stink.

The stink is this: disobedience. It’s disobedience to one command – to love one another. Lack of love goes with discontent. It creates discontent. It cries out for change. No one is happy.

But if we were to love…

Love covers over a multitude of things. It covers over the initial blam! of the strange culture we find in churches. That is after all a fruit of the interactions of the people there. But love exists between people, not just a style issue. So when a newcomer comes into our midst love is the magnet that overcomes the so-called “irrelevancies”.

This frees us up then to honestly search Scripture about our forms and practices and not be ruled by those tyrants Relevance and Change.

Let us focus on love, and let the style issues sort them selves out.

Rant over.

Why All This Fuss About Change?

11 thoughts on “Why All This Fuss About Change?

  1. liambyrnes says:

    I completly agree that Love should be the central characterisation of a church, but when you look at church inclusivity, there are church middle class cultures I think which not only exist (because middle class culture will exist as it typifys that group) but to have cultures within church that don’t dominate to the point where people are loved and welcomed regardless, and not judged on their financial attributes, clothes, or dialect.
    In these ways I would advocate change for church, as for communication, I think we do need to make an attempt to hold on to the gospel without the outdated words which where relevant before but which have been replaced. But these all have their place, so I wouldn’t advocate relevance in the place of Jesus and his first commandment, I think Jesus should be at the centre of Church but I think there are also things which follow in us fulfilling his commandments.
    ForHisGlory, Liam

  2. Stephen says:

    Hi Liam,
    I think I agree with you on culture. I would make the following points:
    1) Churches may be middle class. This in itself is no sin.
    2) But, yes, if people are rejected because of trivial reasons this is sin.
    3) If you say that it is the culture that rejects people, then I think you are not addressing the root issue. The root is lack of love. The culture of the church follows rather than leads.

    I’m not sure about the ‘outdated words’ comment. Some of them are simply biblical. Growing as a Christian must involve coming to terms with what they mean. Enter any specialised field and you will encounter new words. (Emergent church culture seems to be one such area!) Its no less true for biblical Christianity.

    Thanks for taking the time!

  3. liambyrnes says:

    Hey Stephen,
    Thanks for helping me sort through this in my head as its definatly something Im not concluded on to be honest.
    In response to what you were saying
    – I agree that being part of (through choice or not) a class is not a sin, as were often there without choice, what I struggle with seeing in church is affluence related friendship groups, now I understand where large groups gather smaller groups with soon emerge ie cliques, this is not necessarily a bad thing as it enables you to have a closer knit group of friends, but when these are based around somebodies financial status (this does not mean looking at each others bank statement, I just mean the worlds way of looking at someone (their clothes, family, house, or car) and saying their not “one of us” which I think people in churches (which is essentially what you could boil churches down to)
    I would say that within church culture there is a overall attitude of “are they tidy enough, safe enough to allow into the group” in a sense churches are often looking for manageable members instead of broken friends. Somebody who can be active on a committee but not someone who encourages them when they are accountable about a sin they are struggling with.
    – When I refer to “Church Culture” I refer in part to a Society mindset which church can fall into.
    I think Love is a large part of this, but when I think about what a church would look like they would reach out and love but only maybe within circles they find appropriate to associate themselves with, so a prevalent mind of “how will this reflect on me” mindset. Evangelising and showing love is fine within your social context if there are others in all other social contexts doing the same but when there isn’t we need to jump over the worlds lines and seek to meet, love and share with people.
    – My point about outdated words I think, and thought on writing it may have been mis-interpretated due to my lack of explanation. So I accept words such as “revelation” has a meaning of its own and cannot be modernised or put in a contemporary form, and I wouldnt want to do that, as an understanding of these terms are signs of understanding more about life as a Christian. But when we use un-necessary educated words when they are not needed or even outdated manners of the bible which are un-accesible to the regular joe then we are doing what the priests used to do in Britains past when they had all scripture in latin so they could use it in an elitist manner.
    – As for the reference to Emerging Church culture, not sure if this a reference to what you believe my position is on church but if it is, then although I have been re-thinking and examining the concept of church I would maybe not be so quick to identify fully with many of the concepts attached to Emergent movements, this is not said as a bitter response, just so that we may understand each others standpoints more clearly.
    Anyway Thanks for your time in responding to these.
    Blessings, Liam

  4. Stephen says:

    Wow! What a lo-o-o-o-ng comment! It is above and beyond…

    My apologies if I pigeon-holed you. That was naughty of me. Emergent stuff was on my mind and I guess I just imputed it to you (note the old theological word there ๐Ÿ˜‰ ). Nevertheless, it is true that the emergent bunch have developed their own language (e.g. ‘missional’ !?).

    Anyway, I pretty much agree with you on everything else. Thanks for the interaction. It helps me too.

  5. John says:

    One little thing, Stephen – you said that some words are seen as “outdated” because they’re “biblcal”. However, the actual biblical words are, of course, greek or hebrew. So, when we talk about “biblical words”, we mean the words from a particular translation. And translations, of course, reflect the culture and language of the people making the translation.

    So, “biblical” words can truly be outdated, especially when used in a liturgical context, which was (I think) where that part of the discussion came from. When “updating” the liturgy, we need to reflect language as it is used – not being trendy but ensuring that our words mean what we think they do, and are easily understood. We shouldn’t lightly change what we mean, but we might well have to change the way in which we express it.

    pax et bonum

  6. Stephen says:

    Hi John,
    Yes, of course, you are right – greek and hebrew. I have taken a step too far.

    I would still maintain, however, that certain theological terms simply must be learned rather than be replaced. For example, when you want to teach budding physicists about mechanics, you don’t find another term for ‘mechanics’ because of the fear that they might think in terns of ‘blokes with spanners’. You simply teach them what mechanics, the sub-discipline of physics, is. Human being are then clever enough to work out from context which ‘mechanics’ is being referred to.

    Unfortunately, the willingness of pastors/ministers/vicars/etc to actually teach their flocks is desperately lacking in this country.

  7. John says:

    “certain theological terms simply must be learned rather than be replaced”

    I couldn’t agree more. Of course, there is always a judgement call to be made between what are essential theological terms (perhaps all might agree on “salvation”, “redemption”, “incarnation” and suchlike, but what about “baptism”, “saint” and “stoned”?). Because it’s a judgement call, there will be differences of opinion. However, the entire point of having different translations is to provide different insights into the text and our readings of it. So, if a particular translation isn’t helpful for you, don’t use it. It might, however, be very useful for someone else.

    For example, I loathe both the Good News Bible and the Living Bible, but many people swear by them. I also get little out of the King James Bible other than beautiful poetry. By contrast, I do like the innovative translations such as the Street Bible and The New Testament in Limerick Form (I kid you not!), as well as mainstream translations like the NIV, NRSV, NJB and so forth. They give new insights into the text and, sometimes even more, into particular theological positions in the church. Both are valuable!

    pax et bonum

  8. Kathy says:

    Sorry you’ll compain this is super long too as I too am a ranter!!! Have fun reading, sorry for any typing errors!
    Change needs to happen, not to keep up with today’s culture but to be in line with what God teaches us in the Bible. We as christians should be the trend setters not the trend followers!! And to be honest the Biblical way of life is probably more relevant today than it has ever been. We live in a society where unappropriate sex is everywhere including in the church, where justice is twisted, where greed and envy are rampant, where everything is about us. The Bible teaches a response to that that seems like foolishness – you are here to give glory to God, worldly poosessions are worth nothing, sex is for marriage alone, and most of all that we should love our neighbour as ourselves.
    Church today is a mismatch of people (total oddballs as far as i am concerned), and God knows that the only way we will get alond and not rub each other up the wrong way is to love God first and foremost and to love others as an expresion of that love for God.
    The ‘groups’ that have been talked about are not really all that Biblical as we are taught that we should be all things to all people. It happens because people forget what they are here for, they start thinking about themselves and what they want more than asking what God wants. I don’t think it is right for you to only evangelise to those of a similar standard of life as you. Because who in your church is homeless? So then who will evangelise to them? We need instead to ask who needs a friend most instead of asking who i would most like as a friend!
    The change required in the church needs to be so radical that people will walk in off the streets and through the church doors because they have heard that Jesus is there and they want to meet him, on arrival they get such a welcome that they keep coming. The change needs to be such that people have their needs met as they arrise.
    The church in acts was totoally radical, they lived together sharing their worldly possessions and selling/giving away everything they didn’t need to benefit others and to extend the work of the church.
    Churches that grow very rapidly are churches that are different, ones filled with the Holy Spirit, ones that stand up and say this is what I believe – like it or lump it, ones that make no effort to blend in with the crowd, ones that overflow with what God has given them – love, patience, kindness, goodness, joy, peace, gentleness, faithfulness, self-control, money, friendship, forgiveness, and other things.
    People need God and they need to see that it is real, they are not interested in some half-hearted effort on our part because that is then how they see God – only half interested in us. Until this country’s churches (and occupants) wake up to the reality of who Christ is, what He’s done, have a full on relationship with Him and overflow that relationship into the everyday of their lives and learn what their part in the whole sceme of things is, then we will continue to live in half-heartedness where small quibles over minor issues are more imortant than true relationship with Him.
    On translations etc of words… yes people do need to learn the theological words but the Bible needs to be accessible to those who have not got that far yet, accessible to those who are just looking because as that end of the day their reading is what will allow the Holy Spirit to stir them to come to Christ! Though truely the best way to read is to have at least two translations on the go at any one time so that you can see the bigger picture. Many words have multiple meanings and reading those words in different versions of the Bible will allow you to accertain which one you are reading!!

  9. Stephen says:

    However, the entire point of having different translations is to provide different insights into the text and our readings of it.

    I think you have got your rose-tinted spectacles out! Nowadays, the reason that we have a plethora of translations is money. I worry that the availability of many translations means to some that one has personal choice in what is the right translation. That decision in most cases can only be made on the basis of prejudice, rather than what is right.

    What a great comment (in at least two senses of the word)! I pretty much agree.

  10. John says:

    Although I’m sure there’s a money motive (publishers will move more of new translations than of old ones), the reason we *buy* them is for new insight. The reason the translators do the mammoth amounts of work involved is surely not for the money – I doubt they see much of it.

    So, even with my cynical specs on, I think that having new translations is in general a Good Thing ๐Ÿ™‚

    pax et bonum

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