“To make a difference in some particular; to make radically different; to give a different course or direction to; to shift one’s means of conveyance; to undergo transformation, transition, or substitution." These definitions are listed in Webster’s Dictionary for the word change. This word is not one that many people like to hear, or experience for that matter. We get comfortable with where we are, or how everything around us functions, and we are reluctant to introduce anything different into our routine.
However, there are often situations in life that result in change. This change disrupts the normalcy to which we cling. As a result of these disruptions we are faced with new circumstances that leave us fearing the unknown. The first line of the chorus in David Bowie’s hit, Changes, reads, “Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strange.” That may be the real issue. Maybe it’s not a fear of change so much as it is a fear of the unknown, a fear of turning and facing the strange. We tend to avoid change at all cost. We push against it so as to hold it back. We close our eyes hoping that if we refrain from seeing the new circumstances, they will simply fade away. We are like the child who believes if I can’t see them, they can’t see me. However, change is inevitable. The world around us is constantly changing. Our physical bodies are constantly changing. The reality of this life is that we must deal with ever changing circumstances.
So what does this mean for the church? How does change affect the church? I once heard a very wise professor say that “the methods will always change, but the message must always stay the same.” This statement is entirely true. We can see the changes in evangelistic styles over the past 30 years in the church. With the advancement of technology, we have many different avenues and vehicles for sharing the gospel that were simply not available a few decades ago. Many would suggest, myself included, that these advancements have opened up doors for ministry that carry great potential for reaching the world. We are now able to connect with people around the world in the blink of an eye, and that is such a wonderful blessing.
But change carries with it challenges for the church as well. Some groups begin altering their methods and gradually adapt the message to match their desired method. And slowly, over time, the message is lost in translation. No longer is there a concern for the will of God, but rather a push-back against any who would suggest God’s Word is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Acts 2:42 says of the early church, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” If God gave the apostles the authority and power to teach and proclaim his Word during the early years of the church, such that the first Christians did as stated in Acts (i.e. “devoted themselves to the apostles teaching…”), then why should the church be any different today? Shouldn’t we regard all of God’s Word, including the writings of the apostles, as “God’s Word?”
Some who desire to alter the church to match their view and will, do so with subtle precision. A word here, a word there, a tug this way and a push that way. Over time, a congregation is standing in a very different place. The slow, subtle change is rarely one that causes issues, if even noticed at all. By way of illustration...during the course of this article, I have changed fonts twice, altered the line spacing twice, and changed the font sizes. Did you notice? Or were the changes so subtle that you missed it?
The challenge for us today is to hold to the truths found in God’s Word. We must not alter the message. It is the same yesterday, today, and forever. However, we should always be ready to adapt and adjust to the world around us. We must be willing to allow our methods to change with the times, while staying true to the will of God. We need to be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains fall out. God expects his people to be wise and effectively utilize the blessings he has given us. This may very well mean we have to turn and face the strange from time to time. But above all, the message given to us by God must always remain the same.