“There is nothing new under the sun.” (Eccl. 1:9)
We live in a world that is changing at a faster rate than ever before. (Well, maybe not faster than during the Flood, but we’re talking about sustained change over long periods of time.) People are constantly changing styles, jobs, homes, and, tragically, even spouses. The world is obsessed with the internet where any website that is the same two days—or two hours!—in a row is a disappointment. What does this hunger for change mean for the church?
Change in the church can be healthy, but only if it doesn’t compromise our obedience to the Word of God—or, better still, if the change brings us closer to the Scriptures than we were before. However, many of the alterations taking place in churches today fall into two other categories.
Departure from the Word of God.
Society is increasingly hostile to the Scriptures, and many believers are succumbing to the pressure to adjust the church in a (vain) effort to please the world. Watering down the Bible’s teachings, abandoning the distinction in the roles of men and women, refocusing the assembly to entertain the lost—these are all examples of modifications that belittle the Bible. The irony is that, for all the lofty talk of innovation and breaking free, these modifications to the church aren’t fresh or creative at all. They only serve to make a church part of the homogenous mass of trendy churches that currently flood the world. No study, prayer, or thinking is required. Just jump on the bandwagon. If it doesn’t work out, don’t worry. There will be a new bandwagon along in a few months. Maybe that one will work.
It’s like disgruntled young people who, in order to prove their independence and individuality, get the same hair styles and clothing (and tattoos and piercings) as all of their peers. Vive la différence! They have cast off the chains of one conformity only to embrace another, far more shallow, conformity.
Change for the sake of change.
There are those who believe that novelty is inherently profound. This applies to doctrine as well as practice. You can count on these men to have a different (read: bizarre) interpretation of almost every verse of the Bible. No passage is safe from their clever insights. Every other Christian for twenty centuries has missed the nuances they see in almost every phrase of Scripture.
Again, the irony is that such novelty is anything but new. Paul wrote to Timothy, “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3). Other translations render it “strange doctrines,” and, believe me, some of them are very strange indeed. It turns out that sometimes being weird isn’t profound. Sometimes it’s just weird.
This isn’t to say that there’s nothing new for us to learn from the Scriptures. There’s infinitely more for us to learn! But such learning will come through the disciplines of study and meditation, not through “sanctified imagination”. And concerning our practice, change can be good—there’s no virtue in clinging to unbiblical traditions. But novelty is the easy path. We need Christians who are willing to sacrifice the time and effort to study the Bible, learn the Bible, and obey the Bible, because the only change worth having is change that brings us closer to the Word of God.