Let’s confess! Change bothers all of us! Just try sitting in a different seat around the dinner table and watch the response! Just take another member’s seat at church! Just try taking another route home from work! Just try telling the dog he can’t sleep at the foot of the bed anymore! Change has been around since Adam and Eve and sin in the garden. I don’t recall which translation, but Adam said to Eve, “My dear, we are living in a period of transition.“
How often have we heard that change in the church is of the devil? Well, that phrase has been round a long time too. But change in the church can also be of the Lord. Let me illustrate. When the King James Version of the Bible was issued in 1611, it was widely criticized and rejected by the clergy. G.S. Paine, in his volume, “The Men Behind The KJV,” quotes Archbishop Richard Bancroft as saying, “Tell his majesty that I had rather be rent to pieces with wild horses than any such translation by my consent should be urged upon poor churches.” When Isaac Watts was growing up in England, his Puritan father rebuked him for participating in congregational singing. In those days a Psalm would be read line by line, with the congregation singing each line following. Young Watts said that there was no music in the Psalms and that they didn’t rhyme. Outraged, the older Watts suggested that his son write his own songs if he thought he were smarter than King David. And so Isaac Watts did! Believe me, it caused quite a stir in the church when hymns began to replace Psalms. Here is just one example. In Clint Bonner’s book, “A Hymn Is Born,” he references the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church meeting in Philadelphia in May, 1789, with this statement from the floor by Rev. Adam Rankin: “I have ridden on horseback all the way from my home in Kentucky to ask this august body to refuse to allow the great and pernicious error of adopting the use of Isaac Watts’ hymns in public worship in preference to Rouse’s versifications of the Psalms of David.” In C.B. Eavey’s “History of Christian Education”, he tells the story of when Robert Raikes started the Sunday School Movement, the Archbishop of Canterbury called together the bishops to see what could be done to stop him for, he said, it was a violation of Exodus 20:8. In the late 1700’s, “Sabbath (Sunday) School Societies” were started here and there throughout the young United States of America. But at first, many members of the clergy were opposed to them, maintaining that it was a desecration of the Lord’s Day to hold “school” on Sunday. A pastor in Connecticut said of a class held in his church on Sunday, “You imps of Satan, doing the devil’s work. I’ll have you set in the street.” When Clarence Jones, co-founder of missionary station HCJB in Equador, pioneered radio evangelism using the airways to proclaim the Gospel, one of the critics said, “Will God prosper this new-fangled fad since it operates in the very realm of Satan –the air?”
Over time these changes have proven to be of spiritual blessing to the saints of God. Change in the church is not always of the devil. The only constants are Jesus Christ (Hebrews 13:8) and His Word (Isa. 40:8). Living within a constantly changing culture we must study and understand the trends that are confronting the church. The context of I Chronicles 12:32 is still pertinent for today: “The Sons of Issachar understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” We must identify trends, not to be changed by the trends, but to know how to minister to those affected by them.
Under Divine design, living within a continually shifting culture, some of our approaches to ministry may need to be re-evaluated. But we do not let culture dictate our thinking. That has happened too much already. We are in the world, but are not to be of, or like, the world. The First Epistle of John should be our mandate regarding our relationship to the world. Change must be inside out, and not outside in. It must be Christocentric in purpose. It must be earnestly bathed in prayer. It must be considered in the light of Scripture. It must not imitate the fad of the world. It must reconcile with the glory of God. I am sure that Watts, Raikes, Jones and the authors of the King James Bible recognized that they were approaching ministry in a new and different way, but sought to follow the leading of the Lord, not the influence of a godless society. Their motivation was to create new ways in which to reach the lost and edify the saints of their day.
For some of our churches it may be time for some re-tooling. If so, remember change takes time. Pastors must be patient and people need to be flexible. Don’t change for the sake of change. Follow God’s leading and minister to the spirit, the world caters to the flesh. Test the waters before jumping in headlong. Educate before you initiate. Present proposals with clarity. Expect resistance. Encourage responses. Advance by favor not by foolishness. Personally, change raises my blood pressure. But change in some areas may be applicable. The world is changing so fast that, as someone said, you couldn’t stay wrong all the time even if you tried. Our goal is to do what is right and pleasing to the Lord. Even though not popular in the day of their inception, I am so thankful for hymns, for the Sunday School, for genuine Gospel presentations via radio, TV, and the Internet, and I am also thankful for my King James Bible! As we observe moderations in the church throughout the ages, it could be that some changes may be of the Lord, not of the devil. Our responsibility is to ask the Lord to help us discern the difference.
Photo by: joiseyshowaa (Creative Commons)