Editorial: To Change or Not to Change (Image Vol 12 No 6 – Nov/Dec 1996)

By Matt Dabbs

By Denny Boultinghouse

Amid all the confusion and talk of “change agents” and “change in the church,” let us make a few observations.

Of course, the church must not change. Everyone understands and believes this. The church must continue to accept the New Testament as the Word of God. For without the Word of God, we have no faith The church must always recognize that it is blood bought. We must not take the blood out of the equation. Without the blood of Jesus there is no church. The church must always affirm the miracles of Jesus: he either walked on water or he didn’t. He was either raised form the dead or he wasn’t. And the church must always center its faith on the resurrection of Christ. Without the resurrection, we have no system of belief. We would have no Christ to trust. Certain things about the church must never change.

Of course, the church must change. Everyone understands and believes this. How can the church not change? Is it to be trapped in a specific time frame? Must we really do everything just like the early church did? Do we think the apostle Paul would recognize what takes place in our assemblies? Most of what we do would be quite foreign to him. He wouldn’t be familiar with Sunday school, song leaders, evening services, a four-point sermon (illustrated with appropriate jokes), or pews with everyone facing toward the pulpit; and he certainly wouldn’t know to stand during the invitation song – that is a recent addition.

It would be absurd to take the position that we cannot change. The Bible demands change. God is a God of change. Yes, “Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow” – he does not change in nature and character; but he does want us to change. Growth, repentance, maturation, and study all demand change; thus change will always be present in the church.

It is clear that the church must change; it is equally clear that the church must not change. Really, everyone believes and practices this dichotomy. The real problem comes when we have to decide what cannot change and what can. This is where people begin to disagree.

There are certain matters of faith that most would agree cannot change. Most would agree that doctrine concerning God and his nature, and teachings that relate to redemption are matters of faith. But beyond these basics and their implications, there is much variation.

As necessary as change sometimes is, it often causes hurt among honest, God-loving believers. Long-time members sometimes feel compelled to leave churches they have invested their lives in because of changes they feel are inappropriate When this occurs, we must realize that these people experience real pain and struggle as they make their decisions. We must take their hurts and concerns very seriously. We must honestly hurt for those who resist change.

But the solution to this problem cannot be to avoid all change in order to avoid their hurt. Such a “solution” is nether biblical nor realistic. To bring a little perspective to their pain, let’s remember that pain and hurt also occur on the other side of the change fence. Some suffer when they hear the claim that the Bible is our only authority and then see us honor tradition over Scripture. Others hurt when they see the young people of our congregations leaving because we refuse to be relevant (in a biblical sense, of course!). Hurt and discomfort cannot be the major determiners of acceptance or rejection of change.

So how do we handle this tension between those who resist change and those who pursue change? While there are no simple answers, there are a few simple principles that can guide us.

Pray, pray, pray; and pray some more. Remember that every Christian is a child of God. Remind folks that the Bible is the authority – not culture, not tradition, not personal preference, and not the way we’ve always done it. Love everyone – even those who feel compelled to leave. Jesus loves people on both sides of these issues, and so should we. Respect the viewpoints of all, even if they appear silly to you. Treat others with the same kindness, courtesy, and fairness you desire.

Teach carefully and wisely. Communicate changes in the best possible way. Be wise and prayerful about the timing of change. Challenge each other constantly with Scripture. Remind your brothers and sisters that Scripture always demands change: growth is change; learning is change. Be clear about what can and cannot change – the Gospel message never changes. Invest in efforts to get to know one another. Encourage interaction and relationship-building. Remind each other that since we have been set free, we must allow respect and freedom of others – on both sides.

As we face the dilemma of what to change and what not to change, we must constantly remind ourselves that our ultimate desire is that the will of God be done. Let us face all such choices with humility, kindness, acceptance, and respect.

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Profile photo of Matt DabbsThis author published 1594 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of Wineskins.org.

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