Wineskins Archive

January 13, 2014

Founders & Destroyers (Mar – Aug 1994)

Filed under: — @ 5:08 pm and

by Mike Cope
March – August, 1994


In his best-selling book The Reckoning, David Halberstam offers a close-up look at the Japanese attack on Detroit. How did the American auto industry lose so much ground so quickly? As you might imagine, a sizeable chunk of the book is devoted to Henry Ford.

Chapter Four is titled “The Founder.” It portrays Ford as a man ahead of his time. An incredible visionary. The man who put America to work.

Chapter Five is called “The Destroyer.” It, too, is about Henry Ford. Only here he is shown to be the man whose vision had frozen. He refused to permit others the freedom to press on with the same foresight and determination he had shown at an earlier point in his life.

Halberstam discusses the time Ford’s top engineers made a few much-needed improvements to the Model T. They produced a design that was a little lower and 12 inches longer. When they surprised him with the design he walked around it several times. Then he ripped off the left-hand door. Then the other door. After that he smashed the windshield, threw out the back seat, and bashed in the roof with his shoe. He said nothing.

When dealers told Ford that to continue competing with Chevy he needed to make changes in the ignition system, he replied, “You can have the changes over my dead body.” When dealers asked him to vary the color of  the Model T, his reply was, “You can have them any color you want, boys, as long as they’re black.”

After engineers insisted that a six cylinder was needed, Ford’s son, Edsel, began working on a new engine. One day Edsel received a call from his father asking him to come see the new scrap conveyor, so he climbed to the top to see it work. The conveyor started, and the first thing riding up—on its way to becoming scrap junk—was the new engine. “Now don’t you try anything like that again. Don’t you ever, do you hear?” Ford screamed at his son.

How easily the founders can become the destroyers! Every generation faces the temptation to freeze its own discoveries and traditions and call them “the final frontier.” Anyone going beyond that is considered dangerous. No wonder Jesus faced so much opposition from many Pharisees!

Some continue to confuse the change that writers of Wineskins often call for. We never want to abandon the centrality of God’s Word or the fundamentals of biblical truth just for the sake of being creative and marketable. We would much prefer to be irrelevant than to be unfaithful!

But there is no reason why the church has to consider inflexibility a fruit of the Spirit! There is nothing sacred about human traditions and hackneyed customs.

What’s driving the writers of this magazine to call for change is a passion for the church’s mission. We desperately want to reach a new, changing world with the message of the gospel! Yesterday I received an order form from a company that has been using its magazine to blast Wineskins for its emphasis on change. I couldn’t help but notice that their big back-page ad was offering Christian music on 8-track tapes! I guess I wasn’t really surprised.

When we insist upon change, we’re only saying that you can’t sell 8-track tapes in a CD world! We don’t want to alter the message on the tapes—only the way the message is presented.

Change—any change—comes with a bit of terror. We are for a while like a trapeze artist between the bars. We don’t want to let go of one swinging bar until we can feel the next one. That nanosecond in between is frightening. It seems like a decade.

That’s why we must continue to be people of faith! Even though our world is full of change, we must continue holding on to a God who remains the same (Hebrews 1:12).

Time is filled with swift transition—Naught of earth unmoved can stand—Build your hopes on things eternal, Hold to God’s unchanging hand.

Mike Cope

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