Wineskins Archive

January 23, 2014

Introductory Editorial: Does Change Frighten You? (May 1992)

Filed under: — @ 3:41 pm and

by Rubel Shelly
May, 1992

Jesus Christ has never allowed it to be an optional part of discipleship. Anyone who is a Christian is called to constant and bona fide change. “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

The root idea of repentance is always change: a change of mind resulting in a change of behavior. Both John and Jesus preached the necessity of it (Matthew 3:2,, 4:17), and Jesus sent out his disciples to preach the same message (Mark 6:12; Luke 24:47). Indeed, unless we repent, we can have no place in the kingdom of heaven (Luke 13:3, 5).

As a matter of fact, we do change constantly – sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. Our churches have changed over the years as the challenges from our environment have forced us to change. The question, then, is not whether we will change but the nature and direction of it.

Entering the 21st century, we must change in order to confront the world with a kingdom agenda. The changes we are called to make must be characterized by two features.

First, we must be bold in the changes we make. The work of God does not allow half-hearted trifling. Local churches must live at the cutting edge of the kingdom of God and challenge a lost, confused world with the gospel. Business as usual is not getting the job done. Defending the status quo is driving away our own. Rigidity and inflexibility are making us an irrelevance to God’s redemptive work in the world.

This is not a call to change the gospel. It is a once-for-all endowment from God, and the message of the cross meets the deepest need of broken lives. The changes needed are in the areas of our identity as Christ’s body in the world, our mission as an outpost of the kingdom of heaven, and our methodologies for worship, ministry and outreach.

Second, we must be responsible in making changes. We must certainly be theologically responsible, and that simply means grounding everything in solid biblical exegesis. We cannot change to be whatever we wish to be. And we must also be practically responsible, for not every change that needs to be made can happen on the day we see the need for it. To the maximal degree possible, leadership must bring along the entire body by demonstrating the legitimacy, feasibility, and usefulness of the envisioned change.

People who lead in the spirit of Christ do not coerce change. They present the biblical challenge for change. They nurture an atmosphere of flexibility and openness to the Spirit of God. They bring about change by consensus rather than forcing their wills on the group.

Each of us must search his or her soul to identify a personal level of commitment to Christ. That commitment makes us receptive to change, growth, and progress in spiritual things. To whatever degree our churches are made up of individuals with that sort of commitment, to that degree alone will our churches be able to first tolerate, then accept, and finally appreciate the change God wishes to implement among us.

Medieval alchemists sought a process of transforming lead into gold. A living God is the master of a process of changing darkness into light, death into life. But he must have willing subjects to do his work. It is time to move beyond our fears into the excitement of partnership with God.

Rubel Shelly preached for the Family of God at Woodmont Hills in Nashville, Tennessee, from 1978-2005. During that time he also taught at Lipscomb University and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine. He holds a Ph.D. from Vanderbilt University, and is the author or co-author of many books, including The Jesus Community: A Theology of Relational Faith and The Second Incarnation. He presently lives in the Greater Detroit area where he teaches philosophy and religion at Rochester College. He is known as a community leader in Nashville and has served with such groups as the AIDS Education Committee of the American Red Cross, a medical relief project to an 1100-bed children’s hospital in Moscow called “From Nashville With Love,” and “Seeds of Kindness.”

He is the author of more than 20 books, including several which have been translated into languages such as Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Italian, French, and Russian. He has published widely in religious journals. He is co-editor with Mike Cope of the online magazine New Wineskins. Shelly has lectured on Christian apologetics, ethics, and medical ethics on university campuses across America and in several foreign countries. He has done short-term mission work in such places as Kenya, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Bulgaria, and Russia. He was educated at Harding University (B.A.), Harding Graduate School of Religion (M.A., M. Th.), and Vanderbilt University (M.A., Ph.D.). He is married to the former Myra Shappley, and they are the parents of three children: Mrs. David (Michelle) Arms, Tim, and Tom. []

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