Change has been a part of the world since the beginning of time. On day one, God created light and separated it from darkness, and by day six, the universe and all therein was indistinguishable from what existed only five days prior. Since creation, life on earth has continued to change, and it seems to many of us that change has never come at such an alarming rate as it has during the past several years. It is true that technology, multiculturalism, and religious pluralism have altered our personal and cultural landscape like never before. These change agents, among others, have forced us to examine our own faith, to consider the manner in which we interact with others, and to reevaluate what it means to be the church in the world today. Several responses to our changing world have been proposed among those who profess to embrace the Christian faith. Let us consider a few:
Many within fundamentalist churches or church circles have chosen to “bunker down” and keep their traditions alive even though such traditions are rooted in nothing more than “the way we have always done it.” They often equate tradition with biblicism and tend to loudly proclaim their views though they are unable to back them up with sound biblical exegesis. Certainly we must never become guilty of making the Word of God of none effect through our traditions (Mark 7:13)—especially if those traditions actually serve as a barrier to the truth.
Many within the emerging church or missional church movement have chosen to construct a new god and a new religion that appeals to the culture and is hardly distinguishable from it. Major tenets of the Christian faith have been deconstructed and then reconstructed into something completely foreign to orthodox biblical Christianity. Many who embrace this path believe that the church has “rediscovered” what it means to be authentically Christian—that for hundreds of years Christians have “gotten it all wrong.” Certainly we must never become guilty of making a god in our own image and devising a theology that is culturally acceptable yet void of truth.
Many evangelical churches have begun to adapt to the changes taking place in the world by placing a greater emphasis on social activism and involvement. A rebirth of the old “social gospel” peppered with a bit more emphasis on man’s spiritual need has become in vogue during the past decade. To these evangelicals, living out the life of Christ entails forsaking all earthly possessions, fighting for social justice, and/or focusing on creation care (environmentalism) and against poverty, disease, or the unequal distribution of wealth (notice, though, that these evangelicals have defined the mission of the church according to their own narrow parameters. The agenda of the church, to them, must entail one or more of these “necessary” elements). In other words, Christians truly show themselves to be the church in the world by engaging in certain acts of compassion. Certainly we must never become guilty of equating biblical Christianity with particular social programs.
So, how should Christians respond to the changes in the world today? Should we shun all change like some fundamentalists? Should we change our beliefs, methods, or message in an attempt to “fit in” with the culture like many within the emerging or missional church movement? Should we just get out and “do more” to show others we care like many evangelicals today? Personally, I believe that we respond to our changing culture through education—by better understanding our God and His Word to us, the Bible.
You see, God does not change; His Word does not change. But the world around us is changing and will continue to change before our eyes. Therefore, our approach to this changing world is to remain rooted and grounded in the person and Word of God while adopting methods that are consistent with God‘s unchangeable nature. We must dig deep within and ask ourselves if we really know why we believe what we claim to believe; we must examine our methods of ministry and make sure we are not clinging to traditions that are not rooted in Scripture. If we can gain a better grasp of who we are, who God is, why we are here, what we are to be doing, how we are to do it, etc., then we can adapt to a changing world while simultaneously finding ourselves rooted and grounded in the unchanging answers to life‘s questions and in an unchanging God. The key, though, is spiritual growth and fellowship with God through knowledge of His Word and His will for us. If we do this, we will truly find our focus and discover that it is not to be on tradition, on cultural adaptation, or even on changing the lives of the poor, diseased, and displaced through social action. We will learn that our focus is to glorify God as we faithfully interact with the culture (of which we are inexorably linked) and serve as ambassadors of Jesus Christ.
Do not be afraid of change. The world has always been changing. Yet God has not left us to navigate this changing world according to our own finite compass. He has given us a view of life—a worldview—that is clear and consistent, regardless of what is happening in the world. Let us continually evaluate our lives and ministries and be certain that we are viewing every aspect of the world in which we live through the lens of Scripture—seeing life as God sees it—and then abiding in Jesus Christ and glorifying Him in all our attitudes, beliefs, and actions. — Matt Costella