American culture (and most of western culture) is one that prides itself on being advanced, thoroughly modern, progressive, and sophisticated. If we’re not changing, innovating, and tweaking things, we are stagnant, old-fashioned, or losing ground. We hold in contempt or pity those countries, societies, or groups that don’t keep up with what we consider to be the leading edge, because change (it is thought) is always better, always to be preferred, and always good—that’s why we mistakenly call any kind of change “progress”.
For this reason, Christians live in times of great pressure to advance, be thoroughly modern, be progressive, and be sophisticated. Many wannabe religious sociologists read the current polls and offer dire warnings to churches about the need to come into the 21st century before we fall so far behind that we become “irrelevant” to our modern world and begin losing our membership by the droves—let alone fail to grow numerically. Worship services, it is argued, need to reflect our “entertainment culture”—more flash, more laughter, more applause. Sermons need to always be encouraging, positive, non-judgmental, and above all short. The music of worship needs to catchy, upbeat, fresh, transcendent, and instrumentally electrified—rock and pop are preferred, please. Our messages must become politically correct; sins as defined by the Bible, must be soft-pedaled, and the new morality must be be pushed as the official stance of the faithful. Words like discipleship, sin, Hell, and judgment must no longer be spoken; while words like spirituality, love, inclusion, and feelings have become the new “legal tender” of religious people. And many a church leader has quaked in his shoes at the grim prophecies of these poll-inspired “prophets”, and obeyed the call to change! “After all,” they say in their own defense, “these are extra-ordinary, unprecedented times!”
Yet, the Bible, in both the Old Testament and the New, virtually chants, “Stay with the pattern.” The Scriptures tells us again and again to follow God’s pattern or type:
- some calling us to be imitators (1 Corinthians 11:1 “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.”)
- and disciples (Matthew 28:19 ““Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,”),
- others calling us to hold fast (1 Corinthians 15:2 “by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain.”)
- and stand firm (Ephesians 6:11 “Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.”)
- to teachings (2 Thessalonians 2:15 “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.”),
- practices (1 Peter 5:12 “Through Silvanus, our faithful brother (for so I regard him), I have written to you briefly, exhorting and testifying that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it!” ),
- and faith (Revelation 2:13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is; and you hold fast My name, and did not deny My faith even in the days of Antipas, My witness, My faithful one, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells.”),
- still others charging us with doing what other churches had been taught to do (1 Corinthians 16:1 “Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also.”),
- and still more warning us not to stray from the original teachings (Galatians 1:8, 9 “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed! As we have said before, so I say again now, if any man is preaching to you a gospel contrary to what you received, he is to be accursed!”).
You can barely turn to a page in the Bible where it isn’t commanded, praised, or exhorted that we should not change course from God’s patterns, forms, and ways.
And if this last statement is true (and it is), it tells us something that you may not have thought about: the modern pressure to modernize is anything but unprecedented! That is to say, there have always been pressures for God’s people to change, to be more “relevant”, to leave God’s pattern behind, and to come into the modern age—whatever century it might be. But God’s command is, and always has been “stand firm”.
For the next couple of postings, I’d like to talk about a couple of the precedents to the call for God’s people to change course and leave God’s pattern.