My life and my thoughts - on faith, culture, politics, whatever comes to my mind

Thursday, April 21, 2005

A need for adaptation?

After Pope John Paul II died, I read a comment in a newspaper that quite struck me. The journalist claimed that the church has to adapt itself to modern society. I guess this journalist regards this as the task of all Christian churches: Adapt to our society, cause how on earth can you stick to your “old-fashioned”, “outdated”, “conservative”, “fundamental”, "intolerant" morals/beliefs? Some of those adjectives sound familiar to anyone? Those are labels stuck on the church, on our beliefs, on us. Well, maybe some of us are proud to wear them, but sometimes it’s hard and sometimes it hurts.
The supposed demand for Christian churches to change is repeatedly made. And very often by people outside the church. What does this change include? There are different changes asked for. Some want churches to change the way their services are run, e.g. to have more modern services or services that are more appealing to people outside the church or the post-modern generation. But a lot of the wanted changes concern the content of what Christians teach. Many desire a fundamental change in what is taught in churches and therefore a fundamental change in what we believe. Different things come to my mind concerning the different desires for change.

I will first address the question of a change in the way services are conducted, sermons are held or certain liturgies. I will not name any favorite liturgy, way of service etc. I think that traditional services include a lot of valuable parts, e.g. the recitation of creeds. But I agree with critics that many people of our generations – many of my friends – would probably never attend a traditional service. It is not fair, but they would most likely not give another thought about the message, just because it’s not appealing. I consider it a good idea to develop special ways to reach people outside the churches. And to me it doesn’t matter if this includes videos on screens, candles, (Christian) rock bands or some other method to bring the content of the gospel into the attention of those people, to bring it where it touches them.
Paul said in 1. Cor. 9, 20-23: To the Jews, I became like a Jew to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law, I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, so as to win the weak. I have become all things to all men, so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I might share in its blessings.
So new methods may be a good thing, as long as the method does not gain primacy over the message! And personally I think it is not the method that will bring people to Jesus, it is the message and the Holy Spirit. Just think about Pentecost. 3000 people where added by a sermon of Peter. Peter, the fisherman. Paul, the apostle among the Gentiles, said that he knew nothing among them except Jesus Christ and Him crucified (1 Cor. 2, 2).

But the main demand of many people is a change in content. They want the church to give up its positions based on the bible and support the views of our modern society. People want all kinds of different things: same sex marriages, no teachings that homosexuality is a sin, no teaching against sex before/outside marriage, no teaching against abortion, against divorce, against “the right to die”, ... Church teaching, in their view, should go more conform with society, not society go conform with Christian teachings/beliefs. I actually read a pastor (!) who claimed that if Jesus came back today He would teach completely different things than He did. BUT if the church, if Christians believe in the words of Jesus, many teachings can not be given up. Jesus said that God’s word (the bible) is the truth: Sanctify them by the truth, your word is truth (John 17, 17). This is also stated by Paul in his second letter to Timothy: All Scripture is God-breathed ... (2 Timothy 3, 16). Jesus’ words are the rock on which we build our lives (Matthew 7, 24). The truth that God has revealed to us cannot be given up.
This is not understandable to a world that believes in relativism, to which the concept of an absolute truth is absolutely alien. We as Christians can not get around Jesus’ teaching. Some of it may be uncomfortable even to us, but there is no getting around Jesus’ words, no picking and choosing the “nice” parts, ... If we believe the bible to be the truth, the truth that will decide over eternal life and death, how could we water it down just to please people?
Paul commanded Timothy: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truths and turn aside to myths. [...]” (2 Timothy 4, 2-4)
Paul warns us in Romans to not conform to the pattern of the world (Romans 12, 2). Some changes we cannot accept, changes that are clearly against the word of God. This seems to be incomprehensible to the world, but to me it seems obvious. How could we move away from truth? How could we move away from Jesus?