Church, Change in the

Church, Change in the

by Rubel Shelly

Published in LoveLines (Apr. 28, 1993)

Change in the Church

The Affirmative Case

You bet! We'd better change the church or it has no future.

Have you read any of the recent studies that non-churched people have written about the church? Do you know the image the church has with most "secular" people around us? How out of touch they say the church is with their needs? Are you aware of the high dropout rate of young people who grew up in our churches and went to Christian schools? Do any of these things distress you?

People are generally cynical about the church. They have seen too many evangelists exposed as charlatans, crooks, and adulterers. They know churches for their dogmatism about rock music, dancing, and hair styles. They have watched too many church fights at a distance, listened to the angry rhetoric, and watched people anathematize each other over the pettiest of issues.

Distrust borne of such things will not diminish until they see church leaders emptying themselves for others rather than gathering perks and power for themselves. It will not go away unless churches learn to distinguish between the first-order truths of the gospel and the opinions we so easily turn into legalistic requirements. It will continue as a barrier until Christians who freely acknowledge their own sinfulness learn to live supportively with each other in the joy of forgiveness.

Sermons must ring with the authority of Scripture but must speak to the issues of everyday life. People want to hear a word from God to their lives. But they will demand that it be spoken to their lives, not the issues and concerns of three generations ago.

Churches that wish to speak an evangelistic message to a given community must exhibit genuine concern about the issues of social justice in its life. Divorce, sexism, racism, homelessness, child abuse, poverty, AIDS churches must do more than just talk about these issues; they must find ways to make a difference in the lives of people touched by them.

Contemporary music must be used to tell the gospel message, for it is the language of this generation. Visual as well as oral means of communication must be used, for this is a time conditioned by TV images. Without adopting the values of our culture, we must relate to our culture in ways appropriate to its nature and needs.

Change the church's strategies and image? Yes. Immediately.

The Negative Case
Not on your life! We dare not tamper with the church or it has no future.

Some people want to secularize the church by turning it into a social club or medium for entertainment. Their idea seems to be that assemblies must leave us tingling with "warm fuzzies" by manipulating our emotions, telling us what we wanted to hear, and reducing Christian discipleship to a tepid good citizenship. Personal happiness is their goal rather than personal holiness, and they will hear nothing of a message that rings with a call to repentance and life transformation.

People who want to put themselves at the center rather than Christ can never be a church not in any meaningful, biblical sense. Celebrity preachers and star musicians draw attention to themselves, not the cross. In their failure to hide behind the cross, they show themselves faithless and demean the gospel.

The church has only one celebrity, only one star. His name is Jesus! Anything about a body of people that does not derive its legitimacy from imitation of him and obedience to his teaching diminishes that group's right to be called a church.

Remove Jesus from center stage? Strip away the challenge to human sinfulness and pride contained in the gospel? Adopt and perpetuate the values of our fallen culture in the name of preaching the gospel? Teach good works as the means to self-justification before God? Preach grace as a license to sin and do with your life as you please? Allow pettiness, false teaching, or personalities to divide the church? These things destroy the church and make it impossible for people to please God!

The church must never make peace with its environment. It is designed to be a counter-culture standing over against and separate from the corruptions of the world. Its loyalty must be to the Christ who redeemed it by his own blood, and a primary duty of its leaders is to guard the church from any who would subvert its identity or misrepresent its message.

The vision of the church must always be heavenward. Thus its worship is always heaven-focused and Christ-exalting rather than creature-centered in nature. Its members must march to the call of a heavenly cadence and never to the beat of the worldly drummers who would divert them from ultimate reality that centers in Jesus.

Change the heavenly mission and gospel message of the church? No. Never!

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