Sunday, April 26, 2009

On Turtles and a Changing Church

Humans are a lot like turtles: we have shells. Not a physical shell that protects us from the elements or predators, but a shell we create and modify as we crawl through life--an emotional sphere in which we can feel comfortable, secure and un-threatened.

Sometimes we call our sphere a comfort zone. We are careful to engage in activities that don't overly stress us, to accept those beliefs that do not overly challenge us, and to relate to people that do not overly intimidate us. New activities, beliefs and people often present us with a challenge.

Do you remember when a new student was introduced into your classroom at school? There was a nervousness in the air, wasn't there? "Is he going to be weird?" you asked yourself. "Will I fit in?" he wondered to himself. In time, however, those anxieties dissipated as the new kid gradually became incorporated into the life of the class. Fear was weakened through the expanse of knowledge and experience.

We live in a time when the culture about us is changing at an unprecedented rate. It is easy to become intimidated by the evolution of society. It is easy to want to shrink back into our shells and desire to live as if it were yesterday. But adaptability is an essential component of life.

If you were to take a snapshot of the church standing on the threshold of the 21st Century and compare it to one taken of the 1st Century church, would the pictures offer a mirror image? In certain respects, yes: we share in the fundamentals of Christian faith. In certain respects, no: we may differ in terms of methodology and practice. The passage of time results in the transformation of any organism or institution.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is timeless and the faith we express and practice must not be affected by the transformation of society and culture. However, our methods of teaching and worship, service and fellowship are often affected by time. And, thus, when certain circumstances such as lessened effectiveness demand change, let us not fear new things, but approach them with a rationality founded on the Holy Spirit's direction, study of God's Word, and prayer.

Do you remember that the 1st Century church wrestled with the inclusion of Gentile converts within the boundary of Christian fellowship? The church was faced with a dilemma and the specter of newness. many sought to withdraw within their shells--within their established comfort zones--and not mature in their faith. But, many sought God's guidance, stepping out of their shells, and becoming transformed into a people ready to confront the next challenge.

Where do we stand today?