Future. Change. Possibility. New. These words spark different feelings among people. New things are scary and exciting things. One thing is for sure, when change comes, the experience touches everything in its path. Whether people avoid or accept change will affect what happens. Another thing that happens is the younger who will receive the results of the consequences will experience them much stronger than the previous generation.
To talk about change we have to talk about The generations in the Church. There have always been issues between the imaginative, futuristic minds and the people who desire traditionally familiar approaches. It has led to conflicts that range from low key church splits to drawn out heresy trials. Those of us familiar with Church History can recall the split of the eastern and western church around one thousand years ago. Another instance is Martin Luther standing against the Catholic Church and being put on trial. The core reason for the extreme reactions during these events was that change was in the air.
These days, we do not have many heresy trials like we used to. We definitely have stopped killing people for heresies. However, change is one of those things that produce high anxiety among many established churches. A Church might be established for a mere two years and can create its own traditions which result in no chance for change without a reaction equivalent to a rabid lion. That is why many older congregations chase off new people and die off while new congregations platue within the founding generation by not being able to find new people.
How do we combat this? We know that change is necessary for healthy growth. No change produces a misunderstood community cutoff from the world. This sort of self imposed exile in the of spirituality produces the shrinking community which will not take part in the missional imperative of evangelism. However we know that tradition is also important since it is tradition which has shaped the core of our identity.
The prominent figure who shows us how to straddle this paradox of keeping tradition while initiating new things is Jesus. Jesus challenged the traditions of His day. He sent His disciple to not just Jews, but Gentiles as well. He made the relational God more important than the God revealed through rituals. Yet, he still participated in Temple worship, synagogue meetings, and even said that He came to fulfill the traditional Mosaic Law that is central to Judaism. The changes that He created led to many conflicts with the leaders of His religion who saw themselves as protectors of the religion, but it led to positive interactions with the common Jewish person and even Gentiles He came in contact with. Even within the leadership there were individuals who saw Jesus as good and not evil.
Jesus revealed that the problem with exclusively traditional approaches is that it loses touch with the reality of God’s mission. Judaism was meant to be a light unto the nations, but it was not living up to that at the time. Jesus wanted them to show everyone else the better way to live, but the people wanted to relive their former glory and bring the strict adherence to Mosaic law. It was not healthy and did not bring hope to the world.
Jesus also revealed that changing everything at all costs was not good either. Jesus still adhered to the essentials of Judaism. Basic observance of the sabbath, teachings of God bring liberation to His people, and even keeping the dietary laws. Although He pushed the limits of what was allowable by challenging the man-mad parts, He made certain that was fulfilling the law.
People who bring in the future need to copy Jesus. There is this balance between keeping the core of Christian identity, but change is necessary to translate those element into relatable practices today. The traditions that are important are those that show us the true character God, such as love, justice, and peace, and how being in the presence of that God produces joy or misery depending on the desires of our hearts (Revelation 14:9-11). In the end, we should ask if people can understand our traditions? Can they see the character of God? When they see Him, does this affirm their own character with joy or challenge it with the angst of being out of sync with the God who loves the world? These questions will help us navigate the traditions and changes needed as we find the unchageable elements as well as how we should morph into a powerful force.
As a body of believers, the mission is not about us. This only leads to making a religion and a God in our own image. Changing others or God is not our calling. We cannot change others. Only the Holy Spirit can. We cannot make God in our own image because we have already been made in His (Genesis 1:26-27). Change must start inside us (Romans 12:1-2). Pray and meditate on God. Read the scriptures. Find out how you sync with God’s character. Seek the traditions that show us what is true about God and seek out how that should you. If you allow the transformation that God requires inside of us individually, we can then be used by Him to change the important things that will change the world for peace.