Sunday, October 17, 2010

Afraid to Modernize?

I have been thinking lately about the attitude a church should have to the culture around it.  No doubt it is a problem that churches have faced ever since Pentecost.  It seems that we tend to go to one extreme or the other.  I remember one pastor I had saying that we should not be the first to embrace the new nor the last to give up the old.  There is probably some wisdom for us in that.  

I have seen churches and church leadership that seems to be obsessed with everything new.  New songs, new music, new techniques, new programs, new buildings and so on.  The problem though is that many times it takes time to see where new things will end up.  Certainly by now we see, for example, how easily emphasis on the song service and dramas and such can easily relegate preaching to the background.  It would seem that moderation should rule the day.  Leadership should be able to think things through and if necessary be patient until things can prove themselves one way or the other.  It seems obvious as well that taking the time to judge things by Scripture would save a lot of problems instead of assuming everything sold at the Christian bookstore must be Okay.

I am probably a little vague here but my main point is going to the other extreme.  I think a lot of churches that are on the conservative side of doctrine tend to assume that anything new is probably bad in some way.  They are so concerned with keeping doctrine pure (which rightly is their number one concern) that this bleeds over into thinking that new music and songs, new methods, updated buildings must be looked at with suspicion.  They resist change as if somehow it will cause them to fall into modernism or deny the faith. And so I think moderation, common sense and thinking things through has a place in the direction a church goes.  The building you meet in and the songs you sing and the venerable translation you use were the "new kids on the block" some where in history.  Everything was new at some point and that doesn't mean it is bad.

So I don't think there is anything wrong with trying to look like a church that is aware of what is going on outside its walls.  It is no excuse to fall into err or worldly practices that don't honor the Lord or edify the church.  But to have the attitude that "this is the way it has always been done", "if it was good enough for the previous generation it is good enough for me", or to misuse Pro 22:28  "Do not move the ancient landmark that your fathers have set." as an excuse to stay out of touch with the current generation forgets that we are here to reach that generation.  We do this not by dumbing down the message or using techniques that dishonor God but by being able to engage people by understanding the culture they live in.  

If we say that the styles of 50 years ago and the songs and music of an extremely Arminian era of America  (1850-1970) must be insisted on as the only good way of dressing or singing and worshiping; all we are proving is that we haven't thought these things through very well.  There is only one thing that never changes and can never be allowed to change and that is the Word of God.  Modernizing the building or the hymnbook, acknowledging that 400 years of textual criticism has helped give us more accurate translations, isn't falling into modernism, its using mature thinking in how to reach the world and culture that God has placed us in.  It seems at least to be willing to acknowledge that there are gifted people even in our day that can write good songs and do accurate translation.

Test everything by the Word of God, if it doesn't pass, then we will pass on it.  But we must remember that everything was new at some time; newness doesn't mean it can't be good.  If people don't come back to our church because they have no stomach for God's Word I can live with that.  But if they don't come back because we want to be a church of 50 or 100 or 300 years ago, then it is our fault, not theirs.  I know God is sovereign but that doesn't mean we can be as offensive and obstinate as we want and refuse to live in the current generation and no one should have a problem with that.  Danger lurks in both extremes.


  1. Excellent post, Nathan. I'm reminded of this passage from Leonard Verduin's "Anatomy of a Hybrid- quoting "The epistle to Diognetus" an early Christian writing:"Christians are not distinct from the rest of the men in country or language or customs...but living as they do in Hellenic as well as in barbaric cities, as each man's lot is, following the customs of the country in dress and food and the rest of life, the manner of conduct which they display is wonderful and confessedly beyond belief. They inhabit their own fatherland, but as sojourners; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners."
    May it be our manner of conduct that stands out against the 'evils' of the culture around us. This will draw the struggling and hopeless lost to ask us the reason for the hope that we have. Trying to stand out in any other way may well have the opposite effect of repelling.

  2. I just ran across another blog along a similar vein from Phil Johnson that is worth the reading.

  3. Thanks Dick, I thought of that quote in Verduin's book also. I hope my message today finished up my thoughts on this. It is one of those things we have to constantly evaluate. I will check out the link.