Change numero uno.
If we were formulating a ranking of the most change resistant organizations we'd no doubt place the church near the top of the list. From one angle that makes sense, Christ's body affirming ancient Bible truth, preserving the traditions of Christ and the Apostles, and bringing the old, old story to the ever new world. There are, of course, several other viewpoints about the change resistance among congregations. One is simply the truth that many church leaders are seeking to preserve their customs and traditions rather than those clearly revealed in Scripture. Even more, especially as we consider navigating change, this resistance is contrary to the fundamentals of faith. You see, the Christian experience is one of change. Congregations are spiritual assemblies of people who are being changed.
Or, at the least, they are supposed to be. At the most basic level, Christianity celebrates the change that occurs in the lives of people called into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This relationship originates as a response to an invitation occasioned by the work of God the Holy Spirit in a person' life. The Holy Spirit convicts humans of their sinful nature and need for a Redeemer, a Savior. Underneath is the belief that Jesus Christ shouldered the sin of mankind, died on the Cross in their stead, was raised on the third day, ascended to Heaven, and promised his continued presence in living the redeemed life. That relationship changes the old sinful person into a new forgiven one.
One day the Apostles asked Jesus who would be the greatest in God's Kingdom. Jesus replied to them---
Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will
never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 18: 3, NIV
In my heart, this is change numero uno, number one. Jesus was illustrating the necessity of humility in the life of a believer. This change is dramatic movement of believers from their sinful, egocentric self to become Christo-centric in their attitude and behavior. The Apostle Paul wrote about this change as well---
But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed
into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.
2 Corinthians 3: 18, KJV
Most modern translations render this change as being transformed. It is the life-long
reality of sanctification, that of becoming more like Christ. Scripture affirms that believers will be like him on the day of Christ---
Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we
know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.
1 John 3: 2, ESV
My point is that personal change should be the continuing work of Christ in our lives. As a result, change resistance should not be the driving influence of the Christian life. Yes, there are absolutes that remain constant in all of history. We must believe and preserve them in our congregational experience. The mission of the church is one of those absolutes, that of making disciples of all nations. But, not the organization and administration of local congregations. Even in the Acts of the Apostles the church changed to become more inclusive in pursuing that mission. Those early church leaders moved their outreach beyond Jerusalem as Jesus had commanded. They spoke the everlasting message of the church to Greeks, pagans, the Jewish community, and others scattered to the ends of the earth. They preserved the absolutes while changing their approach to influence the nations.
Change numero uno, that which God brought to them individually, drove them to the world around them. They understood the times, recognized some of the enevitables, and adapted their work to achieve their mission. And, that's the deal facing the contemporary church. If change number one is real in our lives, we should not resist what God is doing in the world through Christ's church. And, that is a bottom line for the church today. Change numero uno is our recognition that this is Christ's church and not ours. Preserving our traditions, desires, prejudices, biases, and functions is not our purpose. Preserving those absolutes of God, however, is our assignment.
And, it should happen if change numero nuo has happened in us.
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