I think most of us know that change is bound and determined to come, even if we don’t like it. Matter of fact, we might say that most don’t like change. We get set into patterns and habits and traditions and everything else that makes life both manageable and easy.
First off, there is nothing wrong with patterns, habits and traditions. Of course, we have enough Christians that are horrified by such ‘order’. But if we just think about regular life, we have plenty of patterns, habits and traditions in our lives to recognise they can be a good thing. I think it is a good habit (or tradition) that we all brush our teeth in the morning. The bad thing is when that pattern or habit or tradition becomes the dictating force in our lives. That is not good.
Still, change is inevitable. It will always come. We don’t want to change simply for change’s sake. We want God to bring about the change. But, we must be ready for Him who is always doing new things.
Specifically, I’ve been thinking about the past 100 years or so in church history, though I know church history started way before that (I’d even argue it started in the Garden). But there have been a lot of changes in the church in the past 100 years, even from a worldwide perspective.
Here are few to consider (some less important than others):
1) Sunday morning clothing
This is a simple one to start off with, but I’m sure most of us can remember the days when Sunday was the day you dressed up. Why? There are many plausible reasons. Sunday was seen as the Lord’s Day (and one could argue it is specifically the Lord’s Day, i.e., Revelation 1:10). Being the Lord’s Day and wanting to honour the Lord on His specific day, one would feel compelled to wear their Sunday best. It was not honouring to wear jeans and a t-shirt to the church’s gathering, much less sandals, shorts, etc.
But the church has mainly shifted its thinking. Of course there are those who still dress up. I have friends who do so. And there is nothing wrong with this. It’s neither here nor there. One has the freedom to dress as they please (albeit causing someone to stumble). There is no special dress for Sunday, for most now realise that Jesus is Lord of Monday through Saturday as well. We are not called to honour Him only one day a week. Thus, we realise that our dress is of little importance to the calling and work of God
That one’s easy and not that important, to be honest.
2) Sabbath theology
This is connected somewhat to the former point, as our Sabbath theology used to be specifically centred around Sunday. It was the Lord’s Day and was considered special.
But the church has moved into more of a holistic understanding of the days of the week, meaning, as I have already stated, that we know Jesus is Lord of Monday to Saturday just as much as Sunday. Of course, most of the church worldwide continues to gather on Sunday mornings, mainly being connected to the ‘first day of the week’ when Jesus rose from the grave. But we realise that Sunday finds no specific special place in the Lord’s heart, just as the Hebrew language does not find a special place in the Lord’s heart. God is just as much sovereign on Tuesday’s and communicates just as much in French or Dutch.
And I think this has been a good emphasis. We don’t want to neglect gathering together, as the writer to the Hebrews reminds us (10:25). But we know we can gather any day of the week at any time during the day.
But more than just a change in practise, this has been a change in theology. We realise that Sunday, nor even the Sabbath according to the Mosaic Law (Saturday), makes up what is the true Sabbath. Jesus Christ is the Sabbath rest which God’s people are called to enter. I share more here.
Thus, a change, a good one, has come to the hearts of God’s people.
3) Use of charismatic gifts
Some 50 years ago or so, it would still be quite unusual to see the charismatic gifts of the Spirit being used in our gatherings. For these, I am referring to prophecy, tongues, healings, words of knowledge, words of wisdom, etc. Those specifically listed in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. Yes, I believe there are more gifts of the Spirit than those nine. But it was those nine that brought the most controversy.
But with the Pentecostal, charismatic and neo-charismatic (‘Third Wave’) movements, the church has moved towards not only a doctrinal belief but also into a practise of these gifts today. Matter of fact, whereas in the past some more traditional denominations would have been quite strong defenders of the cessationist view, even declaring such use of the gifts (specifically tongues) as demonic, some of these church groups have now moved the pendulum to a more soft-cessationist view, at least being open to the possibility of these gifts.
Can one imagine a Baptist or Presbyterian 30-40 years ago being open to these gifts? Change has definitely come. And I think this has also been positive change for the body of Christ and the world. But let’s stay biblical and accountable in this as well.
Here is a list of other changes with shorter explanations:
- Musical instrumentation in our gatherings: There was a day, and maybe still with some small groups here and there, in which anything with a beat was considered ‘of the devil’. Somehow the organ was more holy, or maybe no music was allowed when the church gathered. But now you have many instruments being allowed, even more ‘modern’ ones. I am not here to argue which is the best instrumentation. That’s silly. But I will say that, regardless your instrumentation choice, if our gatherings are devoid of the life and Spirit of God, it really doesn’t matter which instruments we believe are more godly and demonic. Bring on the djembes!
- Bible translations: Of course, we all know that Jesus spoke King James English. Ok, not really. But there was a day that this might have been believed. And, yes, the King James Version (or Authorised Version in the UK) was considered the translation. There were even Bible passages to back this up. But I’m sure there was a day when the Geneva Bible was also considered the translation, while the King James was seen as the renegade translation. But we have finally moved toward the realisation that more recent scholarship has allowed us to have better accurate translations of the original languages, i.e., the ESV, NIV, NASB, etc.
So change comes, and I would say each of these were good changes that have come. Some were of more significance than others. But I would say they were all for the health and growth of the church towards that goal of maturity, as we are reminded in Ephesians 4:11-13. Again, some were of greater significance – such as the regular use of charismatic gifts being more important than the allowance of ‘normal’ clothes in our gatherings. But I think all were beneficial.
And I’m sure you can think of many others. Feel free to list them in the comment box.
But here is where I am headed. I’ve been thinking about some changes that I suppose will take place amongst God’s people over the next few decades or so. By no means do I see this as a prophetic prediction. They are simply musings in regards to 1) knowing that change is always taking place and 2) considering what is going on in certain circles of the church today.
1) Women in church leadership
I know, I know. This is already taking place, not to mention it’s a very hot topic amongst some circles. But more and more we are seeing women being released into varying ministry roles in the church, even church leadership (i.e., even serving as what the Bible really refers to as elders-overseers).
So, then, there is no prediction here, right?
Well, being such a touchy subject for many, I think we are going to see even further movement in this area.
I have more egalitarian leanings, meaning I am very open to women in eldership (or ‘lead pastors’ for our American theology). And I am very open to the idea of the husband and wife being co-leaders in the family, rather than the man being the final authority. But, to be honest, I don’t like the tag of egalitarian. The word carries a ton of baggage with images of strong feminism movements coming forth.
Please know that’s not me at all. I really hardly ever approach this subject. It’s just not that important. Nor am I one to simply appoint a women into leadership simply to prove a point. Oh, how terrible that would be! It comes down to gifting and calling, not ideology or dogmatism.
But here is the shift I believe may possibly happen in the next few decades: Whereas it is now not overly uncommon to see women preaching/teaching in a full church gathering or allowing women to be appointed into some kind of leadership role (or, for American theology, hired as a staff pastor), it is still not the usual practise.
Yet, I believe by the time my children are grown adults in their 30’s and 40’s (and I only have one son of almost 9 months now), I believe it will not be so uncommon to see women serving in major leadership roles in churches. Whether that is head pastor, senior pastor, associate pastor, or elder (you can probably tell I like the word elder better), my children probably won’t think one thought about it if a woman was in eldership (at least in non-dogmatic church circles).
Of course, there will still be the tried and true who hold out, all in the name of being faithful to the teaching of Scripture. But I think we will see this in many church circles. Yet, even more, whereas some more traditional denominations could never see themselves open to the idea, I believe even these people will begin declaring they are open to the possibility.
You see, that’s where I am right now. I am open to women in eldership. I only know about 3 women that I think could serve as elders right now and, as I said, I am not up for appointing them just for the sake of putting forth new developments within the western church (by the way, many churches in the eastern and southern hemispheres have no problem with this).
Remember with the charismatic gifts. It used to be very uncommon to see these gifts some 50, 60, and 70 years ago, outside of a few groups that came out of Azusa Street and other streams. But now you have some 500 million people claiming to be part of the Pentecostal, charismatic and neo-charismatic groups. And, even more, you have certain traditional denominations that are now open to these gifts but had been closed to the idea.
This is what I think will happen with the church (in the west, especially America) over the next few decades. The practise of women in major church leadership in many church groups, and the ‘openness’ even in traditional denominations.
Some will call this the trappings of the devil. I think it will be another positive transition and development.
2) Evangelicals and tradition
There is a difference between ‘sacred tradition’ and tradition from an evangelical perspective. Most evangelicals, or at least the ones humble enough to admit it, will recognise the importance of the church existing for 2000 years. Not one of us reads the Bible in a vacuum as if we are not influenced by our particular church background and the church of 2000 years.
We can argue all day that our starting ground is the Bible, of which I think it should be. But we really interpret the Bible due to our church background (our particular church tradition). To deny such is either arrogance or misguidance.
And, so, most are ready to recognise the importance of studying church history, the fathers of our faith (both old and more recent), the creeds, the councils, etc. I simply know that I believe a lot of what I believe because a man lived one and a half millenia ago named Augustine. His theology has affected my soteriology and my eschatology, if not a lot more than that.
Faithful evangelicals do, or should, respect tradition.
But, with regards to the Roman Catholic church and the Eastern Orthodox church, tradition is more faithfully termed ‘sacred tradition’. The belief is that Scripture is part of the more holistic understanding of this sacred tradition. The apostles and their close associates taught things and orally passed those things on to the church leaders of the first century who passed it on to those church leaders of the second century and on and on.
One thing to remember is that those first Christians, and even up until the 15th century, did not have their own personal copy of the Scripture. Such was quite unfathomable. I am not saying we shouldn’t have one today. But they didn’t have them back then. Some would fault the Roman Catholic church in keeping such Bible copies from the people, which may be partly true. But the practical thing is that the printing press wasn’t around. Hence, most didn’t have their own copy of the Bible.
Not only that, but we didn’t have a formalised canon until the late 4th century. Hence, a need for these leaders to continue to orally pass on the faithful teachings of the apostles. The Pope (meaning father) was the leader of this group of leaders (bishops). They believed they were called to be the faithful transmitters of the teachings that had been entrusted to the church.
But, as an evangelical, we would tend to point out where this group has gone wrong, parting from some of the teaching of Scripture – i.e. with veneration of icons, the institution of the infallible Pope, the doctrine of Mary, prayers to the dead, etc. And, yes, I agree that some of this stuff is probably not biblical, though I am definitely not as dogmatic as I used to be (God, save my soul!).
For an evangelical, everything must be grounded in Scripture. And, again, I agree with this. For me, I cannot (at least, yet) move from this stance that our beliefs and practises must be founded in Scripture. I believe God still speaks today through human beings, but they sometimes get it wrong. And, thus, the Scripture contains that which we are assured is God-breathed. Thus, let’s start from what we can agree is truly from God.
Still, in all of this, I believe that in the next few decades, evangelicals are going to start considering the role of tradition, or sacred tradition, with regards to our faith. Most have moved far away from the view that the Pope is antichrist and that the Roman Catholic church is all going to hell. For my generation, such a claim is almost laughable.
But I think evangelicals are going to start listening to Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodoxees more and more. And you know what? I think this is going to open the door for those two groups to listen to Protestant evangelicals a little more.
No, I’m not talking about the sappy ecumenicalism where we all come together, sing Kumbaya and decide what is the best social action to take. I’m not talking about finding the least common denominator and hoping we can all get along. But I’m talking about real, authentic, spiritually-informed discussions. We are going to start admitting that the Roman Catholics were not as wrong as we both thought they were and hoped they were.
This isn’t going to happen tomorrow. It will take a while. But I believe we are already starting to walk this path.
Most will blow these words off from me. And that’s fine. It might not happen. But I sense it will.
Again, not tomorrow. But by the time my children are grown-up, we will have made some major and faithful headway.
I don’t know if this will be a fulfilment of attaining to the unity of the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, as Ephesians 4:11 tells us about. If it’s just another ‘movement’. It won’t matter, nor will it last.
But if it is really what God is doing by the work of His Spirit amongst His Bride, then it will matter and it will last, maybe even ushering in some kind of major change in God’s people across the planet and seeing us prepare ourselves to marry Christ.
Please don’t label me as some kind of wishy-washy, airy-fairy, who-cares-what-we-believe Christian. That’s not me. I have strong convictions about the truth and of Christ. I have very strong beliefs. But I also know that I don’t have it all together and that just maybe there are others out there that know a little more than me.
One of those persons could be a woman in church leadership or one of those people could be a Roman Catholic archbishop. But I want to listen.
Maybe you disagree with these two points above and disagree with the thrust of my article. That’s fine. But what changes do you think will take place over the next 30, 40 or 50 years? I’d love to hear from you.