Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Should We Be Progressive?

It has been said the eight last words of a church are, "We have never done it that way before." But is this true?

One of the principles put forth in Scripture is that we are to hand down the truths of God pure and unchanged (Jude 3; Galatians 1:8,9; 2 Timothy 1:13,14; 2:2). However, there is danger of confusing our traditions and what we have always been taught with the word of God (Matthew 15:3-9; Jeremiah 18:18; Colossians 2:8). But we are also to test any new thing to see if it really accords with God's truth (1 John 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 5:21,22; Acts 17:11). The most basic standard, then, is not if something is new or old, but if it is Scriptural.

Now one of the things taught in Scripture is the careful balance of being in the world and not of the world (John 17:11). We are told not to simply go along with the world and its values (Romans 12:1,2; 1 John 2:15-17; James 4:4). But we are not to become self-righteous, separating ourselves unnecessarily from the people we are called to reach out to and erecting rules God never commanded (1 Corinthians 9:19-23; Luke 15:1-7; Colossians 2:20-23). This is a difficult balance and is made more difficult by the tendency to drift in both directions. But it is never all one way, and it is dangerous to say we have no other duty than to keep up with the current state of the world. However, we can also trade this for being conformed to an older condition of the world, which is no longer up-to-date.

Therefore, we are called to communicate God's unchanging truth to a changing world. Being progressive or not progressive is a red herring. Now a Christian is to progress, but that progression is toward a closer conformity to who God wants us to be (Philippians 3:12-14; Hebrews 12:1,2; Romans 8:29). G. K. Chesterton pointed out that there are two ideas of progress. One is progress toward a fixed standard, like a runner racing toward the finish line. The other is where you change the basic standard, like changing from running to football to basketball to baseball. And this second concept prevents any true progress, because if the rules change, you can never make any real progress toward winning the game because the goals change on you.

But the bottom line is that being progressive or striving to not be progressive takes your eyes off of trusting God and His power to accomplish His purpose in the world (Psalms 127:1,2; Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 2:10; Romans 8:28). It causes us to trust in our quick fixes or our established procedures rather than God's continuing work in the world. The result is to get us caught up in things that are not that important, rather than encouraging us in what is important, which is obeying Christ (John 14:21; Matthew 22:37-40; Matthew 28:18-20).

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