Friday, July 15, 2011

Change: Resist It Or Accept It?

By Pastor Bruce Oyen
       Someone wrote a book about the fact that though pain in life is inevitable, misery is optional. How true! Sooner or later, everyone is going to experience pain. It might be physical, such as when you get a headache, a broken leg, or a stubbed toe. It might be emotional, such as  when your spouse leaves you for someone else, or a friend moves away, or a loved one dies. 
      When we experience physical pain, usually something can be done to relieve it. For a headache, we can take aspirins. For a broken leg, we can get it set and take a painkiller, if necessary. When a toe is stubbed,  we usually just have to wait for the pain to go away.
      But when we experience emotional pain, relief does not come as easily, for emotional pain isn't relieved by remedies used to deal with physical pain. The point of the book referred to above is that though emotional pain is inevitable, misery over it is optional. Though our emotional pain over some negative experience in life is legitimate, and can make us feel miserable, hanging on to the misery is optional. We can choose to be permanently miserable because of our experience, or we can choose to move on in life and put it behind us and live constructively. As someone has wisely said, we can't control what others do to us, but we can control what we do about it. That is, we can choose to be its permanent victim or to get over it.
      Now, let me apply these thoughts to the subject of change. In life, change is inevitable, but resistance is optional. The year right now is 2011. Think of the remarkable changes, some good and some bad, that have come to the world in the last 150 years and less. Here in the USA we have gone from using horses and buggies to using cars and planes. We have gone from being earth-bound to flying in outer space. We have gone from newspapers and telegraphs to phones and cell phones and the internet. As the saying goes, "Where she stops, nobody knows!" But we do know that change comes hard to some persons. I saw on TV the interview a journalist had with a man who was at least 100 years old. The journalist told the man he must have seen many changes in his long life. The man agreed, but said he had opposed every one of them!
      Change has affected every aspect of life, including traditional Christian religious practices. Consider some examples of changes in many churches: hymnbooks have been replaced with songs on a screen. Pews have been replaced with chairs.  Pianos and organs have been replaced with keyboards and drums and guitars. Formal dress has been replaced with casual dress. One Sunday morning service has been replaced with two or more services. A church might now offer a traditional service and a contemporary service. Churches now often meet in the church buildings for Sunday morning services and in homes for Sunday evening Bible study and fellowship. The once-common midweek service that was held in the church building might now meet in homes, or there might not even be a mid-week meeting. The former, almost exclusive use of the King James Version has given way to the New King James, the NIV, the NASB, and other translations. Sermon content in many Bible-believing churches has gone from Bible exposition and teaching in lecture format to attempting to communicate Christian truth by stories and drama.
      It is not my goal to evaluate these changes. Admittedly, some are good, some are bad, and some are neither good or bad. Rather, my goal is to challenge us to think about the fact that change is not bad just because it is change. But strong traditionalists are either unable or unwilling to distinguish between good and bad change. To them, change itself is bad, period! They like things to remain as they always have been. What was good enough for their grandparents and their parents, is good enough for them and for everyone else, too. Or, if they were not raised to attend church, how and when things were done after they started attending church,  is to them how and when they always should be done. So, whenever change is contemplated they immediately put up resistance to it, like the old man referred to above. They don't evaluate the change, they just resist it. That is not good. What is good, is to try and make an open-minded evaluation of the matter.
      But how do we do so? The way to evaluate the goodness or badness of church-changes is to ask if the changes violate any direct teachings of the Bible. For those who consider the Bible to be God's Word, it is the standard by which evaluations are to be made. So, for, example, if the Bible does not prohibit having church meetings in homes, we have to allow flexibility on that subject. If it does not say how many times a week a church must meet, flexibility must be allowed. If the Bible does not prohibit any deviation from the normal times and locations for church meetings, flexibility must be allowed. And the fact is, the Bible does not have laws on any of these points. So, traditionalists must admit the fact that their objections to changes in these particular matters is based on their own opinions, not on the teachings of the Bible.
   Here are two more examples: some persons approve of singing into a microphone in a stand, but disapprove of using a  hand-held microphone. Some persons approve of playing an acoustic guitar into a microphone, but disapprove of playing an acoustic guitar that is plugged into a speaker. Where in the Bible does it approve of some microphones, but not others? Where does it approve of one acoustic guitar, but not another? The answer to both questions is, "Nowhere." These persons are entitled to their own opinions, but let's hope they know the difference between personal opinions and Biblical teaching. When the difference is not known, it results in unnecessary conflicts between Christians.
     Another point to be kept in mind before objecting to church-changes is to determine if the objection will promote the common good of the church, or if it will promote tension. The same thing must be done when a change is being considered. Leaders should not promote a change that the majority objects to. That causes tension. But, unfortunately, it also is true that many times those who oppose change don't accept the will of the majority. They have to have things go their way. And if they don't get their way, they make their disapproval obvious to all. This causes tension in the group. The worst damage is done when they work behind the scenes, carrying their discontent to whoever will listen.
      Instead of spreading their discontent, such persons should follow the example of some fine Christians I knew many years ago in Minnesota. Those persons had been taught that it was wrong to have a meal on church property. Therefore, they refused to eat meals on church property. But, they did not make it an issue with others. They were wise enough to let others have their own opinion, while they peacefully lived by their own opinion.
     Another point to consider is whether or not resistance to change will promote or hinder the  progress of the church.  Sometimes a change will help a church reach more persons with the gospel. Or, it might get more of the church people involved in the work of the church. Do we want to interfere with these good results of change, just to keep doing things as they always have been done?
    Traditionalists need to think about the fact that their accepted ways of doing things very likely were once new ideas that were objected to by those who wanted things to continue "as they have always been done" by their grandparents, parents, and favorite preacher and church. For example, years ago it was offensive to many persons when someone played a guitar in church. No doubt, there were church fights over the subject. The fights were not just over how the guitar was played, but over the use of the guitar in church, period. But now it is fairly common to have guitars used in church services. Many current-day traditionalists like to hear guitars used in church services and would think objecting to their use is ridiculous. To them, what they approve of is good, and what they disapprove of is bad. The opinions of others don't count. That, my friends, needs to change!

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