I think most of us who have been a part of the Church for more than a few weeks have heard someone say, "Well, that's the way we've always done it." In fact, if you're like me you've probably been the one who said those fateful words from time to time. Now, before I go any further, I'm not trying to be ugly here or castigate anyone who says something related to that phrase. Like I said, we've all said it before and if we haven't we've all thought it before. Humans are creatures of habit and we like things to be comfortable and predictable. I get that and for many things in our life that's a fine attitude to have. Unfortunately, Church isn't one of those areas with the notable exception of doctrine (good doctrine is timeless and indispensable). So let's just take a few moments and consider where we might be if we really did do things the way they've always been done.
- Those comfy pew cushions- yeah- you can toss those right out the window that will, by necessity, be open in the summer to let a cool breeze flow through the sanctuary because we sure wouldn't have air conditioning. Legend has it the Puritans made the pews uncomfortable on purpose so people wouldn't fall asleep! Can I get an "Amen."
- 12:00 is only the lunch break, afterwards you can forget about the football game because you're coming right back to the church house for more preaching and singing, but remember the singing will be a Capella because organs and pianos are of the devil.
- Those beautiful stained-glass windows that were put up in memory of your great-uncle's cousin's college roommate...they gotta go. Calvin would not approve. Can you say "graven image?"
- Did I mention that organs and pianos belong in bars.
- How do you feel about the Pope and the Virgin Mary? Because if people had done things the way they always had been done Martin Luther, John Calvin and the rest of the reformers would have kept their mouths shut.
- We'll also be needin' some goats and lambs to take with us to Jerusalem come Passover.
- We may as well burn the hymnals, even the Broadman, because all we need are the Psalms.
- Guys on the left, gals on the right when you come into the sanctuary for worship, oh and the African-Americans, the balcony.
- So, you like that pew you sit in every Sunday and get upset when a visitor takes your seat. We have a tax for that.
- Do you read shape notes?
- Baptistery? What's that? If the river was good enough for John the Baptist, it's good enough for us.
- Greek and Hebrew lessons for all!
You see, this is just a small sampling and most of us would agree that we enjoy many of the changes that have occurred throughout Christian history. If we are honest with ourselves, and others, we will have to admit that it isn't that we have a theological stake in doing things the way we've always done. It isn't because the old way is right and the new way is wrong. Its that the old way is comfortable and familiar and the new way- well- is uncomfortable and unfamiliar.
Isaiah 43:19 says;
Behold, I will do something new, Now it will spring forth; Will you not be aware of it? I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, rivers in the desert.
Did you hear that? Even God does new things! It isn't that His character, plan or standards have changed, that would be impossible. However, His methods do change. In the Old Testament times He started out speaking directly to His people like Abraham, Jacob and Moses. Then He began speaking to His people through the prophets. In the time of Jesus He spoke through the incarnation of the Son. Now we have God's written Word and the Holy Spirit. God isn't doing it the way He always has done it. The message remains the same but the delivery has changed dramatically. I mean its the difference between a "Talkie" and Imax!
Now think for a moment about the greatest change God ever made - the way we receive forgiveness of our sins. For thousands of years it took the blood of an animal to temporarily cleanse people of their sins. Now, through the perfect sacrifice of God's only Son we have eternal forgiveness of our sins. No more animals need to die to cover our wrongdoing. Praise God, He doesn't do things the way He always has!
If you look at the latter portion of Isaiah 43:19 you notice that God does new things for our benefit. Roadways in the wilderness and streams in the desert are certainly helpful. We may be uncomfortable for a brief moment when we try something new but if it is motivated by the glory of God and His mission we can rest assured it will be for the good.
Change can be scary and unpleasant but if we are willing to journey in new directions with the Lord the result will surely be blessing. So what's it gonna be next time someone feels God moving and it isn't the way you've always done it? Go with or stay in the boat?