Change was in the air The house of Saul was fading; David was growing stronger by the day as more and more men declared their allegiance to him (I Chronicles 12). Among those who came over were “. . . the men of Issachar who understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (I Chronicles 12:32).
We might think change is good and we welcome it. Some changes are good, but others threaten our basic comfort zones so they are anathema. We don’t welcome the change of submitting to our mate in a disputed area, losing five pounds or becoming more self-controlled. And young people, do not get high and mighty on us oldsters. Learning to work eight hours a day, 40 hours per week, is a tough change for a young adult. Instead of having room and board handed out free, having to earn a living is a tough change.
Changes that Have Become Necessities We didn’t need Beethoven’s 5th symphony until we had it. Now, we can’t imagine music without it. We didn’t need bicycles but having experienced their convenience, we now view them as necessities. There’s no way to improve manual typewriters enough to make us give up our computers. Change!
Change in Warfare Few institutions are as tradition bound as the military. “What won the last war, will win the next one.” In World War I, Britain’s Lord Kitchener called tanks toys. France’s Field Marshal Joffre refused to have a telephone in his headquarters. “Black Jack” Pershing, lauded WW I American general, was still thinking the horse was the major means of mobility. He had so much hay stacked up, it was in the way. Corregidor (just south of Manila, Philippines) had been fortified before the age of air power, but General Douglas MacArthur’s faith in it was absolute. As World War II started, the military’s resisted airpower. Even after Billy Mitchell’s squadron of planes sank a captured German ship in 20 minutes, the military moved over very slowly (Pearl Harbor changed that one!).
Business Change Through the 1960s, 70s and 80s the Japanese capturing a larger and larger share of the American car market. Huge General Motors was resistant to change, did little, and believed it would again come out on top as it had so many times before. General Motors chief, Roger Smith, spoke about change, but did not change. In December, 1991, the giant announced they were losing 15 million dollars a day, so they were economizing by closing 23 plants and said 74,000 jobs would never come back. Robotics were taking over. In 2006, General Motors stock was declared “junk stock.” CEO Roger Smith was out. Smith’s resistance to change carried a high price.
Tech Change I am the previous generation. Our sons and grand children handle today’s technology better than I do. A Smart Phone is still a challenge for me. All the smug techies who are smiling down at me will one day be left in the dust of even newer technology. Eventually, it will happen.
Doctrinal Change The shift from Hebrew Christianity to “Come-on-in-all-you-Gentiles-absolutely-free” required a lot of print (Acts 10, 11 & some in 15). It seems like over-kill as we read it. But twentieth century believers can’t appreciate the agony of the struggle involved for Peter as he led this change. Let’s consider it.
1. The Riff-Raffs Coming In A diligent Israelite invested considerable time, energy and money to stay ceremonially clean. To let the Gentile riff-raff in free was to dilute what was sacred! It just wasn’t right. Compromise! The Jewish Christians didn’t have much, but they thought they had a monopoly on God. And they were not about to share Him. Hebrew Christian orthodoxy recoiled in horror!
2. Like Us, Peter Was Slow to Change Peter may have wondering what a menu matter (his vision of a sheet let down with variety of animals in it) had to do with a membership matter (Gentiles coming into the church). Only God’s vision and providential timing convinced Peter of God’s new program and gained his reluctant participation.
3. Backslide Even so, Peter reversed himself on receiving the Gentiles (Galatians 2). Apparently he forgot that at Pentecost, he had predicted that the “Spirit will be poured out on all flesh” (Acts 2:17), and that his message was “to you and your children and all who were afar off” (verse 39).
Like Peter, we find it very difficult to shed the “spiritual” way of doing things. At the time of this writing, churches are deep into culture wars – what kind of music will be played and sung in the church? Newer choruses or the old hymns. Neither kind is Biblical. Another battle front is the evening service. Originally begun to evangelize people in liberal churches who had no evening service, such services today wear out the preacher. Congregations would get a better message if they asked their pastor to preach only once on a Sunday (and not Wednesday night either).
Peter walked with the Lord for three years, was spirit-filled for ten years of apostolic service prior to Acts 10, preached God’s acceptance of the Gentiles and he still can’t bring himself to put into operation what he himself preached! The theory of unity is in Ephesians 2; the agony of that change is in Acts 10 and 11.
Only Much Later Do We Realize We Were Wrong and should have changed sooner. We Bible-believing, Evangelical, fundamentalist types are the spiritual inheritors of that resistance to change. If we had been alive the century before our Lord walked this earth, most of us would have been Pharisees. We’re slow to see our warts and change. Oh, to have wisdom and understanding of our times!
Living in America in the 1960s and 1970s, I experienced the three events/ personalities listed below. Only years later do we understand that:
1. Vietnam was a mistake. Or the way the war was conducted was. America was lied to by its leaders, yet we disdained the hippies and draft dodgers who fled to Canada. Whereas we believed we were 100% right and they were 100% wrong, history will commend much that they said.
2. Martin Luther King Was Not a Communist In my seminary days in Chatta-nooga, Tennessee, I saw a billboard that pictured Martin Luther King sitting on the front row of a large gathering. The print said, “Martin Luther King Attends Communist School.” Why didn’t I instantly reject that smear? Church history will report that many of us were not even sympathetic to what God was doing to improve the lot of the Blacks in the 1960s and 1970s. Why are we so slow to sense what God wants done? So unaware of the truth? Fearful to apply It?
3. President Richard Nixon was Guilty We defended our president against the evil, liberal media. We fundamentalists were so angry at most American television. But we were wrong and they were right. We were fooled. We were not as perceptive as we would have liked to have been. Change is tough.
Changes We Want and Enjoy We like the growth and change of our children and grandchildren. We enjoy the different seasons of the year. God made so much variety that no fingerprint, voice or eyes are identical. We enjoy travel so we can see different things.
Your mate is changing. People are changing. For example, the fiery Israeli commandos who were motivated by the holocaust of World War II and won the lightning quick wars of 1967 and 1973 have mellowed. According to a 1990 ABC news broadcast that generation has softened and is more apt now to negotiate with the Arabs.
Change exempts no one. No one is isolated. For good or ill, like it or not, change is inevitable. Big people can change. Godly people relish the development of their faith through change. People who have experienced God’s love can adjust. But people who have not matured in their faith (or older saints who are still self-oriented) will resist and life will drag them kicking and screaming toward what is good for them.
A challenge before the church is to pour the truth of the first-century Hebrew and Greek manuscripts into 21st century English without spilling a drop of inspired revelation.
From Russian to English In 1967 when I served a small congregation of Russian Christians in a northern state (North Dakota), the church had held their services in Russian until just months before I arrived. But they knew they must change, or all their young people who had not learned Russian would leave. They were wise to make the necessary sacrifices to change. It was not easy for those 60 or 70 years of age.
Conclusion Though the vehicles for expressing truth may change to communicate more effectively to a changing world, the Gospel “once for all delivered to the saints” doesn’t change. The wineskins may change, but not the beverage. The essentials of the faith never change, but to hold on to human traditions is to invite needless ridicule by the world and unnecessary rebellion from within the church.