And the Pendulum Swings...

The Church, Relevancy, and the Truth

By Jordan Walker
Jordan also blogs at He who has ears, let him hear

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Mankind operates on a philosophical pendulum. Over time, cultures tend to gradually grow set in their ways. The inevitable result is that a group of free-thinkers will break off upon realizing that the majority has gotten stuck in the rut of their traditions. These people will then start a "movement" to remedy the situation. And though these reformations in thought are almost always a positive thing, the resulting movement is generally an overcorrection. Thus, the pendulum swings and the paradigm shifts.

The Church is full of human beings, and is therefore not exempt from these movements and overcorrections. Let me start by saying this: I am of the opinion that over the course of Church history, the vast majority of pendulum swings and reformations have moved the Church in the right direction and aligned it more closely with its divine groom, the Christ. However, it would be extremely helpful and edifying for all like-minded believers to take a step back and look closely at our tendency toward the extremes. The paradigm shift of our day in this new millennium is quite interesting and that will be our focus moving forward.

The shift we are seeing within the American Christian Church today is multifaceted. We have seen dramatic growth in the non-denominational "community" church concept. We have seen major increases in "contemporary" or popular praise music within worship services and a decrease in the focus on classical hymns and psalms. We have seen many churches distance themselves from traditionally held doctrines or Confessions of Faith and adopt oversimplified mantras and faith statements. We have seen a booming increase in the use of multimedia and technology in worship services and church operations as a whole. We have seen the demise of small congregation churches and the rise of the mega church. All of these changes help to paint the picture of the changing landscape within the church that we are seeing in today's western world.

Are these changes good or bad? Well, neither...they are just changes. They can be good or bad in certain situations and contexts. I firmly believe they have been born from hearts seeking the face of the Lord and thirsting for righteousness. They have come about largely because of the technological revolution and culture that we live in. Christians, like everyone else, want to use technology effectively to accomplish their goals. However, I believe the driving force behind this shift in the church is a rebellion against the staunch traditions of the churches of our fathers. Many Christians have seen the rut that our denominations seem to be stuck in and view this as a hindrance to loving and knowing Jesus — and in a way, they are absolutely correct. So the resulting action has been to break free from organized denominations, implement popular music that would never be allowed in certain worship services, abandon strict and detailed Confessions of Faith and "rules", bring in multimedia to show how helpful it can actually be, and finally to push an "open arms acceptance" attitude in an attempt to contrast this with the traditional church. None of these changes are innately negative, wrong or unbiblical. My concern is simply that the pendulum is following the tendency to swing too far and that the results of this can be damaging. With these things in mind, let us discuss three of the problems with our evangelism and witness that have arisen from these changes.

1. Neglecting the work of our faithful forefathers

Have you ever heard the saying, "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater"? Well, this is the danger of abandoning denominational structure and the churches of our fathers. As a theologically reformed thinker and strong believer in sovereign grace and total depravity, I find myself at odds and even enmity with much of what John Wesley taught and preached. However, should I write all of his teachings and good works off as unbiblical because he wasn't a Calvinist? By no means! John Wesley was used by God to advance the Kingdom in a way that few other men who have ever walked this earth have been able to. I should learn from his example in all that he did right and also from where he erred.

Is the London Baptist Confession of Faith or the Westminster Confession of Faith perfect? No. They are attempts by fallible and finite men to understand and explain an infallible and infinite God. These men recognized the importance of taking the Holy Scriptures as a whole and interpreting them within the context of that whole. We should not be so quick to neglect and write off the work of our predecessors in the faith. Do the Southern Baptists have it all figured out? How about the Methodists? The Primitive Baptists? Perhaps the Presbyterians? Alas, they all fall short of the glory of God as we ourselves do. This has led to many divisions and outright breaks from established denominations. People are seeking a back-to-basics, Jesus-focused Church to build up. What is the problem with that? When a church distances itself from all denominations and organizations, it often drafts its own statement of faith. This usually leads to rudimentary, incomplete, and even inaccurate belief statements. It is all well and good to make the claim that your church will focus solely on loving Jesus — but how do you plan to love that which you do study and understand? The Holy Scriptures are the only infallible and inerrant Word of God. But let us take care that we do not forsake the Bible based teachings of our forefathers and brothers in Christ. Emulate their wisdom and learn from their mistakes so that one day we might leave an even stronger church for our children to continue to build on.
Hear, O sons, a father's instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my teaching. — Proverbs 4:1-2 (ESV)
2. Robbing the Gospel of its power

We all have a tendency to believe that we can do things better than the next guy. Everyone has visions of grandeur and ideas of how to improve upon the current state of affairs. I graduated from pharmacy school and went to work for my father who owned three pharmacies and had been practicing and growing those businesses for 30 years. Of course, at the know-it-all age of 24, I had ideas of revamping the family business. I just knew that I could improve the business; and, in a way, I did. I brought some new and fresh concepts and a youthful vigor to parts of the business. I definitely have been a contributor. But I have slowly learned that my father's business is powerful because of the foundations he built it upon — it is much bigger than me. I have seen that the best thing that I can do is continue along the path he has laid before me. Flashy and radical changes or "improvements" do nothing but rock the steady foundations and rob or empty the spirit of the business of its power that has made it so successful.

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Published 4-13-15