“Never think that you need to protect God. Because anytime you think you need to protect God, you can be sure that you are worshipping an idol.” ― Stanley Hauerwas
Two generations have passed since Bob Dylan first sang, “the times, they are a-changin’.” One would think that we all would have gotten over that change and settled in to whatever new order Dylan was prophesying. The saying that time is the only constant goes back at least to Heraclitus of Ephesus c. 535 BC – 475 BC, who said, “Everything changes and nothing stands still,” and, more famously, “You could not step twice into the same river.”
Nevertheless, I think it is safe to say that change (especially technological change) is coming at us faster than ever before in history. Not only is rapid, mass communication changing what we know of the world, but immigration patterns, and jet travel are bringing us elbow-to-elbow with people and cultures that, a hundred years ago, would be considered exotic.
For those of us who grew up in an Americanized Christian denomination, it may have seemed to us that Christian faith and practice was the same as it had been since the earliest times of the Church. Our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents experienced change, but certainly not as dramatic as we have in the last two generations. Here in Rochester, Minnesota, where traditional Lutheran roots are still strong, and a healthy medical industry contributes to steady population growth, we may not be experiencing the dramatic down-turn in church attendance and the “graying” of heads in the pews as quickly as other areas. But we are experiencing a cultural shift and a change in what it means to be the Church.
When change comes rapidly, it is always unsettling. What some experience as exhilarating, others experience as frightening. Some ask, “What does God think of all of the changes in the Church?” To many, it seems that the Church is dying. Mainline denominations, such as Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic have shown a startling decline in membership and worship attendance over the last few decades. Even the more politically conservative groups who have shown strong growth in recent times are experience a slowing, if not a reversal, of that growth.
Even though change is coming at us, literally, at the speed of light there is no need to panic. What is frightening to some is exhilarating to others. There is almost a certainty that the Church of tomorrow will not be the same as what we have known. How much it will resemble the Church we have become comfortable with is hard to tell. There will be some who will desperately defend the Church of yesterday as if, in doing so, they will be defending God. But if Christ is the head of the Church, and God’s Holy Spirit inspires people today as in all the years past, then God doesn’t need our protection—only our faithfulness. Let us be bold to discover the new Church, which is not dying, but only beginning to be unveiled again…and again.
Blessings to You,