Saturday, April 23, 2011

When Different is Not Better

We tend to make changes in life when we find better options. We're open to improvement when something works better, looks better, sounds better, tastes better, etc. However, when something is good the way it is we mostly just leave it alone. The old saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

We make changes because we believe that the new thing we are doing or using is better than whatever we were doing or using before. We believe improvement is taking place.  For example, we are soon probably going to buy a new computer. The one we use for homeschool purposes is very slow and shuts down frequently for no apparent reason. We desire improvement in the computer department. Therefore, we're eventually going to have to shell out the money for a new one.

None of this is rocket science. It does, however, become problematic when we look at the life of the church.

Take a look around this weekend. Many churches will offer Easter egg hunts with various types of bunnies present. Almost all will engage in some form of annual celebration of the resurrection of Christ. This will be referred to as "Easter" as well. In this country at least, most churches will gather in large, expensive buildings, will take part in elaborate, scripted worship services, will be led by salaried, professional, expert pastors, and will offer a plethora of programs to satisfy the people.  Regardless of denomination, this is the general practice of churches in the USA.

When we look in the bible we see none of these things.  We don't see Easter eggs or bunnies.  In fact, we don't see any form of Easter celebration.  We can't find large church buildings.  There are no worship services.  Salaried clergy is a foreign concept to the bible. We can't find programs.

A vast gulf exists between what the simple early church looked like and what today's modern church looks like.  They are so different that we can be forgiven of we wonder whether or not they are even actually the same thing.

Now back to the related issues of change and improvement. The American church has changed a great deal from the early church we see in the pages of scripture. Change takes place because we seek improvement. If no improvement is going to occur, then change doesn't happen. This forces us to an uncomfortable conclusion: those who engage in church practices that differ significantly in form, pattern, principle, and practice from what we see in the bible must believe that their new practices are BETTER than what we see in scripture.

Let me say it another way: today's churches that look so different from the early church must think that their way of doing things is an improvement over how the early church functioned.  They must believe that today's large buildings, choirs, youth groups, sermons, professional clergy, planned worship services, and multiple programs are better than what we see in the bible.

This must be the case because if they didn't believe this they would simply try to live church life as we see it in scripture.

(I realize that tradition comes into play in this discussion. Many people simply do what they do as the church because it has always been done that way. That may be the reason, but it is not a legitimate excuse. We should never just do what we do because that's what we do.)

The ironic thing is this: we know what the apostles thought of early church practices. They either gave approval to them or they told them to stop doing what they were doing. If we follow what we see in the bible we can know that we are being the church God desires.

Since so many of today's church practices are foreign to the pages of scripture, we have no idea what God thinks of them. What about expensive buildings? What about salaried clergy? What about scripted services? What about youth groups? What about nurseries? What about program after program after program? These are all man-conceived, man-constructed ideas; we have no idea whether or not they are acceptable to God.

When it comes to the church, different is not better. Although the modern assumption must be that these new practices are an improvement, the reality is that they are not.  Instead of trying to come up with new ideas all the time for the church, we are all better off looking to scripture to see principles, patterns, and practices of church life that God has designed.


esztertun said...

As a child it bothered me immensely if someone said, "Easter has nothing to do with the Resurrection of Christ." I wanted them to see that Easter was about Jesus! But years later, I now understand, and I prefer to say it the other way around, that His resurrection has little to do with Easter. Easter is a celebration of spring.
It isn't easy to find agreement with many folks around this topic. A pastor once told me, "Easter is in the Bible! Have a look at Acts 12:4."
In general, I just try to love my brothers and sisters in Christ and encourage their faith, avoiding this issue if possible. I am so thankful for the few friends I have who feel the same way when it comes to the absurdities we sometimes face with holidays. We can be different together. :)

Eric said...


Easter is a difficult one because so many Christians are emotionally involved in it. They refuse to see the reality of it.

You give great advice to just love other Christians. Sometimes it can be tough to stand for the truth when people don't want to hear it. We must speak the truth in love and let God take care of the rest.