1. "Change" is the word for the 90's. To some change means progress; for others it poses a threat. On the one hand it seems that some among us think that any change would be better than what we have and they are ready to try almost anything as long as it is new. Others of us, however, see this as a very dangerous attitude because we see some of the suggested changes as being departures from the Biblical pattern. Obviously there are some changes which are harmless and may be helpful, but we need to be cautious about changes that might affect doctrinal purity. Extremes in either direction can be hurtful. To favor change simply because it is change may lead to a rejection of New Testament authority. To oppose a change simply because it is different from that to which we are accustomed can be a repudiation of Christian liberty.
2. We have chosen Phil. 3:4-16 as the framework for "A Balanced Approach to Change." Of course, Paul was not dealing with identical circumstances, but the text will show us some principles that can help us with the issue of change.
I. It will be Helpful for Us to Reflect on what We Left behind in our Pursuit of Pure Christianity.
A. Phil. 3:4-6 describe Paul's former religion. In the eyes of the world, in the eyes of popular religion, his position was impressive. What is clear, however, is that he had no desire to go back to those things. The Pharisee "denomination" was something Paul had known from the inside, and he saw no merit in its traditions.
B. Some of us have personally came out of certain denominations to embrace Biblical truth. This should have the effect of making us especially cautious in regard to changes that would move us toward the errors that we left.
C. One thing necessary to help us to keep a balanced perspective regarding change is, therefore, that we keep in mind that the faiths and practices of denominationalism, though sometimes appealing on the surface, are worthless and destructive. We have no more reason for wanting to be like modern sects than Paul had for wanting to be like the Pharisees.
II. As We Consider Changes We must Make Sure We are not Pursuing the Wrong Goals.
A. While the text expresses it in several ways, the only thing that mattered to Paul was that he please Christ, being acceptable to Him (Phil. 3:7-11). The context names things especially related to his Jewish heritage (Phil. 3:4-6), but "all things" are meaningless compared to being accepted by Christ.
B. There is a particular temptation to make and our religious practices more compatible with things considered "important" to the world. However, here are some things we must guard against:
1. An inordinate obsession with numbers and budgets. It sometimes seems that "church growth" has become an end in itself.
2. The desire to be intellectually sophisticated. Is this what is behind the idea that a "new hermeneutic" must replace what is considered to be "simplistic pattern theology"?
3. Pressure to be "politically correct." For example, to continue to forbid women to preach will label us as "sexists."
4. Compatibility with culture. Proposed changes in music would (allegedly) be more appealing to an entertainment-oriented society. Some are asserting that drama is more preferable to preaching sermons.
III. But a Balanced Approach regarding Change also Requires that We Understand that Some Changes will always Be in Order.
A. Paul did not claim perfection (Phil. 3:12-14). Where there is room for growth, there is room for change. This is not always what those calling for change mean, of course, but personally we must admit our lack of perfection.
B. In one sense, therefore, we can speak of a completed restoration. On the other hand, we should realize that restoration is never complete, so long as we have not "already attained, neither were already perfect."
C. As an over-reaction against radical calls for change we may resist even Scriptural and helpful improvements.
1. It is folly not to accept changes in the way we do things when such changes are Scriptural and expedient. History will show that things now generally found to be useful were historically resisted because they represented change. (For examples, Sunday classes, individual communion cups, etc.)
2. It is the heresy of presumption to condemn others for changes that are not violations of Scripture, even though they are different from that to which we have been accustomed, and even though we may doubt their value (cf. Deut. 18:20.)
IV. It Is Essential, however, that We never Give Up what has already been Attained in Faith and Practice.
A. The NASB renders Phil. 3:16, "However, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained."
B. The principle applies to both personal holiness and the practice of the church. Today we should be committed to New Testament Christianity. We should insist that the Bible be our only standard. Appropriating the words of Paul, the point is that we must be faithful to what we have already found to be right (cf. 2 John 1:9.)
C. Our concern for this will make us cautious.
1. Some changes which at first seem acceptable may be, in actuality, stepping-stones to error.
2. Things may be in the realm of judgment, but would be bad judgment.
Certain key questions are always in order when changes are suggested: Is it Scriptural? Is it safe? Is it really profitable? And, do others have a Scriptural right to choose this change, even if it is not my personal choice?
Ideas expressed by David Pharr