“Change is not always growth, just as movement is not always progress.” The author of this statement is unknown although some variant of it has been attributed to Abraham Lincoln and others. A Google search will, indeed, find the first part quoted by a large number of individuals. Regardless of who said it first, or who said it most, it is true.
In church circles, perhaps, we use it most often whenever something comes up we disagree with. Our hope is that the comment will put an end to change we don’t like. However, what isn’t said at such times is the fact that there is a flip side to the statement. The flip side is simple—not all resistance to change is healthy.
In fact, Benjamin Franklin is quoted as saying, “When you’re finished changing, you’re finished.” Anwar Sadat (president of Egypt 1970-1981) said it like this: “He who cannot change the very fabric of his thought will never be able to change reality and will never, therefore, make any progress.” Change is inevitable. That’s simply the world we live in. And how we handle it makes all the difference.
We see this flip-side truth in a real life example. Discount retailers were on the scene long before Wal-Mart. Perhaps the earliest to go national was K-Mart and they enjoyed success for many years. Their troubles began when Sam Walton came along and quickly realized the value of computers to maintain and control inventory—computers could actually cut costs. By passing along these savings to consumers, Wal-Mart grew rapidly.
K-Mart’s top management saw the handwriting on the wall. So, they called in store managers and urged them to adapt to the computer age. By far, the majority refused. They insisted on sticking with the tried-and-true, the familiar, the easy (but labor intensive) hand inventory—done at least annually. Instead of replacing these recalcitrant store managers, top management buckled. The rest is history.
Despite an infusion of capital and merger with national retailer Sears, K-Mart is struggling to stay afloat in today’s modern economy. It’s questionable whether they will survive.
Change is risky. That, too, is a universal truth. The advantage we have in the church, however, is the possession of an infallible guidebook—the Bible. Proposed changes can be filtered through its eternal principles of life and behavior.
Change should never be resisted on the basis of personal preference or opinion. Unfortunately, many of the battles in today’s church fall into one—or both—of those categories. Resistance to change often comes from an attitude (mainly unspoken) that “we’ve never done it that way before”—or some variation of that theme—so it must be wrong.
Ever since the apostles, the church has changed. The church adapted to the culture surrounding it. Sometimes the change was good. Other times it was not. For example, the early church gradually adapted its organizational structure to reflect the top-heavy hierarchy of the Roman Empire (especially after Constantine became the first “Christian” emperor). The simple structure and autonomy of individual congregations (as described in the Bible—see, for example, Philippians 1:1; Acts 14:23) was lost. It began to be recovered only many centuries later with the Protestant Reformation.
On the other hand, some change has been good. Most of us enjoy the music of four-part harmony in our hymns and spiritual songs. But this innovation did not become part of the church until around 1800. And it was resisted every step of the way. Some thought it too worldly (four-part harmony became part of musical culture before it was introduced into the church). Others even considered it “unbiblical.” Nowadays, almost everyone realizes that four-part harmony can be uplifting and bring an enriching experience to worship. It is not a Biblical issue (and never was), but it is a matter of personal preference, pleasure, and enrichment.
I don’t have the time, or the inclination, to list all the ways we battle with each other in today’s church over issues that reflect personal preferences and opinions more than they do Bible principles. But I do hope this article will cause us to reflect on our perspective of change. And that we will be motivated to “stick with the Word.”
Final thought: “Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:32 NLT)