I am suspicious of change. It is my conservative nature, I suppose, but it is also because of experience. In the church, I trust the old paths far more than innovation. Part of my experience is a bottom shelf in my office that is full of dusty binders from past efforts at restructuring, refocusing and revising (I’m not alone, ask any pastor with more than 10 years of experience).
Change, however, is frequently necessary. One of the mottoes of the Reformation was, “Always Reforming.” It is human nature to wander away from the truth. We must always evaluate this drift and prayerfully seek to check it by returning to the Gospel. In Philippians 3:1, the Apostle Paul said, “To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.” In 2 Peter, we find a longer passage on this same point of reviewing the basics:
“Therefore I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder, since I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me. And I will make every effort so that after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things.” 2 Peter 1:12-15
It should be evident to anyone with a pulse that change is needed in much of Western evangelicalism. Regarding the Fellowship of Churches that I belong to, I would not want to cling to the status quo or retreat to a vision from twenty or fifty years ago. I am not opposed to streamlining administrative structure, and, as one who is interested in the history of reformation and revival, I know that God uses individuals as His agents to orchestrate dramatic change.
My primary concern is regarding what I do not hear from our national leadership. For several years now, I have heard at national and regional conventions that we Fellowship Baptists are very strong on the Bible and doctrine. I do not believe that is true. I think that many of our churches (from my admittedly limited exposure) have been heavily influenced by the individualistic, moralistic and pietistic impulses that practically define contemporary evangelicalism. We have been told that because we are strong on Bible and doctrine, we must now work to cultivate relationships, develop servant leadership and focus more on prayer and evangelism. More recently, we are told that it is the structure that needs to change to make way for a more effective fulfillment of the Great Commission.
I am convinced that there is no substitute for biblical preaching centered on the Gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 3:14-4:5). This, I believe, is a weak spot in many of our churches. What I am trying to say is that we need to focus far more on what God has done in Christ as less on what we need to do. What we can do has always been a easier sell in the church, but being faithful to Gospel-centered ministry and the marks of a true church is urgent for real health in the long run.
I came across this quote from D.A. Carson recently, and it expresses my worry regarding the focus of the Fellowship very well:
I fear that the cross, without ever being disowned, is constantly in danger of being
dismissed from the central place it must enjoy, by relatively peripheral insights that
take on far too much weight. Whenever the periphery is in danger of displacing the
center, we are not far removed from idolatry. (from The Cross and Christian Ministry, p. 26).
So then, change away, Fellowship, change away, but change from the influence of the world and reform to the central standard of the Gospel in all areas of life and worship. Lord willing, I'll be leading our church to this kind of change right along with you.