Attempts at innovation are nothing new. Since the Tower of Babel man has been inventing his own forms of worship. Today there is an almost unanimous consensus within the church that it must adapt to meet the needs of a changing culture. We are told that we live in a different age where people have different needs. We live in the information age where the explosion in technology has created new challenges for the church. The seeker sensitive movement has sought to meet these alleged new challenges by changing the way we “do” church, and the Emergent movement sought to redefine the church and its message. Both movements have influenced and infected the church with a malignant and pernicious form of false Christianity that offers salvation without regeneration and repentance. Like the false prophets of Israel, they announce “peace, peace” when there is no peace. Hardly a week goes by where a new book is not promoting some new model to modernize the message and ministry of the church.
But the truth is, the age in which we live is completely irrelevant. Why? Because God is still the same God and the changing of the times does not make the slightest difference to Him. God’s character is still what He has always revealed it to be, and He revealed His character in the Ten Commandments given to Moses. He is still a God who hates sin and will punish sin. God never changes.
The Message of Scripture Never Changes
It is also equally true that the message of Scripture never changes. Today there is much talk of making the Bible ‘relevant’ to a new generation of Christians. In fact, “relevant” has become one of the new buzz words within the church, along with “authentic,” “radical,” “innovative,” “intentional,” and “missional,” but no one seems to be able to define what these terms mean. The superficiality of what passes for “relevant” can be seen in the recent explosion of new Bible editions aimed at every demographic imaginable. There is a pink bedazzled “Princess Bible” for that rare little girl who might not already be totally self-absorbed, a camouflage Bible for that extra pious deer hunter, or maybe Mossy Oak just makes the Bible seem manlier. And for that environmentally conscious Christian, there is a “Green” Bible, printed on recycled paper, with soy ink no less, and all the passages relating to the earth printed in green. Is this what it means to be relevant — Bibles customized to your personality?
Most attempts at being “relevant” today would by another generation of Christians have been called by other names — names such as worldly, self-absorbed, and irreverent. Scripture does not need to be made relevant; it is relevant because it is God’s living and active word. The message of the Bible does not need to be embellished, made “cool,” apologized for, or made contemporary; it just needs to be taught. The job of the preacher is not to bring the Bible into our age, but to take the Christian back to the time of the biblical author and explain Scripture in its own context. Scripture never changes and is therefore always relevant. Scripture only becomes irrelevant when the church superimposes its own message on Scripture.
Man Never Changes
Not only does God not change and Scripture not change, but it is equally true that man never changes. Because times have changed, does that mean man has changed? Has increased technology changed the morality of man? Has man given up his self-absorption and rebellion against God just because he/she can Facebook and Twitter? Have people ceased to be driven by their lust for self-worship and self-gratification because of access to the Internet? Has his heart been transformed because he has an i-phone? The answer of course is that all of this does not make the slightest difference, and they are completely irrelevant. The problem of man is the same as it has always been from the beginning. Adam and Eve rebelled against God. Cain killed Abel. Jacob lied to Isaac. Joseph’s brothers envied and hated him. Sodom and Gomorrah practiced gross immorality. Israel joined the pagan nations in murdering their own children. It is all still with us. These are the problems of life, and the age of information has nothing to do with it. The problem is within man, and all these other things do not affect it.
We need to get rid of this notion that because we are in a different age we need something new. Is the culture to influence the church, or is the church to influence the culture? Are Christians not called to be salt and light? What happens when salt loses its saltiness? Should those who have been given sight still follow the blind? The dominant object of worship within our culture is self and the world, and the values and behavior of society reflect this. The church dare not adapt to this or any culture, because when it does it ceases to be the church. Christians are to repudiate and expose the values of the world as sin, not adapt to them (Ephesians 5:11, 12). How much of the world can the church assimilate and still be the church? Where will we find the humility to stop innovating once we have the presumption to begin?
The Means of Conversion and Sanctification
God is a God of means, and the means which He has instituted for us must be the best available to bring about the conviction and conversion of sinners, and the most conducive for our sanctification. They are doubtless far superior to anything we can devise for ourselves, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. And what means has God ordained for the conversion of sinners and sanctification of saints; only the faithful teaching and preaching of His word. It is the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16); we are born again through the living and abiding word of God (1 Peter 1:23); it is the Spirit which gives life, and the words which Jesus spoke are spirit and life (John 6:63); He brought us forth by the word of truth (James 1:18); Christians are sanctified by the truth of God’s word (John 17:17).
The Bible is full of examples to show us that if God’s word will not convict and convert sinners, nothing else will. If they do not believe Moses and the prophets, they will not believe if someone rises from the dead (Luke 16:31). If this was true of those who had only the Old Testament, how much more is it true today where we have the entire canon of Scripture? If people will not be convicted and converted by God’s word then neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead, or if an angel comes from heaven, or if the preacher is “cool” and “hip,” wears tattered jeans and a graphic T-shirt, and sports a frohawk, a soul-patch, and a few tattoos (and nor will a clean cut or a suit and tie).
The Pharisees said, “Let Him now come down from the cross, and we shall believe in Him” (Matthew 27:42). No they would not! If the means God had appointed would not lead them to repentance and salvation, nothing else would. But sadly the same mindset dominates most of the church today. If we could only connect with this group, or if we could only package the message in an attractive enough way, or if we spice up our worship service, or if we try this new program, or if we have an eye-catching website, or if we have a fancy building in a great location with plenty of parking, or if we can stimulate people’s emotions and overload their senses and manufacture a “worship experience,” or if we water down the message and shorten the sermon, or if we cater to a particular age group, or if we have a killer children’s program or an awesome youth group, or if we can make church fun, then we can reach people with the gospel. What nonsense; what foolish, unbiblical thinking. From cover to cover, the testimony of Scripture is the exact opposite. If God’s means are not sufficient, then nothing else is.
What has a greater tendency to move and convict sinners or edify and sanctify believers? What has a greater authority behind it? What is more likely to impact the mind and heart — someone’s subjective personal experience and testimony, our own pragmatic and culturally relevant innovations, or the testimony of God Himself? If people are unmoved by the searching power of God’s word, what will move them? What if God sent messengers to warn and teach us, perhaps many in succession, but they all went unheeded, What if some of these messengers performed miraculous signs and wonders such as calling down fire from heaven, and they were still ridiculed and ignored. What if God finally took upon Himself human flesh and lived among us, teaching and warning us? But isn’t that exactly what He did? Yet in spite of all His miracles, and all His signs and wonders, Jesus was rejected, despised, and even murdered by those He came to save, and “though He had performed so many signs before them, yet they were not believing in Him” (John 12:37). They were by nature the same sinners as people today.
Innovation is good when it helps disseminate truth and reach more people with the gospel. But truth can never be sacrificed or undermined by the church’s attempts at innovation. Ultimately, what many of these attempts at innovation reveal is a complete lack of confidence in the sufficiency of God’s word to transform hearts and minds, and the end result is to lead people away from Scripture, not to Scripture. True salvation always results in a transformed life, the pursuit of holiness, and a hunger for spiritual truth.
The fact that Scripture seems to have virtually no impact on the day to day lives of professing Christians should tell us that whatever the church is doing, it is not making disciples. That the thinking of most professing Christian’s is dominated, influenced, and prejudiced by the world and conformed to the world shows that they are not being transformed by the renewing of their mind (Romans 12:2). All too often the methods adopted by the church in the name of innovation deny in practice what we say we believe in principle. Practice will deny profession and the methods can deny the message (Titus 1:16). God’s principles for how He is to be worshiped are timeless: “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored” (Leviticus 10:3). We ignore God’s Scriptural warnings to our peril (Hebrews 12:25).
Our culture is decaying around us at breakneck speed. In less than a generation, behavior that has historically been considered destructive to society and individuals has now been institutionalized as a constitutional right. Moral wrongs have been enshrined as civil rights. The salt has traded its saltiness for a pair of tattered blue jeans, graphic T-shirt, entertainment driven worship, worldly innovations, self-esteem, cultural relevance, and a fun time for all. It has all been tried before with tragic consequences. Man is still trying to be as wise as God. There is nothing new under the sun.