May 2, 2008

Rampaging Toward Change

By Elwood McQuaid

The 10-year-old had a tight grip on a dollar bill when his father pulled into the parking lot of the general store. The boy anxiously held out his dollar and asked with some degree of urgency if his dad would spend it for him. “What should I get you?” the father asked, to which the boy replied, “I don’t care what you spend it for. Just spend it!”

The story came to mind while watching a political rally some months ago. The operative words were hope and change. However, as with the boy’s request to spend his buck, there was no definition of an object to obtain. And though a 10-year-old’s zeal to exchange currency for unidentified goods may be naive and amusing, America’s rampage to invoke change for change’s sake is anything but.

What changes need to be made? How will those changes be brought about? The glaring lack of clarity and definition here could prove catastrophic.

You would suspect that people running for president know very well how they plan to achieve their hopes and what they intend to change. But that information apparently won’t be disseminated until after the swearing-in ceremony. All too evident—and distressing—is the naiveté of the masses who buy the idea that torching the past and hoping for something better will sprout miraculous things from the ashes. However, change for the sake of change is a dangerous game.

The current political maelstrom of undefined rhetoric reflects the general condition of the culture. Otto Von Bismark, the Prussian politician of the 1800s, is credited with coining the phrase Politics is the art of the possible. In other words, it is the art of the attainable.

Today, it seems, Bismark’s astute thought has been materially altered. Politics has too often become the art of the “promiseable.” Even more to the contemporary point is the statement of the late economist John Kenneth Galbraith who said, “Politics is not the art of the possible. It consists in choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”

Unfortunately, the rush to change for change’s sake is not confined to the secular arena. It is much in vogue in the evangelical Christian camp as well. There is no better example than the emerging church phenomenon that has enamored so many. At this point it is a movement without definition or clue as to what we are supposed to be emerging into. It is, however, becoming abundantly clear what we are asked to emerge from: virtually anything associated with traditional forms and worship styles and standards of preaching and teaching that rise above my-guess-is-as-good-as-yours interactive discussion groups.

What seems apparent in some circles is a developing, radical swing toward churches as social-action entities with much the same flavor as the old mainline Protestant revolution, known by the last generation as liberal modernism.

Of course, we recognize that changes are often in order. That’s an easy call. The question is, Who is leading the move for change? And what changes are being prescribed? An ancillary issue is whether the unexpressed trend is to dumb down the methods, music, and message to serve the superficial tastes of a secularized society more interested in entertainment than spiritual enlightenment.

Several years ago pollster George Barna issued figures indicating the Yuppies of the ’80s were tiring of their secular playthings and might return to church. The idea promised a possible windfall of congregants. If so, the church would face a decision: lead people to new life through pre-sentation of the gospel or respond to the frustration of the material, me-first generation by ministering to people’s needs (as they perceived them to be) and crafting church programs accordingly.

The choice may seem simple, but it is actually profound. The first method revolves around the centrality of the gospel. Then it deals with the spiritual, social, and material needs of fledgling believers. The other is a revolution of application that squeezes the church into the “seekers” concept of religion.

In Romans 1 the apostle Paul exposed the decline of self-willed societies that depart from Scripture, dumb down the essence of acknowledging God, and chase change for change’s sake. Change is mentioned in three contexts: (1) changing the glory of God into the likeness of corruptible man by fixating on self rather than God (v. 23); (2) exchanging biblical truth for lies and adopting full-blown creature worship rather than worshiping God (v. 25); and (3) exchanging godly behavior for degrading conduct that plunges humanity into a pit of perversion (vv. 26–32). God warns us that the pagan world should never set the standard for believers.

So when you wish for change, you had better be careful what you wish for.