“Only societies reflexively capable of modifying their institutions in the face of accelerated social change will be able to confront the future with any confidence.”
If the above quote contains any truth – and it is highly likely that it does, because Anthony Giddens is a smart man – then I wonder if I should take back my previous post about liturgy. I wonder if churches are able to change their institutions in the face of changing society. By institutions, by the way, Giddens isn’t referring to the church as an institutions, but the idea of social institutions. Think of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry decides to not participate in the whole kiss on the cheek thing when he sees someone… That’s a social institution. It’s the way we do things. Our habits, I suppose you could say. I wonder, friends, if it is that the church is stubbornly standing still when we should be shifting. I wonder if, perhaps, the emergents (who are apparently gone now…) got something right.
I wonder what we must stand firmly on and what we must be able to shift.
First and foremost I must say, or, rather the Apostle Paul has said “that if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9). We must be as unmovable as an elephant arm wrestling with an ant on this issue. Salvation is through Jesus. We are about Jesus. There must be no shift in this belief. There must be no moving. If we move from this, we cease to be Christians. Stand firmly. Be unmovable on this.
We must stand firmly on the knowledge and experience of God’s sovereignty over the world, in spite of how things can appear. This is a doctrine that we often say we believe but we don’t live like we believe it. We must not shift from this or we are on a slippery slope that leads to some places you don’t want to be – like in a church history text book under the topic heading ‘heretic’. If God is not sovereign, then he is not in control. Then was the means by which we are saved merely a mistake of a fumbling failure of a Lord? Perhaps Jacob’s shift from arrogant and proud to Israel – still messy, but at least trying – was simply the result of a self help book? God is sovereign. This cannot be shaken, just as God cannot.
We must stand firmly in the belief that without God’s help we are helpless. We are, as Calvin so famously put it, totally depraved until God moves in our lives by the Holy Spirit to bring us out of the darkness and into the light. We cannot save ourselves. We are incapable of it. This is an offensive word in this world. But it is true. We are sinners. We need grace.
But then, what is movable? Am I taking back my post about liturgy? No. I’m not. Why? Because God gave us liturgy to help us engage with him. But read that post if you’re interested. I do think, though, that the movable items within church are the HOW questions, and not the why. Andy Stanley put it well when he spoke about how our mission does not and cannot change, but the method can and should. There are mega churches that work well because that is how they should work. There are churches that are unstructured and take place around dinner tables and that is just as good as the mega church.
I want to assert that if we are to face this changing social climate, we must flexible in our practice and immovable on our beliefs. I want to assert that the how is up for grabs but the why is set in the Cornerstone. I want to say that God is sovereign and will continue working through His people… but that if we are to effectively live out the call, we must shift.
We must be willing to move when it is necessary.
We must be firmly standing on that which makes us who and what we are.
Anyone smarter than me got some thoughts on what Giddens had to say?