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  • July 11, 2014 - Reflections

    By Jean S. Horner
    The other day while walking down a corridor in a public building, I saw what appeared to be someone walking toward me. On coming closer, I found it was my own reflection in a huge mirror. For a moment it frightened me. Somehow a full-length reflection of one’s self is a startling thing. ...

The Rearview Mirror Syndrome

By Everett Stenhouse
May 12, 2013

'The times they are a-changin.'

So go the lyrics of a popular song of the 1960s. It was true then, and it is true now.

Gazing into the rearview mirror offers a fleeting perspective. It reflects the landscape of where we have been but tells us little about where we are going. There are times when the backward view is rewarded with beneficial information. However, looking back has limited value and can be hazardous. In politics, business, medicine and the church world, as well, looking forward is the first step toward success.

The Message paraphrases the words of Jesus on the cost of discipleship: “No procrastination. No backward looks. You can’t put God’s kingdom off till tomorrow. Seize the day” (Luke 9:62).

In the church world, there seems to be a timeless tendency to move ever so slowly forward while gazing in the rearview mirror. Religious institutions following that practice have dissipated their mission and become lethargic so that movement of any kind is extremely painful. Beautiful cathedrals all over the world give testimony to tradition without contemporary meaning. The people frequenting their doors are mostly tourists looking upon religious relics.

As King David surrounded himself with men he felt could contribute to the strength of his administration, there were among those submitting to his kingship 200 men of Issachar who are described as men “who understood the times” and knew how to react to them (see 1 Chronicles 12:23,32).

What can followers of Christ do to relate to today’s changing culture? We could rail against it, but that would not change it. We could ignore it and conduct our spiritual life inside a holy cocoon, but that would be a contradiction to the command of the Master when He told us to “go into all the world” (Mark 16:15). What are the church’s options?

Our changeless Christ died for a changing world.

Yesterday is gone forever. Accepting change is difficult and painful for some. An ancient proverb says simply, “There is no road back.” To comprehend and accept that fact can alleviate many frustrations.

Think of the changes that have occurred in our lifetimes. When Alice and I were newlyweds, there were basically two loaves of bread sold in the market — a small (for 8 cents) and a large (for 12 cents). Gasoline cost 19 cents a gallon. A new Chevy Powerglide cost $2,100. Would we wish to return to those times? I think not. They were good days, but there were also liabilities and disadvantages. Those prices were good, but we had to do it on $32 a week.

God has blessed us with beautiful church buildings today. My early memories of church were shaped in a storefront building in Montebello, ?Calif., where we sat on wooden benches (not pews) fastened to concrete floors. Certainly, I have wonderful memories of those days, but would we wish them back? Not likely. As Mark Twain once said, “Distance lends enchantment to the view.”

The longing to return to some yesteryear frequently surfaces. We cannot do that because, indeed, there is no road back. Rather, as we reflect on the past and consider the present with an eye to the future, we rejoice in knowing Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. Societal and cultural changes that have occurred in our lifetimes have not altered in any way the glorious truth that He is the great I AM; then, now, and forever!

The Church has always had a holy tolerance for cultural change.

In every age, people and groups have struggled to hold and nurture cherished traditions. History shows such struggles to be futile. When traditions do survive, the passing of time often renders them meaningless simply because the purpose for such traditions fades and they become inconsequential.

However, to be reconciled to cultural and societal changes does not suggest approval or endorsement. Indeed, Jesus himself said He loved the world and gave himself for it. In His prayer for His disciples, He also said, “They are not of the world any more than I am of the world” (John 17:14, NIV). The Great Commission of the Master was to “go into all the world.” The “world” meaning the world as it is, with all its wickedness and designs against righteousness. That is the world! Accepting societal and cultural changes must be a part of the church’s strategy for penetrating our world with the gospel, whatever and wherever that world is.

Discussing with a fellow minister the life and ministry of Alexander Whyte in Edinburgh, Scotland, I mentioned that history records Whyte packed the Free St. George’s sanctuary Sunday morning and evening for 20 years with his powerful preaching. My brother minister asked if I thought Whyte could do it now with today’s distracting technology. Good question. Whyte ministered effectively to his generation, and we can minister effectively to ours only by reaching people where they are and how they are. The first rule in effective communication is to speak to people where they are, not where we want them to be.

Inevitable change vs. immutable truth

Some things must not change. Some things cannot change. God thundered through the prophet Malachi, “I am the Lord; I do not change!” (Malachi 3:6, NKJV).

Truth is inflexible. We may, of necessity and with a heavy heart, make some adaptations to cultural fluctuations and societal transitions. However, we must continue to be a stonewall of faith when it comes to God’s imperishable truths. There is a vast difference between cultural changes and God’s eternal verities.

Questions arise as to where to draw the line between culture and Calvary, between society and the Savior. Our Lord made it crystal clear He loved the world and willingly died for all the world. He also made it clear to His disciples and us through His Word that He was not of this world and we are not of this world.

While we must be tolerant of a mutating culture, we cannot accept mutating truth. There is no such thing. It is a contradiction. Truth does not mutate. The gospel the apostle Paul, our ancestors through church history, and our fathers in recent decades preached is the same gospel we must proclaim without vacillation.

Our shifting culture screams for accommodation. There can be none! We must stand on the same ground where Paul stood when he cried against godlessness and the wickedness of man as he declared, “They exchanged the truth about God for a lie” (Romans 1:25, NIV). May God preserve our church from bending to accommodate our culture by exchanging the truth of God for a lie.

Glancing at our rearview mirror, as a church, we are humbled as we see the landscape behind us. The Lord has abundantly blessed the efforts of the Assemblies of God to carry this wonderful gospel to the ends of the earth. He has allowed us to build some of the most beautiful facilities in the land. He has allowed our Fellowship to show phenomenal growth. He has given us favor in large circles.

However, all of these accomplishments have come to us at great cost. Many pioneer ministers have been buried on foreign soil where their hearts have bled for the lost. What privileges have been accorded us, and what weighty responsibilities accompany those privileges!

We can see change. It surrounds us. We accept cultural change that is beyond our frail attempts to right our world. However, we will not sacrifice the unchanging truths of the eternal Word to accommodate those cultural developments.

May we always maintain this balance. History testifies that churches suffer greatly when they begin to live by what they see in the rearview mirror. No backward looks! Seize the day!

EVERETT STENHOUSE served as assistant general superintendent of the Assemblies of God from 1986 to 1993.



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