Have you ever had to change your mind, your plans? It happens. In our family it is normally a phone call that changes everything. My car broke down, can you come get me? Someone got sick, can you help? There’s been an accident, we need help. My wife, Donna, and I often start a day saying to each other, “here’s what we think we’ll be doing today, unless the phone rings.” Most of the time it’s temporary, but sometimes it’s life-changing. When it is life-changing, like the death of a loved one, you have to change your way of thinking, your plans, because now life is different.
Just as in our personal lives, so also in the church it happens. Not often, but it happens. I’ve had to bury four pastors who were in the pulpit one week but in heaven the next. All of them were sudden and unplanned. Both in the local church and in the universal church there were also some times of traumatic change that necessitated a change of thinking and a change of plans.
Within the first two generations of the church in Turkey (Asia Minor) seven churches needed a direct word from the Founder of the church, the Bridegroom to which the church was betrothed, to think about what they were doing, and, in six out of seven cases, change, reset what they were doing, or else. We find them identified in Revelation 2 & 3.
The Western Church spent 1,000 years narrowing its scope and focus away from Jesus Christ, the founder of the church, towards themselves, their leadership, and their power. It took a man studying law at the University in Erfurt who had a near death experience to rattle the chains of the church and reset the focus of the church back onto what the Bible says and of whom it speaks, Jesus Christ. Those involved in the Reformation, such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and others, transformed for many the form of the church so that its foundational elements of faith, grace, the authority of the Word of God, and the transforming power of Jesus Christ to the Glory of God alone would permeate and reset the church back to what its Founder intended. But it wasn’t easy, and it was messy.
Our own founding fathers in the late 1850’s had to leave the church they loved because it had wandered from its purpose and imposed legalistic standards that had no foundation in Scriptures, and so our brethren reset the forms of the church based upon God’s Word and not the words of a bishop or others in ecclesiastical authority. It was painful and disruptive, but it had to be done.
Within my lifetime, our dependence upon the word of God caused us to reset our theological understanding so that we could and would be true to the Bible, unified in the essentials of the faith, while giving grace in lesser areas. The resetting of our theological emphasis cost us some church members who did not concur, but not one local church removed its affiliation with us, something which is unique in American church history. Nevertheless, the loss of those broken relationships continues to sadden us as life is different without them being a part of us.
And now we deal with the aftermaths of Covid. Now it’s masks and vaccines. Handshakes and hugs have been replaced by waves and air hugs, no touching allowed. Some of our members have left our churches because we have either allowed or forbade these newest forms of legalistic standards. Friendships have dissolved because we are either cautious or careless in our conduct. So now we have to change, to reset our thinking. Why are we here, what are we supposed to be doing, and what needs to be accomplished in order to fulfill our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ are questions we need to answer individually and as a local body of believers.
The phone rang. Life is different. We all have to reset our lives in order to deal with the new realities that exist. We are not the first people who have ever had to deal with change. So let’s do what the writer of Hebrews wrote to people who needed to reset their thinking as he wrote, let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith… strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs us and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled. (Heb 12:2, 14-15).
Let us reset our thinking, and let us consider how, in this changed world, we must make disciples of Jesus Christ, and do so without offense.