John Alan Turner

Speaker, Author, Mentor, Coach, Facilitator

Always Changing; Always the Same

I grew up in a church where our primary goal was not to reach the lost or to build up believers. Our primary objective was to try and do things the way they were done in the first century church. We were The Restoration Movement, deeply committed to restoring New Testament Christianity in all its forms.

They did not sing with instruments; we did not sing with instruments.

They participated in Communion every Sunday; we participated in Communion every Sunday.

They wore suits and ties, read the King James Bible and had a Joy Bus ministry; we...well...the whole thing obviously breaks down at some point.

The thing is, this provided a sense of comfort for us. We were so concerned with doing Bible things in Bible ways because that's how we knew for sure we were doing the right things the right ways. And we were pretty sure we had succeeded in accomplishing the full restoration of New Testament church forms sometime in the 1950s. As long as we didn't depart from those prescribed methodologies (which included door knocking, revival meetings [called "campaigns" so as not to be confused with the denominational world's corrupted forms] and Sunday night services) we knew we were the true remnant of true believers. All others were pretenders.

Our understanding of how to be and do church came first; everything else flowed out of that. In theological terms: our ecclesiology informed our missiology. In many ways, this affected the way we read the Bible and the way we thought about and communicated Jesus.

I've been in enough different kinds of churches now to know that we were far from the only ones afflicted with this particular form religiosity. I often joke that not only did we think we were the only ones going to heaven, we were the only ones who thought we thought we were the only ones going to heaven!

Changing the way you did church, changing the forms in any kind of overt way, was considered selling out to culture. It was simply unthinkable. It was a kind of infidelity to biblical standards and norms that would no doubt pave the way for full-on liberalism. Introduce a piano and you'll soon have a KISS concert in the auditorium! Suggest women deacons, and it's just a matter of time before we're inviting lesbians to preach on Sunday morning!

The "slippery slope" argument was frequently invoked in our church.

I have some problems with Frost & Hirsch's book. I think they make some ridiculous overstatements and sometimes demonstrate a level of "Chicken Little", sky-is-falling panic that I don't advocate. But there is a lot in this book to ponder, and sometimes they hit the center of the target with marksmen-like precision. A good example of this is when they say, with remarkable simplicity, "The church is inseparably related to its cultural milieu."

There can be no debating this. Any simple overview of history shows that a local church cannot transcend its culture. It will be impacted by the way people think, process information and view the world. Those factors are often determined -- not by a careful analysis of scripture, but by the way everyone thinks, processes information and views the world in a particular place at a particular time.

Like it or not, we are tied to our culture.

So, with all that as a preface, here's the quote that I'm pondering today:

"In other words, such a church makes its mission its priority and perpetually asks itself, 'What has God called us to be and do in our current cultural context?' The issue of cultural context is essential because the missional church shapes itself to fit that context in order to transform it for the sake of the kingdom of God. By definition, the missional church is always outward looking, always changing (as culture continues to change), and always faithful to the Word of God."

That's the quote; here's the question: Is that even possible? Is it possible to be always changing and still remain faithful to the Bible? And, if so, how?