So, You want to be Contemporary?
Donald L. Norbie, Greeley, Colorado, USA [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
EDITOR’S NOTE: Is all change good? It is hoped that this article will help us to consider what is worldly and therefore inappropri-ate in the context of the spiritual.
Society and culture seem to be in a process of constant change. To be contemporary and in step with the times is almost to be dated, because very soon change will come, especially in a culture which denies absolute truth and believes all is relative. Styles of clothing change from season to season. Advertising and sales feed on change. The message is that one must keep up with the times and the latest trends. To appear old-fashioned is a cardinal sin. But, is all change good?
Many such changes may be largely cosmetic, but who wants to drive a car that looks old? Ethical values are changing, fuelled by a philosophy of relativism. Society used to frown on divorce; marriage was honourable and should be preserved. A sexual liaison outside of marriage was condemned. Abortion and homosexuality were viewed as criminal acts. That which was once abhorred by decent society is now accepted and legal. Similarly, churches are under pressure to change and to become contemporary.
The roles of men and women are being changed. Women are now being ordained as ministers and priests. Some parts of Christendom are even ordaining homo-sexuals and lesbians to be their spiritual leaders. Music is changing; many churches now have disposed of their hymn books and sing choruses and catchy ditties, accompanied by ‘contemporary music’ and a rock band. It is felt that to attract people a church must become flexible, flowing with the tide of contemporary thought and practice. But, is all change bad?
Ahaz became a king in the southern kingdom of Judah about 735 BC, reigning in Jerusalem near the temple of the Lord. ‘He . . . reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem and did not that which was right in the sight of the Lord his God, like David his father’, 2 Kgs. 16. 2. He chose idolatry and the vile customs of the heathen around him, even to the abominable practice of child sacrifice. Yet, he still wanted to worship in the temple and be religious. He was surely open to being contemporary and in step with the times. Ahaz went to Damascus to meet with Tiglath-Pileser, king of Assyria, a rising world power. While there, he saw an altar that caught his eye; it was beautiful and more up-to-date than the altar in the Lord’s temple. After all, that altar was more than 200 years old, hardly contemporary! ‘And King Ahaz sent to Urijah the priest the design of the altar and its pattern according to all its workmanship. Then Urijah the priest built an altar according to all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus’, 2 Kgs. 16. 10-11 NKJV.
Ahaz now began to worship at the new altar. He still kept the old altar, but moved it aside. The new altar was now the one used for sacrifice and offering; it was the centre of attention. The old altar was still kept as a museum piece, a memento of the past, but it was no longer functioning. He also made other modifications to the laver and the items used in worship. He was determined to modernize things!
It is instructive to read the divine view of this activity. God pleaded with His people through the prophets, ‘Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments and My statutes, according to all the law which I commanded your fathers’, 2 Kgs. 17. 13 NKJV. Yet they persisted in their rebellion against the Lord and God finally judged them. In time, both the northern and southern kingdoms were destroyed.
One might wonder, what does this have to do with the churches today? The human heart is the same and there is always the desire to fit in with the world, to be modern and contemporary. The world has its altars and religions but our God has laid out a different path for His people. The standard for our worship, ethics and life-style is not to be contemporary society. The church is to be different, to be salt in a decaying culture, to be light in a world of moral darkness.
God is unchangeable and His word reflects His immutable character. Let believers then look to God’s word for guidance and direction in life. The moral conduct God desires is the same in every age. Abortion is always wrong; sex outside marriage is sin. Sexual perversion in its varied forms is always an abomination to God; it is contrary to nature, Rom. 1. 26-27.
God is holy and He desires His people to be holy. His instructions for the churches are ‘the commandments of the Lord’, 1 Cor. 14. 37. The different roles of the sexes are clearly laid out, 1 Cor. 14; 1 Tim. 2. The apostolic churches emphasized four activities in their meetings: teaching, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayer, Acts 2. 42. Like the four legs of a chair, they are all needed for strength and stability!
The Lord’s Supper must have a central place with opportunity for brethren to lead God’s people in worship, functioning as priests in God’s assembly, 1 Pet. 2. 5. The early churches also emphasized the preaching and teaching of God’s word. Good teaching will inform people about the nature of God, the blessings of salvation and the character God desires in His people. From teaching will flow fellowship, times of rich, fervent worship, praise, and earnest prayer. Good teaching will be followed by exhortation to obey God’s word. How important that the churches stress the need for teaching!
It is not always a good sign if an assembly decides to organize the time, appointing men to take part. It can be an indication of spiritual deadness. Some have now rele-gated ‘worship time’ to a few minutes at the close of the preaching service. Where is the exercise of heart on the part of God’s people? Is the clergy system coming into assemblies in some areas? People expect a church to have a ‘pastor’ and will be attracted to such a group. The question is asked: shouldn’t we conform to the successful churches with large congrega-tions? We might call them ‘pastor’, ‘resident worker’, or ‘teaching elder’ but the work is the same. Is it a confession of spiritual laziness on the part of the saints?
Ahaz chose to modify the worship of God in the temple. He was impressed with the contemporary worship around Israel. As companies of God’s people, we need to get back to the scriptures and to seek to emulate the fervency and simplicity of the early churches. This is not to advocate human tradition, which can be equally deadening, but there must always be a fresh study of God’s word and an eager submission to it. Beware of becoming contemporary; it will soon become outdated. God states, ‘But on this one I will look, on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word’, Isa. 66. 2 NKJV.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Donald Norbie is in fellowship with the assembly in Greeley, Colorado, and is a commended full-time worker. A regular contributor to Precious Seed and other assembly magazines his ministry is widely appeciated throughout N. America and the UK.