Innovation in Our Methods

We started thinking more deeply last week about how Evangelical churches like ours can be prone towards hanging on to “what worked in the past,” and far too unwilling and suspicious of changing our methods to adapt to each new generation of people who need to hear the Gospel. This week, I wish to put forth a solution. It won’t be the perfect one – I’m sure – but my hope is that it will advance the ball down the field and get us to not just identify the problem (as the previous post did) but also get us thinking about what the way forward ought to look like…

The solution is both simple and difficult: we must (1) cling firmly to the never-changing message of the Gospel. This is where our heritage has served us largely well. In our attempts to reach the lost and communicate to the world around us we must never, ever, compromise on the truth and veracity of the Scriptures. We must never be embarrassed by God’s Word, selectively ignoring parts that don’t connect with current readers, or thinking that somehow we are smarter or more advanced than the inspired authors of the Bible.

At the same time we must (2) be innovative, forward-thinking, and always willing to find new ways and methods of communicating and living this unchanging message. We must stop doing church as if we are living in a majority Christian culture, we must stop assuming that our views are the norm in a rapidly changing society that is thoroughly postmodern and increasingly post-Christian. We should look to the past for wisdom, of course, but not let it be a ball and chain that forces us into any certain mold for ministry in the future. Said another way, we need to look further into the past – all the way back to the early church – for our understanding of what ministry ought to be a in a culture that is rapidly looking more and more similar.

If I was to sum up this line of thought it would be that we need to stop being behind the ball, always responding to the culture, always trusting in what used to work and start getting out in front of the problems and issues of our day. We must look around, pray for opportunities, and engage winsomely not just with evangelization, but also in living as a Christian community. Indeed, we will need to learn to embrace the change required to do this.

But that’s the crux, isn’t it? As conservatives, change towards something new is difficult for most of us. After all, we want to conserve what is going well and recover from the past anything that isn’t. But that isn’t the church’s way of building disciples. Instead, our call, as faithful Christians holding to the unchanging Word, is to follow in the footsteps of Christ Himself, who certainly did ministry in a radically different way than what those in the culture were used to. Christ held to the truths of the Old Testament – fulfilling them! – all the while ministering in unique and varied ways to those who were being overlooked, ostracized, and cast out by the established religious authorities who valued tradition over faithfulness. You see this same innovative-yet-faithful streak in Paul, Peter, and so many others in the early church. Why shouldn’t it be seen in the church now? In ordinary but faithful Christians today?

Dear brothers and sisters: pray that the Lord would use us in this day and age. That He would make us flexible, willing to try new methods of sharing the unchanging truth. Ask the Lord to give you a passionate desire to find ways of training up new generations of disciples now, reaching them right where they are at here in the present, rather than expecting them to meet the ideas or have the same questions as those in previous generations. The change needs to start first with us, in our hearts, and then flow out to the watching, waiting world around us. And by God’s grace, that is exactly what will happen as we seek to wisely communicate to the world around us that the Lord is unchanging and unchanged, that His Word stands forever, and that all who trust in Christ shall be saved.

Daniel 6 The Savior Who Protects His People

The Savior Who Protects His People – Daniel 6:1-28

6:1-5 Daniel has had a government job for some time now, and here we find that he has been appointed to a group of three who are tasked with overseeing the regional governors of the kingdom. As human nature might cause us to expect, the other two administrators become jealous of Daniel and seek to find some way to condemn him. But, on account of Daniel’s character and faithfulness to the Lord, they are unable to dig up any corruption or laziness. Instead, they focus their efforts on his religion.

6:6-16 They convince Darius to foolishly pass a law that all worship is only to be offered to the king during the next month. Daniel, however, continues his regular pattern of setting aside all other responsibilities so that he can pray three times daily. It is during one of these times that he is caught by a group led by the jealous administrators. Daniel is arrested, even though Darius tries in vain to spare him from the impending punishment. Eventually, seeing no other choice, Darius condemns Daniel to death and has him thrown into the lion’s den.

6:17-24 A stone is placed over the den so that Daniel cannot escape. Here is where we start to notice a number of parallels between Daniel and Christ. When morning comes, Darius hurries to the den, only to find Daniel safe and sound. He orders Daniel released and – instead – the wicked administrators and their families to suffer the punishment.

6:25-28 All of this leads to a remarkable decree by Darius that points us towards the truth of the God that we serve: we are to worship the Lord who saves, the God who lives forever, the Almighty whose kingdom shall not be destroyed and who rescues His people. This is our God! And Christ is our Lord!

Daniel 5 The Emptiness of Idolatry

The Emptiness of Idolatry – Daniel 5:1-31

5:1-4 There has been a change in leadership from chapter 4: now it is Nebuchadnezzar’s son Belshazzar who is leading the kingdom. We are not told much of him – perhaps because he hasn’t done much worthy of note – other than he wants to impress the nobles of Babylon by holding lavish parties that seem to make a mockery of the people of God.

5:5-12 During one such party, everything comes to a halt as mysterious fingers appear and begin to form words on the wall of the palace. The king is alarmed by this and immediately summons his wise men to make sense of the words and what they mean. Here and elsewhere in the chapter, we start to see a number of parallels between this incident and the dreams of Nebuchadnezzar in chapters 2 and 4. Just like in those chapters, the “wise men” of Babylon can’t make heads or tails of the writing on the wall; and this in spite of the fact that it was in a language they knew. Similarly with his father, Belshazzar has to call in an Israelite – Daniel – because only he can interpret the handwriting.

5:13-23 Unlike in the previous stories, this time Daniel takes a different tack: he reminds Belshazzar that he doesn’t even begin to compare to his father and that he should have learned the lessons of Nebuchadnezzar’s humiliation.

5:24-31 The judgment, therefore, is that Belshazzar’s days have been numbered, he has been weighed and found wanting, and the kingdom of Babylon shall be divided – just as was prophesied in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in chapter 2. Belshazzar then dies that night.

Conclusion: Idols and earthly power will not save anyone. We must worship Christ alone, He is where eternal life is found.

Daniel 4 He Humbles the Proud

He Humbles the Proud – Daniel 4:1-37

4:1-18 The chapter is a record of an address made by King Nebuchadnezzar. He retells the story of a dream that made him very afraid. None of his advisors could discern the meaning of this dream, so Daniel is sent for.

4:19-27 Daniel – much like in chapter 2 – is able to show the meaning of the dream because God is using him. The dream itself is fairly straightforward: it is a picture of the rise of Nebuchadnezzar, perhaps the most powerful person in the world at that time. But it is also a dream of coming judgment: the One True God would fell Nebuchadnezzar like any common tree – only a stump would remain. All the power and wealth he had amassed for himself would come to nothing. Quite literally, his pride would be his downfall. At the end of the interpretation, Daniel calls upon Nebuchadnezzar to repent.

4:28-33 Neb’s response isn’t recorded, but it must not have been faithful. We fast forward about a year and find him having the same prideful thoughts and attitudes. Immediately, God fulfills the judgment against the king: he is driven from the kingdom, he becomes like an animal, and he lives a feral life until such time as he finally repents.

4:34-37 Once the truth and power of God finally becomes apparent to Nebuchadnezzar, he lifts his eyes to heaven in a display of humility and trust. At this, the Lord restores him.

Conclusion: The Lord is God, we are not. Whatever rebellious pride we hold on to, we must admit it, war against it, and enjoy the forgiveness of the Lord. In doing so, we will see that true strength comes from humility, just as is perfectly fulfilled in Christ Jesus.