Change is a favorite word for discussions about the state of the Christian Church and consideration of its future. Church “futurists” propose changes to everything from governance and structure to worship and, among some, doctrinal positions. But as church leaders, we are able to discuss this from the context of God’s promises rather than out of fear. This means, first of all, that the future of the Church is an eternal future as our Lord has promised that not even the gates of hell will prevail against it. That does not mean that every congregation will always exist or even the Synod. But we know that the future of the Church does not depend upon the changes we make or refuse to make.
Secondly, the Scriptures make quite clear that while the world is in a constant state of flux, our eternal God does not change. He remains the same while the world seems to continue in its chaotic spiral. What a comfort it its for the younger generations, who have known nothing but constant upgrades and improvements, to learn that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. As we talk about a chaotic and changing world, we proclaim the changeless Christ. We can be sure and certain of His mercies that are new to us every morning. We can face each day with joy and confidence knowing that God does not change.
But there are things that do need to change in our congregations today. It is far more important than a discussion of the color of the carpet or the model of governance. What needs to change in our congregations are the hearts of the members. The Greek word for repentance literally means a change of heart. As Jesus began His public ministry, the frequent refrain in His preaching was “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Our Lord calls the Church of every age to change, namely to turn away from their selfish and prideful ways and return to God in repentance and faith. This is the change that is needed above all others. When we as the people of God assemble together at the cross, imploring His mercy and receiving His grace, the Holy Spirit changes hearts through the Word and the Lord’s Supper.
With changed hearts, we can look to the future without holding on to idols such as buildings and history. Instead, we step out into the changing winds of this world today to proclaim the changeless Christ. We do not change, add or subtract to the Word of God. Rather, our message is the eternal Gospel that is taught in our schools and on our streets, that is announced at the ballpark or the bar, that is shared by parents and pastors, and all of God’s faithful witnesses.
My hope is that the conversations about change would be rooted in the promises of our faithful God. While there are things that we are free to change in the congregations, may we never be swept away by the winds of change in our world today and try to change the message of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. While other church bodies debate whether Jesus is the only way to heaven, may we remain united in our confession of the eternal Gospel and proclaim the message that does not change—Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Fraternally in Christ,
President Lee Hagan