Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Changeolatry


A hundred years after G.K. Chesterton's appeal from his timeless work Orthodoxy that it is the world, not our vision, that we should be changing, we're being bombarded by the word "change" and told it is we that must do the changing. "Change" has become a kind of god to be served on secular and Christian altars alike.

Of course, this is an election year, and the appeal to "change" is a way to sell us on the less-experienced candidate (in this case, Barack Obama) - which is always amusing, for when the same candidate, who runs on the need for "change", wins his election and gets comfy in his job, he will inevitably later run for re-election taking the opposite tack, playing the "experience" card. The washed-up Clintons have been hoist on their own petards by initially selling themselves as the bringers of salutary "change", portraying themselves as the "cool" personifications of youth. But now, bearing the inevitable marks of age, have had to repudiate this concept in favor of "experience" as a way to sell themselves. Obviously, the strategy didn't pay off for them this time. Especially not in the culture of change-worship that they worked so hard to foster.

Of course, this election is no different, and both sides are spinning their propaganda like Charlotte working feverishly to save Wilbur's bacon.

However, there is something deeper, even sinister, about the mantra "change." "Change" as a strategy doesn't really belong to the realm of the politician - he's only borrowing it from the marketer. For the salesman, in order to "close the deal," depends on change-appeal to separate the client from his money.

For example, if you take care of your clothing, it should well last you ten or fifteen years - maybe even longer. But if everyone were to hang on to their duds that long, the apparel industry would collapse. So, this calls for creating a culture of "fashion" - that just so happens to render perfectly good clothing obsolete long before the stitches and buttons begin to fail, even as rapidly as quarterly.

The same is true for automobiles. A car that is three years old, argues the salesman, is out of date and in need of a trade-in. For who would want to be seen in an older model car? People might begin to talk...

Hence the concept of "style." Clothing, cars, gadgets, home decor, haircuts, and music - especially in the realm of the "popular" - must change rapidly to keep the production line humming. And it is the ad-man's job to make sure the consumers buy into the need to purchase new widgets to replace the "old" - which is increasingly not chronologically old at all. The marketers are in the business of mandating (or at least directing) what is "cool" and what is "uncool."

The entire capitalist model of economics is based on the increasingly quickening pace of change and the perceived need not to be seen as outmoded. This desire to be perceived as young - especially by the Peter Pan-like baby-boom generation - has been like rocket fuel to the economy. In with the new, out with the old. In fact, it is becoming harder to find such people as craftsmen who perform maintenance on clocks and watches, TV repairmen, shoe repairmen, or any other such fields devoted to keeping things working for a longer time. Instead, we are increasingly a throw-away consumer culture that is less and less attached to things of the past.

And notice that all of this is driven by the culture of change.

People have come to expect change for change's sake. Not changing is seen as "boring." Rapid change is seen as "exciting." Perhaps this contributes to the rapidly climbing divorce rate. Perhaps this is why politicians, even those who run on "family values" can cheat on their wives with younger women, marry their mistresses ("trophy wives"), and carry on in public life courting the Christian vote and touting themselves as honorable with really no fallout to speak of. "Trading in" is simply our way of life. It is "change that we believe in" like a god.

The cry for "change, change" has resulted in a change in the very definition of marriage in many jurisdictions in the U.S. The push for change has created pressure for even venerable and respectable institutions to engage in marketing and shameless promotion, promising "change!" with the desperation of the TV ad proclaiming that today's laundry soap is "new and improved!" because of "bluing for extra whiteness" or some such. "Throw out that old box," the commercial implores by implication, "and run out and buy a new one" - lest your shirts lack the whiteness of the Joneses, who are using the "new and improved" Tide.

One venerable institution caught up in the tide of "change" is the Christian Church.

Dating back to the social upheavals of the 1960s (the "youth culture," oral contraception, rebellion against traditional values, etc.) and the change-embracing Second Vatican Council, the Christian Church has been on a harsh trajectory of change now for nearly a half century, and this has given us the mainstreaming of many radical changes in the Church: higher critical biblical scholarship, ecumenism apart from doctrine, women's ordination, a normalization of homosexuality, rejection of ancient liturgical forms, the shift to church services as entertainment, a consumer culture in the church, a push for slogans and branding, a materialistic and faddish "christian pop culture," an increased monitoring of numbers (and measuring success based on those numbers) by church leaders (who prefer the moniker "executives"), a desire to make Christianity (which is, by definition, countercultural) into something "cool" (especially in accordance with the "youth culture"), and the shift from the pastor being the shepherd of the congregation with the vocation of giving pastoral care using the means of grace, towards an emphasis on being a facilitator, cheerleader, or CEO in a business model of organization - seeing himself as a businessman with a product to sell instead of a preacher with a Savior to proclaim.

There is an increasing secularization of the Church - which brings with it the baggage of marketing. And that marketing is impossible without joining the world's chorus of "change for change's sake" - not only driving a wedge between style (lex orandi) and substance (lex credendi), but actually downplaying doctrine for the sake of popular appeal. This is precisely why churches - even in the once-conservative Missouri Synod - are being pushed by their own leadership ("executives") into abandoning tradition (from the Latin: "traditio" from "trado" - to hand over) in favor of mass-marketing and entertainment.

As the synodical president has said in his oft-repeated slogan: "This is not your grandfather's church."

This explains the proliferation of not only megachurches and "contemporary" services, but also niche congregations that seek only certain segments of the population, such as the young, or those who like heavy-metal music, or those who connect with coffee-shop culture. This explains why the cookie-cutter "emergent" model is being pushed from above (the corporate headquarters) - an approach to "doing church" that features pop music, a rejection of clerical vestments and traditional church architecture, a desire to appeal to pop culture, and a downplaying of the mysterious working of the holy sacraments ("emerging" churches within the LCMS will defend their infrequent communion by an appeal to the number of visitors who attend their entertaining services).

We are a church at war with our ancestors.

Some change is indeed good. Changing diapers is good. Changing clothing is good. Changing one's mind (metanoia) about sin when being convicted of the law is good. But we need to remember that God does not change:
  • Ps 102:27 - "But You are the same, And Your years will have no end."
  • Mal 3:6 - "For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob."
  • Jas 1:17 - "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning."
Nor has our need for a Savior changed. Although this runs contrary to the dominant paradigm of progressivism, contemporary mankind is not more enlightened or less sinful than Adam and Eve. Nor does the Church retain the right to change her received doctrine, for she confesses to be "apostolic," preaching the same Gospel as the holy apostles. Even St. Paul, himself an apostle, understands the importance of the tradition he himself received from the other apostles:

1 Cor 11:23-24 - "For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered [Latin: trádidi, from "trado"] to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed [Latin: tradebátur, from "trado"] took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”

In spite of a culture that hates tradition, the Church is not the Church without it. The Gospel has been "traditioned" to us, one link in the chain at a time, by our pastors, by our parents, by confessors, by witnesses, by Christians from the past two millennia who have faithfully avoided change and kept intact the unchanging catholic and apostolic faith of Holy Scripture, which is the unchanging Word of the immutable God.

My own ecclesiastical district has been rigorously advocating an agenda of change over the past couple years. Almost every communication that comes from our district involves explicit pushes and shoves to "change" - to abandon our traditions, to embrace popular culture, to follow in the footsteps of the latest "gurus" and the trendiest religious fads. Our district has subscribed to an ecumenical Protestant publication (The Parish Paper) that is sent to every parish pastor with copyright permission (and encouragement) to reprint it in church newsletters and the like (though, as far as I can tell, I'm not permitted to reproduce it electronically here). I do not know whether or not these publications are subjected to doctrinal review - though I suspect it hardly matters.

According to Rev. Herb Miller, one of the co-editors (a United Methodist minister), the publication "is ecumenical in the broadest sense of that term, although due to their membership size in comparison to other denominations, the largest percentage of its readers are in seven large mainline denominations: Episcopal, United Church of Christ, Presbyterian, United Methodist, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), American (Northern) Baptists, and Lutheran (ELCA)" and "relies on information derived from sociological research and on-site congregational consulting. It focuses on publishing practical insights and methods that transcend denominational and theological viewpoints and assist clergy and lay leaders of congregations in their efforts to equip and lead congregations toward greater effectiveness."

The editors include Miller, as well as a Disciples of Christ minister named Lyle Schaller, and a lay sociology professor from the Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) named Dr. Cynthia Woolever. Here are a few Amazon links: books by Lyle Schaller, books by Herb Miller (of course, this is a more common name, so all of these may not be by the same author), and books by Cynthia Woolever).

As you can see, their works really deal much more with organization and managerial science than anything specific to Christ's Church. The implication is that pastoring a church is no different than being the branch manager of a bank, the president of a stamp collecting club, or the captain of a bowling team. There seems to be no faith in the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith, but rather faith in sociological and business models of organizational success. And that is definitely a change from the teachings of our Lord and of the apostles.

I find it interesting that the Southern District has chosen to send this publication to all of the churches for publication. I believe this is the only sort of publication to which the District subscribes and encourages us to reprint in our newsletters. Of course, the typical issue of The Parish Paper deals with "church growth" and managing "change" - with the implication that we need to change what we are doing - especially in our Divine Services - in order to be "effective."

In the latest issue of The Parish Paper, which is a two-page publication, the word "change" appears 32 times, and the word "changes" shows up 6 times. The words "Jesus," "Christ," and even "God" are nowehere to be found! Nor is there a single citation from the Word of God. Not even one.

I don't blame the editors of The Parish Paper for their approach. They come from more liberal mainline "traditions" (pun intended) within the Christian Church that have a very different understanding of worship and the Divine Service than we Lutherans do.

But one would hope that Lutheran leaders would understand that by turning their guns on tradition and embracing "change" they are really pushing away the Way of the Apostles (which is the Way of our Lord) in favor of the Madison Avenue of the marketing executives.

As Chesterton noted a century ago, it is not the Church's calling to change in order to conform to the world, but rather to call the world to change, to repent, to conform itself to our Lord.

Now that would be "change we can believe in."

5 comments:

Past Elder said...

Another excellent post.

A few more of these, and I'll change my blog's name to "Father Hollywood said ..."

I'm glad you mentioned Vatican II as part of the culture of change. I think this is precisely where those of us on the liturgical side of the fence are shooting ourselves in the foot.

The butts in the pew do not share the training and education of the man in the pulpit or at the altar or bogging as a blackbird, so zu sagen. Even the laity out here blogging about this stuff are not exactly typical of the other butts in the pew.

When one presents liturgy in terms of a book that sports five different "settings" for the liturgy, each of them with internal options to boot, two lectionaries, one labelled "historic" and the other from the 1960s, two calendars, etc -- why should the butt in the pew NOT think worship is all about change and options and what works in terms of people going for it or not, and why should that process stop at the covers of a book?

If 1960s Rome can be given equal ground with the historic liturgy of the catholic church, then why not Saddleback, Willow Creek or Lakewood?

Past Elder said...

IOW, we no less than they have crafted "contemporary worship". The only difference is in the sources, not the mentality.

Neither zealously guards and defends the mass. A contemporary cut and paste from ancient or historic sources is not itself an ancient or historic source zealously guarded and defended.

+ Robert Wurst said...

Ah, the "Parish Paper." We had that rag pushed on us in the Indiana District some years ago. I protested it to the DP, etc. but to no avail. So, like most of the paper that comes from above, it quickly made its way to the recycler.

We are a thoroughly American church. Loehe warned us.

BTW, glad to hear that the Lord has kept you warm and dry. :)

Todd Wilken said...

Some years ago, in the SID, The Parish Paper was sent out in the official district mailing every month.

Ironic, all three denominations represented by the publication's contributors (UMC, PCUSA and DOC) have fallen in membership some 30% over the last 30 years.

Never underestimate LCMS Inc.'s love for failed ideas.

TW

God's Guitar Girl said...

If I could only have a dollar for every time I heard the term, "Emerging Church," I could retire at the tender age of 31! While I personally benefitted from the gift of contemporary Christian musicians, I also long for the days of my youth, days when liturgy was sung and actual scripture was being sung or chanted. I feel like we have to water down our traditions because they're not "user-friendly" to the non-churched, rather than explain to them why we worship in this fashion.

As a lay minister and nearly-professional volunteer in my own church, I'm completely dismayed and disgusted with the mass numbers of people within our own ranks who merely want to hear a "good" sermon and leave church "feeling good." Sunday morning worship is NOT meant to be entertainment for the masses!

Am I the only person who wants to both weep and rejoice when I hear, "This is my body, given for you," or, "This is my blood, shed for you"??? Or am I the only person left who doesn't see communion as a mid-morning snack?!?