A while back, I came across this on Twitter: “The message is sacred but the method can be changed” (quoting Brian Houston, Pastor of Hillsong Church). If I were to paraphrase what I think he is saying, it might be something like, “What God says by His Spirit in the scriptures is unchanging, while human methods obviously change over time because we change over time.”
Methods that made perfect sense in a thirteenth-century medieval body of Christ won’t make as much sense today. We easily make “sacred cows” out of “we’ve always done it that way.” But where, for example, do we get the idea that the main gathering of God’s people week-to-week should happen in a building set-up in rows of seating where one person does most of the talking? Is this how the first Christ-followers gathered? Shouldn’t we at least ask why we do things as a church using the methods we do?
By the way, Shane Hipps suggests in Flickering Pixels: How Techology Shapes Your Faith, “The linear arrangement of pews in churches didn’t exist before the printing press. The medieval church didn’t have pews—just a wide open space for standing. After the printing press, church seating starting to mirror the pages of a book (p. 46-47).” Interesting, isn’t it?
Back to the methods/message question. Does God have anything to say about our methods, or is He only interested in our message? Too often, the statement Houston makes ends up being interpreted as, “We can do ministry any way we want. Old ways are empty. New ways are good. The latest way is best. Methods don’t matter. The message does.” It is this idea that I oppose.
Eugene Peterson’s book The Jesus Way gets underneath the reality that how Jesus did things is just as normative for His followers as what He said. Do our methods echo those of Jesus, or do they sometimes oppose him? Chuck Miller suggests that ‘The Bible is not only our message book, but our method book as well.”
Jesus apparently made it a challenge to join his little band of disciples. Some churches practically bend over backwards to get people to call themselves Christ-followers. Jesus said things that sometimes offended and puzzled people. Some present Christ’s invitation in a way that pleases people and makes them comfortable. Were people who had little interest in following Jesus comfortable around Him? Not really.
I’m certainly not advocating that the direct aim of our lives is to be offensive and stupid. But, if we are actually following Christ, perhaps we wouldn’t be surprised if people responded to us as they did to Him.