Friday, March 19, 2010

Of Bayonets and Ministry


Here is a timely message from my good friend, Stephen...shared with his permission...

It was one of my prized possessions for years. Crazy at it seems, in the 6th grade I found a genuine WWII bayonet at a garage sale and bought it. (Makes one wonder what the folks running the garage sale were thinking to let an 11 year old buy a nice, big knife. And what my parents were thinking to let me keep it, assuming they knew I had it. I conveniently can't remember if I hid it from them for a while.) Bayonets go back centuries, almost as long as there have been muskets.

According to an Associated Press story released March 16, 2010, this year the U.S. Army is beginning to drop bayonet drills. Although soldiers are still issued a combat knife that can attach to their automatic rifles, the truth is, the days of the bayonet charge are long gone. Today, soldiers simply don't find themselves in a situation needing them to use their rifles as spears. And yet recruits were still being trained in this irrelevant technique; until, that is, Gen. Hertling, in charge of basic training, decided to drop the drill in favor of combat training recruits would actually use. You might think that teaching soldiers how to fight in situations they will actually encounter, as opposed to methods from several wars ago, is a no-brainer. However, nostalgia and the comfort of the familiar often make people and institutions reticent to adapt to new situations.

Imagine the Old Testament character, Daniel and his friends. The Law of Moses (e.g. Deut. 16) commanded all Israelite males of age to meet at the Tabernacle/Temple three set times a year. However, in Daniel's day, the Temple had been destroyed. He and his friends had been deported to Babylon, no longer free to travel to their conquered homeland. What was a conscientious Jew to do under those circumstances? They adapted to the situation as best they could. There is some evidence that the concept of the synagogue, a weekly gathering of Jews to pray, read Scripture, give alms, sing, has roots in this era, replacing the razed Temple as the center of Jewish life. Psalm 137 is a lament sung by Jewish captives in Babylon over the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. But life needed to go on, faith needed to be maintained and nurtured...they just had to find a different way to do it under their new circumstances.

All of this makes me mindful of the American church. Without question we are in the midst of Spiritual Warfare (2 Cor. 10:3-4; Eph. 6:10-20). But I sometimes wonder if we aren't more like the Army than we are Daniel and friends. As a lover of history and things old, I am as nostalgic as the next person, but sometimes it seems to me we are hanging on to strategies and methods that no longer reflect actual "combat" situations. Oddly, we no longer use mimeograph machines to print our bulletins, or rotary phones to make calls, but we hang on to other methodologies and approaches to ministry from a previous era that no longer speak to the realities of today's church.

We cannot move forward while looking backward, we simply end up stumbling. God-given doctrines we keep. His message does not change. But as the Apostles demonstrated in the book of Acts, methods for communicating that message and for ministry must change to address the local environment. That's what the meeting in Acts 15 was all about--how Jewish did Gentiles need to be to become Christians. The type of ministry and methods employed in the Jerusalem church (see Acts 21:17-26) would have been a church killer in a Gentile context, as Galatians demonstrates. Conversely, the type of ministry and methods done in a Gentile context like Philippi would have done quite poorly in Jerusalem. Compare Paul's evangelistic approach in a synagogue (Acts 13) with that toward a pagan audience in Acts 17. Note what's similar, note what's different.

I love museums. They are among my favorite places to go, much to the annoyance of my children. However, the Lord's Church should not be a museum, preserving the methods and means of the past. God's word is "living and active" (Heb. 4:12), not static and stale; his church needs to be living and active as well. One of the greatest shocks to my system was a tour of the Michigan State Museum. As you worked your way up from the first floor, you went through different eras in the history of the State--the stone age to the automobile age. There were mock ups of various living spaces: Indian dwelling; parlor from the late 1800's; a kitchen from the 1940's; living room from the 50's. It was all fun until we came to the den from the 1970's with items 'purchased' with S&H Green Stamps. Stuff that was new when I was a kid…that I played with…was in a museum! Boy did that make me feel old. But just because my toys and table lamp were in a museum didn't mean I had to live and think like I was back in the 70's. That era is gone. I'm called to live and minister in the here and now. So is the church.

The arrival of the New Covenant was quite a challenge to the people who heard Jesus preach, a significant adjustment for the Jewish people. Jesus once observed that a scribe familiar with the Old Law who became a disciple of the new was like a person who had both old and new treasures at his disposal (Matt. 13:52). We need to learn from the past, look to the future, but live and minister in the present. May God grant us the wisdom to know how to be able to do just this.


Thanks, Stephen.


1 comment:

Kazul said...

Wow..this is VERY good. I tend to prefer tradition, but sometimes tradition keeps young families away from church and our churches die. literally. Thank you for sharing this.