Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Church Must Adapt or Die? Adapt and Die Might Be More Like It

How many times have you heard someone say, "The Church must adapt or die"? I heard it the other day from a member of another denomination, and he was echoed by NBC's David Gregory in a recent interview with Roman Catholic Cardinal Timothy Dolan on "Meet the Press."

"GREGORY: On the issue of same-sex marriage, you said the last time we spoke that you felt the church was being out-marketed. Do you feel that it is-- that views are changing so rapidly that church is going to-- is going to feel the power of that change, it must change if it's going to-- to keep people seeking god through the church?" (From NewsBusters)

  The underlying and often repeated message people hear from society and the media, as expressed by David Gregory, is that the Church had better follow the direction in which society is moving or else. If society is approving of abortion, then the Church must accept abortion or the Church will die. If society is approving of easy divorce and remarriage, then the Church should change its teachings or the Church will die. If society is approving of same-sex marriage, then the Church should bless those marriages as well or the Church will die. Does anyone remember the hue and cry for the ordination of women and how it must happen or "the Church will die"?

Some believe that the reason for the decline of the main-line protestant denominations is that they have failed to adapt to a changing world.

Speaking from the standpoint of someone who has spent a lifetime in a denomination that has for the past 40 years been adapting again and again as it encounters new issues, I would say that "Adapt and die" is what actually happens.

Exhibit A:

There are lesser adaptations than the ones cited above such as "contemporary worship" services, or tambourines both of which should probably be classified as "non-life threatening" mutations that, since they do not confer a survival advantage, are likely to fade away as would any temporary fad or fashion.

Language changes and worldviews change over time, and this will demand different styles and methods of communicating the unchanging Gospel to a changing world. Apologetics must respond to new challenges, but the underlying Gospel must remain something that the human must adapt to and not vice versa.

Exhibit B:
"For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?  If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are."
1 Corinthians 3:11-17 (New King James Version)
There is one form of adaptation that most people fail to think of when they say that the Church must adapt or die, and that is the method historically used by humans when they must adapt to a new environment, and when their bodies will not immediately sprout thick fur or spontaneously grow webbed feet: migration. If the land dries out, they shake the dust from their feet. If the ice sheets advance, people advance a little quicker, and if the land sinks, they sail to new shores. These movements, like changing means of communication are expressly not adaptations that change the basic design of the human.

So maybe the Church should respond in the following manner to those of us who would rather have the Church conform to our personal desires than for us to conform to Jesus' sometimes challenging desires for mankind,
"And whoever will not receive you, when you go out of that city, shake off the very dust from your feet as a testimony against them.” Luke 9:5
Kudos to Cardinal Dolan for going on "Meet the Press" to try to set the news media straight, but it is starting to look like Luke 9:5 time.

Let us pray that the Church will start being welcomed and received in our hearts for what it is and not rejected for what it is not.

When we apply the rule that it is people who have to adapt to the Church by accepting the life changing gift of Christ rather than the Church adapting to society's way, a way which leads to sin and death, then perhaps there does come a time when the Church has to shake the dust from its feet when someone or an entire culture refuses the free gift of God. Thinking in larger terms, perhaps society itself tends to evolve to the point where it will inevitably shut the door on the Gospel. Once we recognize that is happening, then that is the time in which the true otherworldliness of the Church becomes apparent, and the time that the world needs that otherworldliness the most. The Church's mission then returns to its roots: to spread this unbelievable and unacceptable truth to which we are witness and not to be a mere reflection of a dying world... or else,

Exhibit C:
"Take any church on earth, the most renowned for wisdom, the most famous for age, the most apostolic in her government; and we are bold to tell you if that church is unfaithful to the Bridegroom Christ Jesus, if she does not hold forth the light of the pure gospel, if she leaves her first love, if she allows false prophets to teach and seduce, if she becomes lukewarm, and says "I am rich and increased with goods," if she rests content with having a name to live while she is dead, and plumes herself on keeping hold of the truth while she does not witness to it—we are bold to tell you, however long God's mercy may spare her, her candlestick shall sooner or later be removed, for we know this fearful threat has been over and over again made good." ~ J.C. Ryle Tract: The Unchanging Christ


  1. Pewster,
    I did not see the interview but it looks as if Pope Francis has provided another opening for the liberals and Archbishop Dolan was trying to close it. How do you see it?

  2. Dolan was politely trying to say "No, the Church has not changed its teaching and will not change its teaching", but David Gregory would not take no for an answer. Such is the push from society that it will not take no for an answer on these issues. So what is the Church to do?

  3. Pewster,
    Remain steadfast.

  4. I had to smile as I was reading this. The "adapt and die" thought formed in my noggin a few seconds before seeing it on the page. Too, the graph speaks volumes; TEC's lurch towards the bleeding edge of societal evolution coincides with the start of her death dive in 2003.

    Cardinal Dolan is to be commended for his stand for the truth.