Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Romans 12:12


Timely Words on Being Timely (Part 1)

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” Eph. 5:15-16

You’ve probably heard it said that the church must change or it will die.  The church must get with the times if it is to be any good to any one.  It is the oft-repeated refrain of the former Episcopalian Bishop John Shelby Spong.  Indeed, he went even further when he opined: When knowledge collides with traditional faith change is inevitable. I welcome it and if the church cannot engage this intellectually driven change, then it probably should die. (Let the reader understand – What he is saying is that Faith does not involve intellect or reason, but is something less!)

Sadly, desire for change – for change’s sake – is not the  sole intellectual property of radicals like bishop Spong, you can frequently hear murmurs of the same idea even within our own congregations, by well-meaning but misinformed individuals.  Would it surprise you to know that the current desire to be timely and contemporary within the church is neither timely nor contemporary?  Consider this gem written by Rev. H.C. Schwan (LCMS President) over 120 years ago.

Does the circumspection, the wisdom, the redeeming of time to which [Paul] exhorts us, perhaps consist in this, that we in word and deed avoid each and everything that is not timely, that does not agree with the spirit of the times, even though in every other respect, it be ever so correct, wholesome, and neccesary? Are we here perhaps told always to go with the times in such a manner that we never need swim upstream? Many seem to think so. There is always an unthinking group that permits itself to be blown to and fro by all kinds of doctrinal winds, as a feather is blown about by air currents. This group always falls all over itself adopting innovations, as though the most modern were always the best. There are also the ever-changing weather vanes and the limber-necks pedagogues and preachers who with delicate noses smell the direction of the wind, who are adept at twisting and turning with every change, and who under the pretense of offering newly discovered and original truths, yet preach only that for which the ears of the people itch. There are also the religious politicians, great and small, who never ask “What is true?” or “What does Scripture say?” but only ask, “What is up to date?” “What will bring results?”

What about it? Can that be Paul’s meaning? Is it possible that he really valued the times so highly that one need only go with the stream to reach the right destination?  Impossible! For in cut-and-dried words he says here, “The days are evil.” Well then, didn’t he at least think it permissible in times of danger to speak as others would have you speak instead of confessing the truth? Far be this from the apostle who says, “If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ”. Far be such a thing from the apostle who was unafraid to curse any angel who might preach another gospel than that which had been committed to him [Paul].

Truth doesn’t change with the times (despite what so many will try to tell you).  God’s truth in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  There is nothing more relevant, contemporary, or timely than the call for repentance, the offer of grace, and the Good News of sins forgiven in Jesus Christ.  It was true 120 years ago, and it is true still today.  If the church needs to change anything at all, perhaps it is her exalted view of the times, instead of the Scriptures. Newer is not always better, and getting with the times does not always (usually) mean getting it right!

Quote from: On Preserving Unity while Avoiding Either Faddishness or Sluggishness 1890 Synodical Address by H.C. Schwan, Translated by Everette Meier. At Home in the House of My Fathers. Matthew C. Harrison, Lutheran Legacy,2009.  p. 542.