April 7, 2008
Today, I rise to announce a new movement. I’ve never tried to start a movement before. I’m not even quite sure how to do it, so I’ll just announce it: It’s the Regressive Movement. We’ve got conservatives, liberals and progressives. Now it’s time for the regressives!
I was thinking the other day about all the times God’s people got “progressive” and came up with new ideas.
There was the time that Israel was transporting the ark of God from the house of Abinadab where it had been stored. Now, God had a proper way to transport the ark, but it was a bit old fashioned. They were told that the ark should be transported on the shoulders of the priests with long rods inserted through rings on the corners of the ark. Well, someone got the idea that there was a better way. Some well-meaning progressives suggested that an ox cart would be much more efficient and faster. So on the ox cart the ark went. The result? Zap! Some guy named Uzza was struck dead. But it seemed like such a good idea—and very progressive.
Then there was old Korah. Great guy with lots of innovative ideas. Korah was thinking in his tent one day about how Moses was handling the affairs of the Children of Israel. He determined that Moses could use some help in the governance of Israel. After all, Moses’ ideas were old fashioned and out-of-date. Korah said that Moses had “taken too much on himself.” Moses was an old dude, with old ideas. Korah was the innovator, the forward thinker. Result? The ground opened and Korah (and those who followed him) disappeared into the abyss.
What about Abraham in his “cutting edge” days? God had made some promises to him and his wife, but it just didn’t seem like God was going to come through. The “old fashioned” way just wasn’t working. Perhaps God could use some help in the form of a woman named Hagar? Well, take a look at this morning’s headlines and see how well that “new” idea worked out! It seems that the seed of Isaac and the seed of Ishmael are still having a few problems.
We can’t forget Jonah. God had some really archaic ideas of how the city of Nineveh was to be reached with His message (preaching). But Jonah had a better idea! (It’s a whale of a story.)
Remember who the first king of Israel was? A big man named Saul. What a guy! Seems that God had some really silly notions about who could offer sacrifices. In 1 Samuel 13 Saul gets impatient with God’s plan and timing so he decides to “innovate” a little and offer his own sacrifice, his own way. Result? The Kingdom progresses right out of his hand.
In considering progressives and innovators in Scripture we must look at the “modern” Temple of Jesus’ day. Talk about new ideas! The sacrificial system was old and cumbersome—some might even say, traditional—and messy. Some hip leaders at the Temple had just finished reading “Velvet Herod” and streamlined the whole sacrificial process. Now you could just bop down to worship and buy what you needed when you got there! Convenient, comfortable, revolutionary. Seems Jesus wasn’t impressed; the innovators had the tables turned on them. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Probably the greatest progressive of all was that old serpent in the Garden of Eden. Wow, did he have some great ideas! He took God’s words and with just a little nip and tuck, voila! A brand new message for Eve and her husband. It was really close to what God said, but now, updated and improved.
Ok, if you’ve actually made it this far, you’ve probably concluded I’m stuck in the dark ages of Church history and want to go back to stone cathedrals, pipe organs and Gregorian Chants. After all, sack cloth and hair shirts could make a come back! Nothing, actually, could be farther from the truth. There is nothing wrong with new methods, technology, and innovation—as long as they’re rooted firmly in biblical truth. But something grabbed my attention recently and I just can’t shake it.
If you look at the totality of Scripture and Church history I think you will come to a strange conclusion. In almost every instance of true revival, the revival was a “return” to truth. Throughout the Old Testament, Israel is challenged to “go back” to God’s truth, God’s ways, and God’s methods. God’s people innovated and progressed right out of God’s will. As a result they lost God’s power and favor. Time and again they were encouraged to go back to the “old paths,” the “old ways.”
Throughout the history of the church I don’t believe you can find a single true revival that occurred as a result of anything but “going back” to faith, repentance, Scripture and dependence solely on God’s Word and power. This doesn’t mean that they threw out everything modern and cultural. They didn’t “revert” to another time culturally. But they did “regress” to the basics, the foundations, the fundamentals.
Here’s an honest question. Are things better in American Christianity now than 50 years ago? Are we having more or less impact on our culture? Is the culture looking more like the Church, or is the Church looking more like the culture? Maybe we’ve had enough progression and innovation for a while. Maybe it’s time to regress a little. Who knows, a genuine revival just might break out.
Bob Burney is Salem Communications’ award-winning host of Bob Burney Live, heard weekday afternoons on WRFD-AM 880 in Columbus, Ohio. Contact Bob at firstname.lastname@example.org.