These past three Sundays, I have had the pleasure to speak on Relevance, Excellence and Change within the context of a church. If you know me, you know that these are topics very close to my heart because I have been a participant in ministries that have changed and have been the one to help lead for change. Change should never be done for the purpose of change, there must be a reason tied in with the bigger picture of God’s Kingdom.
An important lesson I learned regarding change is to know what should not be changed and what is more a matter of what we prefer. The three categories are Dogma, Convictions and Preferences.
Dogma is uncompromisable truth. Some of these are that there is one God in three equal persons, the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, salvation is through faith in Jesus alone, Jesus died and physically resurrected. Since they are dogma, they aren’t considered for change. They are “a hill to die on.” They are the essence and core of what I believe is truth.
Convictions are those items that a person believes according to their study of Scripture. These are based on interpretation and are compromisable! Issues such as 6-day creation, certain spiritual gifts, church government and the end times are all issues which have birthed new denominations and church splits. Often with these topics, biblically you can find support for both sides of the argument.
Preferences are tricky. These are what we feel comfortable with via tradition or culture- not the Bible. Examples have included using stage lighting in church, how to dress for church, what version of the Bible you should read, should we have a pulpit in the front and countless other items. These are sometimes treated as dogma though they never should be. They are sometimes based on one verse taken out of context and many will die on the hill for them even though they have no grounding. Why? They give us comfort!
At Hope, we major on the majors (dogma) and minor on the minors. We avoid being caught up in arguments over things that are not dogma. In 2 Timothy 2:23-24, Paul tells a young church leader, “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.” If we continue to focus on differences that are not core to what we believe, we breed fighting. That is not what the Lord desires of the church.
When change comes, the change should be tested against these three. If dogma is being changed, it is a big problem. If preferences, it may be emotional, but it cannot be made to be bigger than what it is- a preference. Let us stay true to the Bible, graceful where it may not be 100% clear and be flexible when it is a matter of personal preference.