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A 21st Century Reformation: Inevitable Pruning

By Walid Zailaa

In a world that is constantly evolving and changing, it is crucial that the church remains open to reevaluating its practices and beliefs. The concept of reformation has been a cornerstone of the Protestant faith, but perhaps it is time for the church today to take a closer look at what reformation truly means in our modern context. Are we living out the teachings of Jesus in a way that reflects love and compassion? Are we willing to challenge the status quo and make necessary changes before it is too late? Are we prepared to endure the painful process of pruning?

In what follows, I suggest there are at least four signs that the church needs reformation in the 21st century.

We are culture-driven: Today’s prioritization of cultural trends over Biblical values is deeply concerning. It is important that the church leads and guides based on the teachings of the Bible, rather than conforming to societal norms and modern trends that in many cases may contradict these teachings. When culture dictates our beliefs and practices, we risk losing sight of our mission. While it is important to engage with our context, we must always uphold ethical standards set forth in the Bible, even if they go against popular opinion. Reformation within the church is vital to ensure that we stay true to our foundational principles and continue to make a Christian impact on the world.

In the Old Testament, the people of God requested a king so that they would be like the nations. They wanted the king to judge them, lead them in battle, and fight their wars, “that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam 8:20). However, the purpose of Israel was to be an example to other nations, showing them how to be led by the true God, not the other way around.

It is important that the church seeks validation from God and strives to be true to its identity, even when that identity means not being in line with societal trends. Sin cannot be beautified and justified, no matter whether society approves of it or not. By maintaining the way of Christ, the church continues to influence the world and remain true to its mission.

We are program-driven: The core mission of the church is to spread the gospel and make God known to all. This can be achieved by preaching and living the transformative power of God’s grace through the message of faith and love. Focusing on programs as the primary means of growth may be a deadly trap, as it could lead to a temporary gathering of like-minded individuals rather than a strong, unified community centered around a shared belief in the teachings of Christ. Instead, by refocusing on preaching the gospel and embodying its values, the church can truly fulfil its mission of spreading God’s love to all who seek it.

It may be a good idea to have a variety of programs in the church. Nevertheless, creating programs, activities, and various forms of “ministry” to appeal to people can be dangerous. According to the New Testament, growth happens only when we preach, teach, and live out the gospel’s message. Paul said that when we preach and teach the gospel, God gives the increase (1 Cor 3:6).

In Acts 2, Peter preached the gospel for the first time after the resurrection of Christ. His message sparked faith in many in the audience (Acts 2:37). When they asked what they needed to do, Peter told them to “repent, and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). The message he preached was that Jesus was the Savior and that they needed to be obedient to Him in order to be saved. We see that “those who had received his word were baptized” (Acts 2:41). These people were then added to the church (Acts 2:47). Growth occurred as a result of the gospel message that was preached, and not a pre-planned program specifically tailored for a certain group of people.

We are business-driven: When we reflect on the church, it’s important to remember that its purpose is not to function like a corporation. While some aspects of business values and leadership can be beneficial when aligned with God’s plan, the church must be cautious about allowing worldly ideals such as competition and profit to infiltrate the community. The church is meant to be where individuals unite to worship and support one another on their faith journeys. When we focus on numbers and financial gain, we lose sight of what truly matters in the eyes of God.

It is crucial for church leaders to prioritize the well-being of their congregation over any desire for corporate success or recognition. Like Jesus, a true leader/teacher within the church should embody qualities of humility, servanthood, and selflessness, rather than seeking personal gain or power. Jesus said to them “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”

As long as effective strategies from the business world support the church to stay true to its core values, we can ensure that the church remains a thriving and spiritually fulfilling place. The church is more than just an organization; it is a living organism that thrives on faith and love. The church is the body of Christ (1 Cor 12:12-13).

A riot broke out in Ephesus against the Christians because worshippers of Artemis feared a loss of income from the making and selling of idols (Acts 19:23-41). The church was not driven by profit, but rather challenged the status quo of idol worshippers in that context and posed a threat to their existence.

We are popularity-driven: It’s understandable that, in today’s society, churches are often focused on gaining more social media followers. However, it is important to acknowledge that there are pressing issues in the world that need attention and action. It can be disheartening to see popularity being prioritized over standing up for what is right.

The church should be empathetic to the suffering of others and use its platform to highlight issues that truly matter. It is important to remember that the people of God must not remain silent in the face of oppression, war, poverty, and other crises. We need to elevate our voices to draw attention to these pressing matters, rather than to increase our media visibility.

True faithfulness isn’t just about how prosperous a church appears but about how actively it works towards making the world in line with God’s mission. It should strive to break free from the chains of superficial success and start living out its Biblical values of spreading love, compassion, and justice.

I often hear about the “prophetic voice” of the church. If this is truly the voice of the church in times of crises, there is a cost to pay. Are we ready to pay this cost, or do we prefer to play it safe, in an attempt to please both the victim and victimizer?

Given the rapid changes in our world and the way the church is responding, it is becoming increasingly clear that a 21st-century reformation may be needed. While there are many voices calling for change, do we need to pray for another Martin Luther to spearhead this reformation and nail his Ninety-five Theses to the door of the Protestant church? Maybe not yet. Nonetheless, we are called to consider radical change in our churches. If God is not represented in and through the life of the church, we will have to endure the painful process of pruning so that every branch that does not bear fruit the Father takes away and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.

 

Walid is the Academic Dean of ABTS and the pastor of Faith Baptist Church that meets in Mansourieh, Lebanon.

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