Motives for Change
Humanity has benefited a great deal from innovation. In just about every sector of life, innovation has improved upon what was before. Medical, scientific, technological, and even food production have all been improved by innovation. There is one place, though, where innovation is not necessarily making things better.
Religious and moral innovation has continually brought humanity away from God. Just because something is new, does not mean it is good, at least when it comes to faith practices. Living in a society that thrives with innovation can create tension among faithful members of the Church.
We often hear expressions like, “The Church needs to get with the times.” Such statements are not limited to the moral teachings of the Church. Lately I have noticed a certain amount of innovation in the liturgy of the Church.
Over the history of the Church, worship has developed. Nobody honestly claims that how we worship today is the way the Holy Apostles worshipped. The Liturgy has changed. Even the way we received Holy Communion has changed.
That does not mean that change is necessary. It only means that change has happened in the past. It also doesn’t mean that change is forbidden. There must be a balance. For me, balance is found in the motive of change. Historically, worship changed out of practical needs and the desire to be united.
One example is the idea of house churches. We know historically that house churches were a result of the Christians being expelled from the Temple and Synagogue. House churches were not the desire of the community. Evidence for that, is found by the fact that as soon as communities were free to build Churches dedicated to worshipping God, they built them and left the house churches in the past.
The contemporary Protestant movement to return to house churches denies the historical reality. To claim that “because house churches existed in the past, they should exist now,” is a false premise. The need for them is no longer true. The exception might be for a brand-new mission being established. But then, as soon as the community is able, a Church should be acquired.
We also know that liturgical rites have developed over the centuries. The common practice of the Liturgy of Saint John Chrysostom being celebrated in every Church throughout the year, was the result of a communal desire to celebrate liturgy the same as our brothers and sisters in other communities. We know other liturgies existed. They have fallen out of practice not because they were bad, but because the faithful wanted to worship in a united way.
As we continue to navigate the worship of the Church, and other ecclesiastical matters, I pray we can take notice of motives. For me, a motive to ‘get with the times’ is the last motive that is worthy of consideration. The ‘times’ change so rapidly; we will never be able to keep up.
Constant change is what has drawn many people to the Orthodox Church in recent decades. I remember one person sharing with me. “I just got tired of never knowing what was coming next.” The sense of stability in the Orthodox Church is comforting. It can also be dangerous. The false sense that nothing should ever change is not historically true in the Church.
Running away from the past is not the same as running toward the future. The future will have its own practical needs and desires for unity. Only time will tell what those will be. In the meantime, take a breath and check the motives of change. Then pray that the Holy Spirit will guide the Church like it has for so long.