March 2013 – The Ambivalence of Change!

This month’s post is somewhat challenging and controversial for young and old alike.  You are welcome to add to the dialogue if you wish by adding proactive comments at the end.

I listened to an excellent balanced address by our Queensland State President last week at a regional pastors breakfast. His fourth point suggested the benefit of confessing personal struggles to a trusted mentor or friend in pursuit of freedom from the struggle.

In this post I want to address some issues within the church that are causing grief to some, which need not be so and I trust can be turned around to be cathartic for you. Naturally such confessions require wisdom which I hope will be evident in this article.

There is no doubt the face of the Pentecostal Church in Australia has changed dramatically in the last 20 or so years and will continue to do so as we embrace technology and multi media communications that are sweeping our world and the church. Changes, yes big changes are taking place, and many are struggling to accept whats happening in the life of the Church.

As a sweetener to what I have to say, I wonder what your response would be if I asked you to sing with me Geoff Bullock’s iconic song of the last century “The Power of Your Love” which was first released on the Hillsong Album of the same name on 5 July 1992.

Here is a congregational version of that great hymn that touched the heart of the church over twenty years ago. I haven’t heard it sung of recent years but then its an “old” song or is it?

 

Lord I come to You
Let my heart be changed, renewed
Flowing from the grace
That I found in You.
And Lord I’ve come to knowThe weaknesses I see in me
Will be stripped away
By the power of Your love.

Hold me close
Let Your love surround me
Bring me near
Draw me to Your side.
And as I wait
I’ll rise up like the eagle
And I will soar with You
Your Spirit leads me on
In the power of Your love.

Lord unveil my eyes
Let me see You face to face
The knowledge of Your love
As You live in me.
Lord renew my mind
As Your will unfolds in my life
In living every day
by the power of Your love.

Music like so much in the twenty first century contemporary church has changed dramatically. 

Be it far from me to be negative but from my perspective as a 20th century septuagenarian, music styles and songs have turned on their head, which means to some they are un-singable because one cant hear their own voice! ha ha!

Now, now, before you shoot me down or say “who cares” let me say its not about me or my generation anymore, because I had my day in the last century leading thousands of people in worship and giving my best shot at preaching the inspired Word.

Just in case you think I don’t appreciate the modern style, turn up the volume, ironic isn’t it? I promise it wont hurt your ears and listen to this new song by Darlene which has just been released on Integrity Music. In my opinion it is a powerful mix of what I call “big band sound” with a great message. Please listen to it right through and hear what Darlene says. Allow your spirit to grasp the significance of the message; 

“IN JESUS’ NAME”
Written by: Darlene Zschech, Israel Houghton

God is fighting for us
God is on our side
He has overcome him
 He has overcome
We will not be shaken
We will not be moved
Jesus You are here

Carrying our burdens
Covering our shame
He has overcome him
 He has overcome
We will not shaken
We will not be moved
Jesus You are here

I will live
I will not die
The resurrection power of Christ
Alive in me and I am free
In Jesus’ Name

I will live I will not die
I will declare and lift you high
Christ revealed
And I am healed
In Jesus’ Name

God is fighting for us
Pushing back the darkness
Lighting up the Kingdom
That cannot be shaken
In the Name of Jesus
Enemy’s defeated
And we will shout it out
Shout it out

 

Thank you Darlene for that powerful message in song!

No I’m not dead yet nor am I preaching from the grave, but it does bother me to see the drift away of the older generation of pentecostals from our churches after a life time of service, because of the style or the loudness of contemporary music.

I enjoyed it immensely singing from the great Redemption Hymnal & Anthems of the Church which reflected the doctrine and power of the Holy Spirit in Worship. “Awesome” is the operative word to describe the experience of those days and I know many of you may wish we had them back again.

Times have changed however and the Church has moved on. Fortunately for me I have sons who are at the forefront of contemporary music within the Church, which helps to keep my spirit pliable to change. How I cope with it is primarily what I want to talk about in this article.

May I say, I am not at all sure I want to go back to those predictable hymn singing days but I also wonder how the next generation of ‘Baby Boomers’ are going to cope with the changes that they will face? One can only guess what the Church will look like should the Lord tarry, in ten years from now!

The ambivalence of change is always difficult no matter who you are! For example I would never have imagined that one day I would go to Church looking like a cowboy and wearing sand-shoes with my shirt hanging out. Some septuagenarians cant cope with it and become critical of church leaders who set the example and compromise what they believe are “christian standards!” To them following the fashions of this world was considered as “Worldliness”. 1 John 2:15 

I was interested to read the other day of the Dress Code for members of the Melbourne Cricket Club.

They even supplied a picture and notwithstanding reserved the right to refuse people entry if they did not comply with the outlined dress code!

Management reserved the right to refuse entry to any person considered not suitably attired! “Well well well” you say! “You’ve got to be kidding”.

Of course we say it doesn’t really matter but wonder why increasingly (here in Queensland at least) some people come to worship the ‘King of Kings’ wearing shorts and thongs or strapless dresses? (For my American friends “thongs” are a type of rubber slip-on sandal that you wear to the beach and not what you’re thinking!).

Yes dress standards have changed dramatically compared to the dress standards of yesteryear as seen by this photo of my wife Betty in the 1960s. Then there is this photo from the 1930s which were the people who laid the spiritual & theological  foundation for the great Influencers Church of today.

I’m not sure we want to dress like that but isn’t it interesting we see conservative retro style dressing coming back into fashion again.

Does it matter? These verses from the scripture have been the bases of our standards historically and its really up to you to interpret the wisdom it offers. Check it out: 1 Timothy 2:9; Deuteronomy 22:5; Leviticus 19:28;  1 Peter 3:3-4.

Another change that has occurred in recent years that has challenged the attitudes of many and caused grief to some who have served the pentecostal Church over a life time, is the change of name of the “Assemblies of God to “Australian Christian Churches“.

I was alarmed by the depth of feeling expressed by some of my colleagues at the name change, let alone answering the criticism of some Evangelicals and others who consider the name change grossly arrogant and not indicative of who the Australian Christian Church really is! But “Who Cares” I hear some say! Now isn’t that what I’m talking about – attitude?

My generation are the children of the first members of the Assemblies of God movement. These pioneers built up Church assets from a severe sacrificial base. Their children carried this frugality gladly as it was all for the extension of God’s work. A sense of responsibility and ownership bound the movement together. It was a slow journey to win respect as a legitimate Church and not a cult. The Charismatic Movement was a catalyst for this and the Assemblies of God movement came of age. We were a part of a world wide movement!

Last week we drove past a Brisbane City Council street sign reading,”Assemblies of God Church”. Betty said, ”It will have to be a very long street before one comes to a church of that name.”

One friend wrote “Whoever moved the motion to remove the name Assemblies of God from existence has a wrong agenda. What is wrong with the name Assemblies of God? We have pioneered churches under that banner when it was virtually unknown. Now it will become unknown except on the mission field, also USA and where ever it is known, Shame Shame Shame”. 

You can see some attitudes are seriously challenged, as here we go again on a journey to educate the Australian public with the knowledge of who the movement, Australian Christian Churches is.

Interestingly the movement we planted in Papua New Guinea is not ashamed to fly its flag. They are puzzled by our name change especially in the light of the fact, it was the Australian missionaries that gave them their name!

One businessman entrepreneur said to me “The Ford motor company hasn’t changed its name since its inception over 100 years ago and theres a reason for that. Why in the world would the ‘Australian AOG Executive’ want to change Assemblies of God when it’s brand name is known world wide? It doesn’t make sense” he said. If you want something generic then how about ‘Pentecostal’ thats what the media call us!

Our daughter is a third generation AOG and was telling a story to her mother about recently encouraging a friend to attend her much loved church with her. “What church do you go to?” was the question. “Mum”, she said “I’ve spent years of my life trying to explain who the AOG are, there was no way I was going to try to explain ‘…………..’.  “What did you say to her” Mother asked. “I just said ‘Hillsong’. If we must change our name, at least ‘Hillsong’ is generic & well known from media and explains us” she said!

For some the name Australian Christian Churches insults years of missionary work in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia, Estonia and other countries.

So, what can we do about it?

Perhaps one change that has seriously challenged my attitude is the decision to ‘water down’ the undertaking, that we as a movement abstain from the use of Alcohol particularly our credentialed Ministers.

Throughout the world the majority of Assemblies of God movements are known for their standard on temperance. For me it was a small sacrifice indeed to ask our leaders to abstain for the sake of example.

In the interest of balance here is a short video by Dr.John Piper a Baptist theologian discussing this issue.

Personally for me it was a strange decision indeed for the Australian Assemblies of God to compromise its stand after over 80 years of leadership in this country.

I wonder what  was the circumstances that triggered the discussion to change the rules on the use of Alcohol for our Pastors? I suspect ……. no I better not suggest that! 

Other denominations such as the Salvation Army also abide by Australian work place regulation, yet they continue to maintain their historic constitutional standard to this day. They require total abstinence for serving Salvation Army Officers of the Church. So why cant we? It is the least we can do as Ministers to be an example to our community.

There is much I could say about this matter but ultimately it is our leaders that must carry the responsibility for introducing this counteractive change to the church that I believe will have a negative ripple effect upon the culture of the Assemblies of God in Australia.

But that’s not the point. The point is – attitude! Yes even my attitude! You see throughout life’s journey there will be many issues that could cause one to stumble, be it religious, spiritual, political, social, emotional or personal. All may have validity in your mind but ultimately could destroy you if your attitude is wrong.

Its inevitable that “Change” will occur in all walks of life and how you handle it is crucial. For example at my stage of life I would never have thought that one day stained glass windows, natural light and quietness would become increasingly more attractive to me. Lol.

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But thats what growing old does …? I must be getting old! ha ha! Research shows that the older you are the more conservative you tend to become. Which is Ok providing you have a good attitude!

1. If it is an issue of Church Music, I suggest you watch the teenagers and young adults as they enter in and worship God. To be honest I am captivated by their ability to enjoy the powerful medium of loud music as praise & worship is expressed in the razzle-dazzle and flashing lights of the twenty first century Church. As for the smoke machines on stage….some have cynically suggested….. “Isn’t that a Type of the Biblical  pillar of cloud or is it the cloud of great glory?” Just saying…..!

2. If your issue is the non acceptance of the relaxed standards of Church Dress codes, then compromise to a modest view and you wont go far wrong. Ask yourself does it really matter? Actually it can look smart and more comfortable too. No tie to strangle you on a hot day! ha ha! But the question is, would you dress like that when attending a very important occasion?

3. If your offence is the change of the Name of your Church, then accept the majority decision with resignation because in the end, time will tell the benefit of changing a Name.

I know it may send a signal to you that there is no cohesion or unity in the movement anymore but may I suggest that you don’t become part of the problem by your disunity, rather choose to be proactive in the conduct of your life under whatever banner God places you.

4. If your issues is disappointment at seeing pentecostal leaders having a “Beer with Duncan” then ‘get over it’ (now that’s not a phrase I normally use) and enjoy the song by Slim Dusty instead. Oh I feel pentecostal sarcasm coming on! lol

Oh, I know our forbears decided that we should be a movement that stands for abstinence and was based on sound judgement which I endorse.

As a christian leader I took a vow of temperance when I was a teenager, I’m not about to get upset if my ‘brothers in arms’ lets down my standard even if the Church sanctions a beer or two as long as you don’t get drunk. “Sipping Saints” Rev David Wilkerson used to call them!

In conclusion, when I was growing up in a pentecostal leaders home, my mother had a saying which she reminded me continually in later years. Particularly as I faced the rough & tumble of working on AOG State Executive Leadership committees and trying to bring peace to the political shenanigans behind the scene of church life. I could hear her say “Keep Sweet Freddie, Keep Sweet”.

So the challenge in this changing world is to keep a right attitude and remember;

KEEP SWEET OR YOU’LL END UP SOUR

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