Change is upon us whether we like it or not. We have experienced massive disruption and restriction on our lives, an experience which has changed us and will change us irreversibly. Even when all restrictions are lifted and even when the world is out of the clutches of the pandemic, our lives will not return to exactly the way they were before.
When we say we want to get ‘back to normal’, we need to qualify that. Normality is a construct. Normal is aspirational; for example when people consider it normal to buy a new outfit every month. The definition of normal is constantly under development, like how we now consider it normal to own a smart phone. Normal is subjective: what is ‘normal’ for one person is not what is ‘normal’ for someone else from a different generation, background or country. One could attempt a broad description of normality, but it is simply a product of shifting societal expectations.
Our emergence from the pandemic, especially when coupled with the pressing environmental crisis, will bring change to our domestic arrangements, our education system, our travel habits, our working lives and, significantly for Christians, our church lives. Many church leaders are encouraging a period of recovery, allowing time for reflection, but then setting up the expectation for a reset. We can’t simply expect to do the same things in the same way we did them before. In some cases, we might, but it is not a foregone conclusion.
It helps to remember that, as Christians, we are defined by change. “If anyone is in Christ,” Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” When questioned about why his disciples didn’t fast, in Matthew 9:14-17, Jesus famously speaks of not putting new wine in old wineskins. When we are filled with the new wine of the gospel it changes us. Repentance is not simply saying sorry, it is a turnaround, a change in direction. Redemption is not simply a pardon; it is the beginning of a new relationship with God.
In one sense, the church has a very fixed point of reference: it is a people formed by the apostolic word. It is God’s covenant people by inheritance through Christ, in continuity in this age and in anticipation of the new creation. Yet, in the same vein, it is the gathering of people who have been changed and are still being changed by power of Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
Gospel change thus has a paradoxical securing effect so that the changing scenes of life – however extreme – neither buffet nor phase. We do not fear the loss of familiar patterns and comforting routines when we know we have Christ in us, moving us and shaping us in his image. We are not “tossed back and forth by the waves,” Ephesians 4:14, “Instead,” verse 15, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Neither do we fear the strangeness of a new situation, because “we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain,” (Hebrews 6:19).
Everything changes but there is a change that never changes – our salvation. As those who are gratefully redeemed, we remember God is sovereign over all change. Our unchanging God changelessly wills change. His unchanging gospel changes us, builds his kingdom and changes the world.
Thus, the mission of church embraces change. We follow Paul’s example when he says, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some,” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Just as change is central to the Christian call, adaptability is central to the Christian life and mission.
This article was first published in the Church of England Newspaper and is reproduced here with permission.