Monday 7 September 2015

A Contemporary Phenomena: The Quest to be Contemporary

Two things seem to be common today, among what is broadly labelled as evangelicalism in the United Kingdom. The first is the over-use of the word "contemporary"; the second is a doctrinal downgrade among those church congregations that pursue a so-called "contemporary approach". It is amazing how such a fluid word as the word "contemporary" has fuelled a reformation upon British evangelicalism. Due to its fluid nature, I can only offer my opinions and observations, while attempting to be guarded from personal bias or undue hyperbole.

What does the word "contemporary" mean?

According to one dictionary, it means "living or occurring at the same time" or belonging to or occurring in the present". This is a rather bland and open-ended word then, one that offers little help to define what it means when a church sets out to be contemporary. It is not a word found in the Bible but neither is the word Trinity. However, while the truth of the Trinity is found in Scripture, we do not find the apostles, much least the Lord Jesus Christ, pursuing to be contemporary in their approach to the church or missions.

My impression is that when a church pursues a "contemporary approach", that it mainly means a new worship style with a band, new songs and a relaxed style or should we say friendly church style, in what used to be called "seeker sensitive" approaches.

What kinds of churches seem to pursue this contemporary approach?

My estimation is that this is primarily generated from two directions in England. The evangelical Anglicans seem to have adopted a contemporary style which is broadly the old charismatic church style of worship, but without tongues or prophecies. However, I would contend that both styles, the old charismatic and the new contemporary suffer from the same problem; they are both Arminian fundamentally. That is in placing the tastes of mankind above the instructions of the Lord from Scripture. Have we ever read of Paul adopting a band in the churches in the book of Acts? Hmmm ... pause for reflection needed!

Another wing of the church badly affected by this new "contemporary approach" are what were once conservative evangelical Baptist churches. A new generation of leaders have emerged, many of whom did not like the perceived "stuffy" style of their forefathers and they have set out to reshape the church along contemporary styles of music and practice, and with success, increased growth and a happy atmosphere. But growth alone, though it cannot be ignored, can never be the only measure for success.

What else has changed with this contemporary approach?

There have also come changes to doctrine and practice as well. There seems to have been a chain of events. For many a dislike of the Christian Sabbath, has then led to questions about the whole use of the moral law. Once this happens, then these emerging leaders are on a collision course with all the Reformed Confessions, because these all hold a high place for the moral law and they assert that the Ten Commandments are morally binding for all (I wholeheartedly agree with the Reformed Confessions on this point). This then means a downplaying or an ignoring of the Reformed Confessions and often a simple Statement of Faith is adopted. By then the change is on!

To be contemporary provides a fluid and changing mandate to not look out of place with society and this can include the emergence of women leaders, womens Bible studies and women elders. To be contemporary often means that women must play a full role in the church, even if the Bible offers different advice. By this point, liberalism has entered the church, often without a protest and for some without noticing. Becoming liberal is not true of all churches who pursue a "contemporary approach", but then how long will it take until it does?

In conclusion, may we all return to the "ancient paths" that Jeremiah spoke of and first and foremost may we return to measure everything against the standard of Scripture.

Romans 4:3 "For what does the Scripture say?"

Jeremiah 6:16 'Thus says the Lord "Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls. But they said, "We will not walk in it" '.


Keith said...

Perhaps, also, Kevin, there is an unspoken/unrecognised loss of confidence that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation for everyone that believes. If we knew more of the holy presence of the Lord in power there would hardly be any pressure for 'contemporary' styles.

Kevin Bidwell said...

Keith, That is a very good point that you make. I think we must consider "cause and effect" and we must ask what has caused then a loss of confidence that the gospel is the power of God? Is it a desire for results which is driving this approach? I would be interested in any further thoughts from you.

A retired minister and friend once pointed out to me that public worship was all connected to our understanding of who God is. If we know that he is awesome, to be feared, holy, just and true, then this will be reflected in our approach. A low doctrine of God causes a low approach to drawing near, indeed often drawing near to the Lord in his prescribed manner is not the aim, but rather the opposite, drawing near to men in hope that they will keep coming back to our meetings. There is a need for ongoing discussion and reflection on this topic. Thanks for taking the time to add a helpful comment!