I think many Christians, most of them, look a bit skeptically at the charismatic element of the Church universal. We conjure up images of the prosperity Gospel and “holy rollers”. The New Testament, though, reads like a charismatic diary.
The dispensationalists will say that God worked like that only for a time, only until the New Testament was “codified” into a cannon. Now we don’t need God to speak to people directly through prophetic words and such. We don’t need signs and wonders because we have the Bible now.
They might be right, but maybe not. God doesn’t fit into the boxes we prepare for Him.
I have come to view all the movements in the history of the Church as various times in which God emphasized specific things to His people for specific purposes. The move to get the Bible in print in plain language for the masses enabled worldwide, grassroots growth of the Gospel. The move to emphasize that salvation is by God’s grace that we receive through faith was necessary to counter error in the notion of how salvation works.
In my view, denominations formed around these movements as people put down tent stakes and tried to camp on those things God was emphasizing at particular times, but God is always doing a new thing.
Not that God changes, or that the truth changes. We change, and the flow of history changes. God is always working through it all to accomplish the ends that He has planned from the beginning.
I think we can never go wrong asking the question: What is God doing now? What does God intend for a time such as this? What is God saying in these times?
So, I am open to the possibility, which I think is a probability, that God is still “speaking” in these times through people to whom God is willing to entrust His voice. There are disparate voices, of course, even in the Church, but it’s always been like that.
I don’t believe God will say anything that contradicts what He has said in the past, but He might be saying things that contradict what we believed in the past. God might be calling us to new ways of doing things.
When God became flesh and lived among the people to whom He had intimately and directly revealed Himself, they didn’t recognize Him. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were amazed as Jesus opened the Scripture to them to reveal all the ways it spoke of Him. They didn’t see it until He opened it up to them.
In the same way, we need to have the humility to recognize that we might have wrong ideas about things. Maybe they aren’t “wrong”, but they just aren’t effective any longer in this time. The last thing that I want is to remain standing still when God is moving.
We need to be open to God showing us “new things” that we didn’t previously understand or appreciate. We have to consider the possibility that we might not recognize God when He is speaking today in the same way that God became flesh, came to His own people, and His own people didn’t recognize Him.
I say these things only as a preface to talk about an article, Prophetic Word: The Lord Says, ‘I Am Planning a New Thing’, by Diane Lake in Charisma Magazine, July 31, 2020. The author relates how the COVID pandemic has led her to some small adjustments, like cleaning out areas of the home, reorganizing and re-configuring work and living spaces, and the Holy Spirit has laid on her heart a similar message for ministries, churches and workplaces.
These are not earth-shaking things. They don’t suggest any changes in theology or doctrine, but we might be challenged to think outside the box regarding how we do things. Churches have not been able to hold large meetings as we have been accustomed to doing. Some churches have resisted, stubbornly opening up in defiance of state governor orders and a general sense of public decency. Some church leaders have even gotten COVID and died. (I can think of one in my own area.)
God can use things a COVID epidemic and uncomfortable and unwelcome government orders to nudge us in a direction He wants us to go. Today, I came across the following encouragement from Nona Jones:
“What if I told you that your frustration, anxiety, sleeplessness and confusion were purposeful? Sometimes God tells us to move, but our attachment to the familiarity or comfort of a situation makes us either disobey OR take our sweet time. Enter ‘the struggle.’
“Things were so perfect until… the struggle. Things were so exciting until… the struggle. Things were going so well until… the struggle. And sometimes the struggle is simply intended to create enough pressure in our life that we FINALLY drop down on our knees and ask God the question we’ve avoided: ‘God, what should I do?’
“Discomfort is the necessary predecessor of transition.”
Diane Lake recognized in her article that “e-church” is not a good alternative for worship and the gathering together of God’s people. She mused about meetings in parks, beaches and campgrounds, and reminisced about meeting in private homes years of early ministry. In this context, she says she heard the Lord say, ““I’m planning to do a new thing. The old ways won’t work anymore!”
She doesn’t go into what those “old ways” are, or what new ways God might be encouraging us to go. Maybe it has something to do with having more gatherings with fewer people, getting away from mega-church attendance and getting into more intimate forms of gathering. I don’t know.
Reading the article, though, prompted me to consider the present exodus from the Church corporate going on with twenty and thirty somethings for the past decade or two. We have largely lost them. They don’t resonate (apparently) with the way we have been doing things. They don’t feel comfortable in church as we have been doing it for generations now. It is not compelling to them.
The response is certainly not to be found in watering down or compromising the Gospel. The exodus from mainline, more progressive churches, is even more dramatic than the movement out of the evangelical church.
In my reading about these things, I note that a desire for greater authenticity is a characteristic of the younger generation. I think about a similar heart cry in my generation that spawned the Jesus People Movement – a movement away from traditional forms of worship, gathering and living. I was drawn to that authenticity in my youth – getting back to a First Century Christianity that left the Temple for the home, that involved more communal forms of corporate relationship and an emphasis on living out faith in personal life in more authentic ways that ran counter to traditional culture.
So, what “new” thing is God doing now? What is He is saying to us in these times?
I don’t know, exactly, but I am listening for Him. I am expectant. It might be something that requires us to change out our old wine skins for new ones that can contain what God desires to pour into them. The wine skins are only important to the extent they can contain the wine.
Change often isn’t comfortable. People often resist change, but change is necessary for growth. Change is necessary for salvation. Change is necessary for sanctification. Change is necessary in a world that doesn’t know or bow to the will of God. Change is necessary for the church as God works out His purposes on His timeline to usher in the new heavens and new earth.