19 June, 2024

The More Things Change

by | 1 March, 2024 | 0 comments

By Kent E. Fillinger

I received a special gift in the mail a few years ago from my friend Dr. Will Walls, a former missionary and a longtime campus minister. He sent me his copy of the centennial issue of Christian Standard from April 9, 1966, because of my history of writing for the magazine. I was a junior at Cincinnati Bible College when my first article was published in the December 20, 1992, issue. Since then, I’ve had scores of articles published.  

I placed the centennial issue Will sent me—which he had saved for over 50 years—on my bookshelf beside my other copies of Christian Standard, but I never read through it until very recently. This issue’s theme of “looking back” at our Restoration Movement churches prompted me to explore that centennial issue from 58 years ago. 

There’s Nothing New . . . 

Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (1:9). 

In 1849, French writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr wrote, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose,” translated as, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”  

In 2010, rock band Bon Jovi released a greatest hits album which included a new song titled, “The More Things Change.” The song includes lyrics of the reality that “yesterday keeps coming ’round” and “it’s the same song with a different melody.”  

In a similar fashion, we often keep singing the same “songs” in the church regardless of the date on our calendars. 

Change Is the Name of the Game 

As I read through that centennial issue from five years before I was born, I was reminded that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Many of the same concerns and challenges we’re discussing and wrestling with today have been around for decades. The word change was used repeatedly in that centennial issue, and it continues to be a constant to describe life and ministry. 

In his editorial titled “The Rock Remains,” Edwin V. Hayden wrote, “Change is a human experience. Men can change. Men do change—sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. Men must change, adjusting themselves to the unchanging Christ, if they would be acceptable to God.” 

The 75th anniversary issue of Christian Standard from April 5, 1941, was built around the theme of the New Testament plea for Christian unity. That issue included “a series of statements from college students and leaders of youth who evaluated the Restoration plea”; in the centennial issue from 1966, those same writers were asked to comment again on the same subject. Here are some of their reflections that are still apt today. 

Concerns for the Future of Our Movement  

Delno W. Brown, then professor at Atlanta Christian College (now called Point University) was one of those repeat writers. In his article, “Deepened Convictions,” he wrote, “The Restoration movement is dead! So, some current seminary professors have been quoted as saying.”  

He concluded, “Times have changed, and some of our brethren insist that we must be restructured. The restructure we need is the development of more effective means of restoring the Christianity which captivated our forefathers, and which is disclosed to all of us in the New Testament.” 

It seems that hastening or predicting the demise of our movement is a familiar song that’s been sung by some for years. Yet, the Restoration plea continues to hum along! 

Concerns for the Next Generation 

“Fears for youth today are the same as in other times. Situations have changed in identity but not in basic issues,” wrote Ralph Clark, then minister with Mount Olive Christian Church, East Point, Georgia. “There is the fear that youth will not step in the footprints of older leaders, that they will not learn the lessons of responsible leadership, that they will go far afield in their teaching of God’s Word or will reject it altogether. This is a baseless fear.” 

I wrote about “The Preacher Pipeline Problem” in my Metrics article for January/February 2022, but reading the centennial issue reminded me that “there’s nothing new under the sun.” Clark reminded readers, “The challenge to win reluctant fields for Christ has the same demanding claim on the life and talents of today’s youth as it had in other days.”  

“Students are the product of their teachers,” Clark wrote. “They follow those who are set out as leaders of the faith.”  

Let’s continue to teach the next generation well and entrust them to God’s ongoing call on their lives to lead the church into the future. 

Concerns About Culture, Commitment, and Conviction  

W. R. Boebinger, vice president of The Standard Printing Company in 1966, addressed concerns about the culture of his day and the lack of commitment and conviction among Christians and church leaders. 

“On every hand are evidences of decay,” Boebinger wrote . . . 

Civilization itself is tottering before the ruthless greed of men. Scientific minds are being used not to build a better world, but to destroy the world. So-called financial wizards are not concerned with decreasing the burdens of debt upon the people, but with increasing them. Educators are too prone to be no longer concerned with the search for truth, but are striving to inflict their own pet theories upon the human mind. On every hand, political leadership has become corrupt, and is seeking after power and attempting to subjugate its constituents. Few religious leaders in these days hold aloft the high ideals of the Christ, but rather they are compromising with the world in every conceivable way. 

That’s quite a lament, but it’s a familiar refrain regarding the demise of our culture that’s still being preached, written about, and posted about regularly today.  

Boebinger continued,  

Most of the church buildings are filled on Sunday morning because church going is “the thing to do,” but one sees little evidence of real religious conviction. In most instances, ministers who were once community leaders in advocating and accomplishing moral reform have become mere men “yes men” who follow the public opinion of the times. All too often they are followers rather than leaders. 

The apparent lack of commitment and conviction among Christians and church leaders continues to be a concern for many. 

Looking Forward by Looking Back 

The “News in Brief” section at the end of the centennial issue included announcements for upcoming evangelistic meetings, training seminars, state conventions, missionary conferences, creation of a new Christian camp, and more.  

It listed ministers who had changed positions, ministers’ anniversaries, the ordinations of new ministers, workers ready for service, and churches looking for new ministers.  

The news section also shared attendance information for the 10 new churches planted during the first three months of 1966, and it celebrated the recent 337 baptisms and 284 transfers of church membership from our churches across the country.  

We continue these same practices today in various ways. We measure present realities by considering past situations. And the best predictor of future action is always past action. Let’s ponder these historical reflections and consider how our efforts today as Christian leaders can shape new realities in the future.  

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