With every generation new conditions present themselves to the church. Society, business, politics, home, and everything has undergone a marked change within the last quarter of a century. The church has lost her grip upon these times if she does not move with them, and the men of this generation pass by without ever a thought of crossing its threshold. We must change our thought and work and machinery, and even the course of the ship, if we are to fulfill our mission.
The old truth is sacred; old methods may not be. Truth cannot be changed; methods must always be changing. He who is wide awake, and lives in his own time, and pushes to the front, and devises new methods, will be the center of gravity of the men of the world. He who runs in old ruts, and preaches old sermons, and works with old plans, is dead as far as the world is concerned. He has neither life nor power, and that is death. He who studies the right way of presenting truth, and the art of putting things, and the skill in catching men, and understands the importance of tact and sanctified common sense, is “like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season. His leaf also shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.”
If the old methods are worn out and ineffective, it is folly and sin to continue their operation. The emperor of Russia, while showing a distinguished visitor over his palace, was asked by the latter why a sentinel was placed on a small grass plot in the grounds. The emperor called his aide-de-camp and asked for information. This the latter was unable to give. The officer for the day was sent for, but he, too, was unable to enlighten the czar. “Send me the general in command of the forces here,” said the emperor. The general came, but could give no further information than that his orders were to post an armed sentinel on that spot. “Investigate it, then,” said the czar shortly, “and report the result to me.” A long search in the military order-book revealed the fact that, eighty years ago, Catherine II, looking from a window in her apartment, had seen the first spring flower shoot up above the snow. She ordered a sentinel to be placed in order to prevent anyone from breaking the snowdrop. No one thought to countermand the order afterward, and so for eighty years a sentinel had kept watch on that very spot; a human monument of blind, useless obedience to old orders and customs. Many a preacher stands within the courts of the church a sentinel over some withered flower of the past.
That same czar, while going through his palace one day, noticed some repairs were being made, and, wishing to make inquiry, he beckoned to a workman nearby, who immediately dropped his tools and approached the emperor. Before the latter could speak to him a rifle shot rang out, and the man fell dead. A hidden sentinel had not seen the emperor beckon, and, in accordance with orders to shoot anyone coming unsummoned within twenty paces of the czar, he had killed the workman, whom he had suspected of approaching the emperor for the purpose of murdering him.
The man who is doing some new work in the kingdom of God, and reaching the churchless and Christless men, is beckoned to the side of his Master to receive commendation, while the impulsive and shortsighted guard over antiquities tries to shoot him down.
The church for the times must meet the church of the times. It must be of the Columbus spirit, and, with consecrated determination, discover the new world. It will find the discord in the music of modern life, and bring it back to key note and harmony. It will brave any storm, and sail any sea to
reach the great continent of man’s needs, and to satisfy the longings of his heart.
Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.”
He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?
…Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
Matthew 15:1-9 (NKJV)