Does the church really need any more innovation?
Yes it does - and urgently!
The Bible is a book filled with innovative and revolutionary ideas. Since its inception, the church also has been a hothouse of ideas, bold visions and plans for change. Yet, in the public eye, today’s church is remote, outmoded and mostly concerned with institutional survival. So there is a disjunction between the public perception of church and the image that the church would like to be accepted.
We need to take stock of what we are thinking and communicating in regard to the traditions of the faith, the Bible, and the church. We need to investigate with an open mind why the Bible was so innovative, and perhaps discover how and why we have closed off the creative routes it once opened up. So we will briefly consider the process of change in the
The church life surveys (NCLS) identify innovation as a key factor for healthy congregations. It is a broad category, that involves creativity, leadership initiatives, and a willingness to take some risks, in order to meet contemporary needs and expectations.
Innovation in biblical terms, however, is not about tinkering—rather it involves radical change. biblical innovation in this sense changed the course of the history. It began from the earliest times, at the foundation of the nation of Israel, and it hasn’t stopped since then. Does the church need more change? Can we live with even more innovation? How you answer depends on how you read the Bible.
Overview of the record of God’s innovations
In the earliest biblical era, the rainbow was a sign: mystery and beauty in a wild and stormy sky. In a harsh world it betokened sublime care: God’s covenant sign. It was a signal that despite all appearances to the contrary, the cosmos is not indifferent to life and its needs.
Later on, in the time of Moses, the concept of the moral universe appeared. This is summed up in the Ten Commandments. This is the first really great covenant. The idea of a rule of law, a society regulated on a fair and just basis, was already established in the Code of Hammurabi. But something about the Ten Commandments is unique, not to be found in any of the other ancient treaties.
This covenant is primarily about the rule of God among people, which is stated in the first commandment, “You shall have no other gods before me.” Hammurabi’s Code, however, is about the gods granting the divine right of kings to rule. “The concept of a covenantal bond between God and man is revolutionary and has no parallel in any other system of thought ... I know of no other vision that confers on mankind so great a dignity and responsibility.” (Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, A Letter in the Scroll.)
Twelve hundred years later, the seed of the covenant idea bears fruit again. This time not in terms of God found in nature, not in terms of God found in the moral order of the nation, but instead God found in terms of unconditional love, in Jesus Christ, who is the new covenant.
The Meaning of Covenant
The word covenant in the Greek language is diatheke, διαθηκη. It is one of the greatest words in both Old and New Testaments. In fact, our term testament is derived from the Latin translation of the word covenant. The books of the Bible are made from the books of the old and the new covenants.
What did the word covenant mean in biblical terms? It was not just a legal document, an agreement between two parties, which is how the word is mostly used today. It also signified another kind of relationship beyond a legal arrangement. Covenant meant the deepest kind of personal relationship between the illimitable God and the finite, the limited, represented by frail, puny humanity.
At the heart of the word covenant lies a strange idea—the notion of God’s obligation. Yet biblical covenant never invokes equality between God and humanity, between the giver and the receiver. Instead there is unmerited response and empathy and thankfulness across insurmountable barriers: all those qualities flow from the greater to the lesser. So covenant has been called an “encounter with God above and the world around”.
Consider how the concept of covenant has developed and transformed itself across the span of the biblical centuries. From the rainbow indicating God will not destroy the earth again, to God promising Israel that he has chosen them, through to the new covenant in a person, we cannot help but see profound changes. Changes that also reflect deepening human understandings of the nature of God.
The theology of innovation therefore means looking for changes and developments in the biblical record and seeing what these might signal to contemporary hearts and minds. The question we should ask is, what has changed across the Bible era and why? The answer gleaned from the Scriptures seems to be that people began to see God differently, hear God differently, process their understanding and experience of God differently and that the Holy Spirit—God himself—was guiding and enabling these changes.
That record of change across the Bible era should empower us to become wise stewards in enabling transformation in church life today.