One of my favourite verses in the gospels comes from Matthew where Jesus says, “…every teacher of the law who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (13:52).
This is the last of eight parables strung together in Chapter 13 where Jesus first uses parables to explain what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Here Jesus reflects on his new way of teaching saying it is like a householder who, to meet the needs of the current situation, brings from his supply old things and new things. In other words every student or learner of the Kingdom is like a head of an enterprise that is able to apply both new and old learning to every circumstance. It is about making the right response as demanded by the current situation.
“Every student or learner of the Kingdom is like a head of an enterprise that is able to apply both new and old learning to every circumstance”
In Australia today the church is facing challenging times. The world continues to change and we are struggling to keep pace. Today the active Christian population has become a minority and the majority of our neighbours and friends never set a foot inside a church. In fact, they are increasingly ignorant of even our most familiar Bible stories. Although some of the outward trappings of our Christian past reside with our society, it is now overwhelmingly secularised.
It is not surprising that as the number of people familiar with the gospel dwindles and those ignorant of the church increase, that many children have never heard the Christmas story. I recently read of a young student fascinated with hearing the story of Christmas for the first time went to his teacher to thank her. Yet one thing disturbed him, ‘Why did they give the baby a swear-word for his name?’
Living in a post-Christendom society that has lost the memory of its Christian past, people today actively choose not to associate with churches. If they do happen to be in our buildings it will be at a wedding or a funeral or as curious tourists totally ignorant of their own Christian legacy. Long past is the expectation that churches have anything relevant or even understandable to say to them.
Needless to say this poses enormous challenges for us. Hobart Baptist has not been exempt from the effects of these changes. Perhaps our biggest threat is that we will continue to operate as though nothing has changed. Overwhelmed by the changes, the danger is that we continue to be the church the way we were before the dramatic events of the past century.
So what do we do? Jesus’ parable can be a bit of a guide for us. The way ahead is not a simplistic “out with the old and in the new” nor is it a matter of sticking with the wisdom of the past.
While our traditions may not necessarily continue to be helpful or essential, neither will the new be helpful just because it is new. There is a tension at work here. We cannot, and must not, lose sight of what has been, yet what has been is in need of constant renewing to meet current challenges. While it makes no sense to discard the accumulated wisdom of the past, neither should we refuse to seek out God’s new transforming future.
God still calls us to go and make disciples (Matthew 28:19-20) but the world around us has changed so significantly that unreached people are no longer only overseas (if they ever were) they are now our next door neighbours. Those ignorant of the gospel are in the streets, schools, and clubs of the communities we live in. The changing world has made us all into missionaries.
This is the challenge we face. How do we communicate the gospel in this new world? It’s like we need to learn a new language – the language of our secular world. We need to learn how to be church in our changing world so we can become “light, salt and leaven” (Matthew 5:13-15, 13:33) again. To do so we will need to bring “treasures old and new” praying for God’s enabling to meet the challenges of our time.
What challenges do you face in communicating the gospel with those you see daily? What ‘old and new’ treasures will you bring out as you relate to them?
Stephen L Baxter