Adaptation of the Ecclesia in a Growing World
Adapting does not mean betraying doctrine.
Phones are a norm today, with almost every human owning one, whether in the form of a landline or mobile phone.
However, the first phone invented was less well-liked than its modern successors. When Alexander Graham Bell invented the first telephone in 1876, it was not accepted because the telegraph had already been invented. Both devices were created to make communication as easy as possible. But because the telegraph was invented before the telephone, it was already the accepted means of communication. People were already accustomed to it.
You see, the electric telegraph had become part of the lives of many, and thus, they were not willing to accept this new technological device that Bell had invented. Even though the telegraph was impractical because it could not transmit many non-English texts and required a third party to transmit messages, people still held on to it. The major telegraph company, Western Union, rejected the new technology and even fought Bell to have his patent removed.1
Fast forward to 2023, and there are approximately 6.84 billion mobile phones. To put that into perspective, that number represents almost 85% of the world’s 8 billion inhabitants.2 Can you imagine a world without cell phones now? Before the telephone was created, you either had to wait for someone to inform you about something that happened or find out on your own. People were helpless in emergencies. Everything began to change when the phone network was introduced.
Today, if you miss your friends, just take a second to send them a text! Do you need an update on world news? Scroll into the BBC app. Mobile phones have made our lives so easy that without their presence today, the world would be thrown into utter chaos.
Adaptation in Nature
Before we dig into the adaptation of the ecclesia, we must first understand the concept of adaptation, and what is the best way to understand this concept than by looking at God’s magnificent creation?
Adaptation is the biological mechanism by which organisms adjust to new environments or changes in their current environment. Organisms can use various strategies to adapt to their surroundings. They are capable of biological adaptation, which entails changing how the body works.
The physical characteristics of people who live in high-altitude regions like Tibet are examples of biological adaptation. The people living on the Tibetan Plateau flourish at elevations where oxygen concentrations are up to 40% lower than at sea level. Most people would become sick from breathing air that thin, but Tibetans’ bodies have undergone alterations in their biological chemistry.
Because their bodies produce more hemoglobin, a protein that transports oxygen in the blood, most individuals can survive at high altitudes for a brief period. Increased hemoglobin levels are not a long-term answer to high-altitude survival because they can be hazardous when present continually. Due to genetic changes, the ability to utilize oxygen much more effectively without the need for additional hemoglobin appears to exist in Tibetans.
Adapting Does Not Mean Betraying Doctrine
Now that we’ve had a crash course on adaptation, let us jump into the meat of our discussion. I think the greatest misconception or fear of adapting in the ecclesia is the concern that adjusting will change doctrines. It is a fair reservation to have, but it is not necessarily true.
Doctrines make us who we are, and without them, we are nothing, so they aren’t something we can change. However, the ways we pray, sing, exhort, dress, and the time we start the memorial service are not resolute and thus are subject to change, causing the ecclesia to function better.
The entire premise of Christianity is based on change. God was ushering in the New Covenant; thus, the old ways of doing things were about to end. The Messiah was present in flesh and blood. The Pharisees had distorted the law so badly that they kept their own made-up laws rather than God’s. Look how Jesus challenges them on this very point.
At first glance, we might think Jesus was allowing his disciples to break God’s commandments. But quite quickly, we see that was not the case. You see, the Pharisees had many traditions and observances that, over the years, they made up and had nothing to do with God’s commandments. They were not necessarily bad. In fact, washing one’s hands before eating is acceptable today.
So, if this tradition was so beneficial, what exactly is the issue here? The problem was their inability to differentiate God’s law from their own tradition. God’s law had to be always obeyed, but their traditions did not hold much weight, and Jesus challenged them on this. They were so used to their rules that they equated them to God’s laws.
They were so used to their rules that they equated them to God’s laws.
It can be hard to accept new things, especially when we are so used to doing things a certain way for many years. However, we must not mistake our traditions and preferences for how something is done as God’s law.
So, with time, adaptations or changes may occur in non-doctrinal matters. We can sing different praise songs, we can play new instruments, we can dress differently, and we can introduce new methods and styles to our services because the end goal is to serve God at our best capacity, and that may mean making amendments because many times the old way of doing things just isn’t cutting it anymore.
Two Necessary Viewpoints About Change
In everything in life, a balance must be found. Some are resistant to change, and others widely embrace it. Both kinds of people play a crucial role in maintaining the ecclesia.
Some are resistant to change, and others widely embrace it
Some are averse to change and see the way they did things 100 years ago as still the “best” way, often because that is what they are used to. These environments can cause those with new ideas to be stifled and afraid to speak up. In some extreme cases, they can drive a severe wedge in their relationship with God, creating resentment not only for some brothers and sisters, the ecclesia itself, and possibly even for God. This development can cause some to fall away from the faith.
Some are much more accepting of change, which is good if monitored closely. Trending in today’s media is the movement that stemmed around gender equality and LGBTQIA2S+, where persons from these movements are calling for more acceptance. Now, while that sounds good, we know God’s commands on the matter. Some can quickly turn from trying to make the ecclesia better to accepting behaviors and lifestyles that are totally against the laws of God—all under the guise of openness to change! We already see it at the community’s doorsteps, and must be assessed closely.
The question now is, How do we find the balance? The answer lies in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians: “Therefore, if food causes my brother to sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to sin.” (1 Cor 8:13 NASB).
Now, what does food have to do with drawing the line? Well, everything. Paul identifies a principle that goes beyond food and shows that we should compromise for our brothers and sisters. But this still poses an issue because one group will argue that the compromise should favor their viewpoint. The two groups need to find a common ground of compromise where they learn to coexist in a Christ-like manner.
Adaptation Should Not Water Down the Truth, But Enhance It
Our motives behind wanting change are significant and must be weighed. The goal of adapting is not to look like other churches or make the ecclesia “more fun.” Its main goal is simply better to facilitate service to our God and our Lord.
Adaptation can also be an effective tool in ministering the gospel to others. We can create new platforms to advertise the Truth without compromising the integrity of the Truth. So, it is not always wrong to adopt some techniques from other churches, especially when they are working, and can be adapted and modified to reach others.
So, “trying an idea I heard about from my friend’s church” is not necessarily bad. All that is needed is the modification to fit our doctrines. If a new method adapted from another is working and we are against it simply because it is from another denomination, we have a lot of self-assessment to do.
In the End, Change is Inevitable
When it is all said and done, change is a necessary requirement for growth, and simply put, without change, the truth may never grow.
We are responsible for seeing how we can foster healthy change for the ecclesia. We have to create platforms to discuss necessary adaptation techniques for the ecclesia. We can no longer allow ourselves to be agitated by persons bringing new instruments, creating more youth-friendly platforms, not using ties and jackets, or singing in a specific way. It is time we look beyond “what we like and know” and see what works best, what is more likely to attract those outside, and what will keep our young people.
If that means bringing in new methods we dislike, we must remove our biases and let the LORD’S work be done. This compromise can only be accomplished when we sit down and put our ideas together in a loving manner that is right and fitting for brothers and sisters.
Finally, how can we foster effective and healthy ecclesial adaptation? Here are a few ideas:
- We must recognize and eradicate our biases and traditions that hamper the ecclesia more than help it grow.
- We must create platforms outside Bible classes or Memorial Services where both the young and old can meet and discuss matters about the growth and health of the ecclesia.
- We must keep an open mind to new ideas, even though they may not be traditional to our ecclesia.
- We must remember the end goal is to spread the good news to others. Sometimes, we may need to adapt our methods to teach and connect with them.
- We must remember there is no one style of worship, no one style of prayer, no one style of dressing, and no right or wrong musical instruments—they must all be used for the glory of God.
- And above all, we must remember always to do what’s best—not for ourselves but for the ecclesia.
Georgetown Ecclesia, Guyana
- History.com. “Alexander Graham Bell: Telephone & Inventions–History.” Accessed April 14, 2023 https://www.history.com/topics/inventions/alexander-graham-bell.
- Howarth, Josh. “How many people own smartphones (2023-2028).” Exploding Topics. January 26, 2023. https://explodingtopics.com/blog/smartphone-stats.