The Controversy Between Old and New

This article was written by Nathan Walsh, a friend of mine from college who I greatly respect. As a young ministry leader, Nathan has distinguished himself as a dedicated student of God’s Word, a direct benefit to the local ministry where he serves as an ordained minister, as well as those of us reading this article.

Read and be encouraged and challenged like I was!

– Nate Calvert

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We live in a very interesting time of development as Christians. Good men who believe the gospel, and believe that doctrine is the foundational bedrock of agreement between churches, will also write and preach extensively about methods.

What has been produced could be described by one of these three conclusions:

  1. My method is absolutely biblical, and everyone that disagrees must be separated from.
  2. My method is absolutely biblical, but not everyone who disagrees needs to be separated from.
  3. My method is not absolute, and it can always improve. Therefore, there is no reason to separate from those who disagree.

This is an important topic, and the younger generation (of which I am a part) have really come to the table of the conversation in recent years and have been willing to debate rather than simply accept what has been handed to us (as is the strength and weakness of millennials). The debate ensues, and the arguments are given. But because it includes both older, seasoned, qualified, spiritual leaders and younger, zealous, and questioning leaders, an argument that has been included for all of church history comes to the forefront once again: it is the battle between the old and the new.

I do not believe that I have read a blog, an article, or a book concerning this strain in our movement of how we move forward into the 21st century without my attention being drawn to the old vs. the new. Good men come to different conclusions about who the victor is in the battle between the old and the new. However, I propose that the answers to how we reach our world in our age with the gospel of Jesus Christ will involve BOTH old and new things, not BECAUSE our methods are old or new but REGARDLESS of whether they are old or new.

How we reach our world with the gospel of Jesus Christ will involve BOTH old and new things, not BECAUSE our methods are old or new but REGARDLESS of whether they are old or new. Click To Tweet

In the following post, I want to biblically address 4 erroneous arguments that are made by good men on both sides of the table, young and old.

1. “It’s good because it’s old.”

We have all heard the preacher raise his voice like a trumpet and loudly pronounce that how we reach souls, and how we worship, and how we sing in church is good because it’s the old way. It is the way of our fathers.

“Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set.” — Proverbs 22:28

Entire ministries and programs are based on the “good because it’s old” mentality which is named after the biblical concept in Proverbs 22:28. However it has come to the attention of many young Christians that this verse actually has nothing to do with worship or style of anything. It has to do with robbing your neighbors land by moving the landmark which thy fathers have set and thereby giving yourself more land than actually belongs to you. As difficult as it may be to accept, this text holds no bearing on the conversation.

The real trap where many Christians have found themselves is the same as the old men on the return from Babylon into the nation of Judah. God commanded the people to put Him first in their life and to rebuild the temple. When they obeyed the voice of the Lord, and the temple—a brand new temple—was being built, there were two reactions: rejoicing from the young and weeping from the old.

The young men rejoiced because they did not remember a time when the Lord was present with them like He was now. They were rejoicing with how the Lord was working NOW.

The old men, though, had a different reaction because they remembered the way the temple USED to be and the way the Lord USED to visit the people. Haggai rebukes the mentality that the other temple was better BECAUSE it was old by telling them this:

“The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts.” — Haggai 2:9

“Are you saying that we should ignore the old men who have good counsel and more wisdom than the younger generation has?” Absolutely not.

There is an excellent biblical example often quoted during this conversation—the counsel of the old men vs. the counsel of the young men in the life of Rehoboam.

When Rehoboam took the kingdom from his father Solomon, he had a choice to make: Does he perpetuate the policies of his father, or does he change to something new? The old men advised him to change and be lighter on the people with the burdens that Solomon had placed on them. The young men on the other hand told him not to change the policy, but to make it harder.

But he forsook the counsel of the old men, which they had given him, and consulted with the young men that were grown up with him, and which stood before him.” — 1 Kings 12:8 

Rehoboam’s decision cost him his leadership over 10 tribes. He decided to forsake the godly and wise counsel of the old men who believed that the old ways were fine but needed to be changed in order to move forward. The young men were foolish to believe that moving forward meant Rehoboam should buckle down more rigidly on the old ways and refuse to change.

What is fascinating is that the great men of the old Independent Fundamental movements in Christianity—men who are lifted up as the old wise men—were all innovators. The methods of the old paths were all innovations in their day. Sunday school was a new innovation. The bus ministry was an innovation. Children’s programs were innovations. Dispensationalism was an innovative way of articulating theology. Every hymn we sing was once contemporary.

How we reach our world and worship our God will never be good because it is old. It will be good because it is right.

How we reach our world and worship our God will never be good because our methods are old. It will be good because it is right. Click To Tweet

2. “It’s bad because it’s old.”

“Are you telling me that there are NO biblical principles about the old things?” Not at all.

An equally dangerous trap that young men can find themselves in is the idea that, because nothing is good because it is old (see the first point), then a method is BAD because it is old. That is not biblical at all. Young men can be so visionary and so short-sighted that they throw out everything that is old simply because it is old.

“Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.” — Jeremiah 6:16

In this passage, the Lord, through the prophet Jeremiah, was imploring the people to return to the OLD paths of their life where was the good way. The people in Judah during the time of Jeremiah were living in blatant, unrepentant, open sin, and barely anyone in the land was worshipping the Lord the way that they should—by obeying the law and worshipping Him with their hearts. The way they USED to worship Him.

They used to walk in the right way, but the people of the world were a constant distraction to the children of Israel. They were enamored by the gods of the world, and they were guilty not only of worshipping those gods in their homes and their high places, but also trying to incorporate the worship of the world’s idols within the context of their worship of the Lord. They needed to return to the old way.

The young men in our generation, in their frustration with the “old for the sake of old” mindset, need to remember that there is a reason why certain things have been done for the majority of church history.

Preaching about sin is still right, even though it’s old. Preaching does not need to be innovated in our age or changed for the message to say that sin is not a problem. This is what Paul warned Timothy about. Men search for teachers who will tell them what they want to hear. The battle for biblical preaching is not a new battle. (II Timothy 4:1-4)

Hymns are not bad, even though they are old. In the Bible, the people of Israel would often return to their old “hymns of the faith” when they would worship. (Nehemiah 12:45-46)

Righteousness is old. Love is old. Truth is old. The Bible is old. God is eternal, and He never changes.

Nothing will be bad because it is old. It will be bad if it departs from what is right.

Methods are not bad because they are old. They will be bad if they depart from what is right. Click To Tweet

3. “It’s bad because it’s new.”

This is where the previous proponents of the “good because it’s old” mentality chime back in. “Our churches and our methods aren’t bad because they’re old! There are many “old paths” that God has set us on that we are to walk in. We are not to model our Christianity after the idols of the world. We are never to do the work of the Lord with the world’s methods of doing things.”

A great example of the proponents of the “bad because it’s new” mentality is this story from II Samuel 6.

And David arose, and went with all the people that were with him from Baale of Judah, to bring up from thence the ark of God, whose name is called by the name of the LORD of hosts that dwelleth between the cherubims. And they set the ark of God upon a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab that was in Gibeah: and Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, drave the new cart.” — 2 Samuel 6:2-3

David loved God, and he wanted to worship the Lord with all of his heart. He wanted the ark of the covenant to reside in Jerusalem where he could build the Lord a temple (which God later told him he was unable to build but should prepare his son to build). The ark of the covenant had been sitting at a farmer’s house since before the reign of King Saul. David knew that it was delicate to move, and so, he did the most practical thing and built a brand new cart for the ark to ride on, because he wanted to give God the best.

The story continues to the cart stumbling on the road and a man named Uzzah putting his hand forward to steady it. Due to the command of the Lord not to touch the ark, Uzzah immediately died. What David had not paid attention to was the specific precept given in God’s Word of how to transport the ark—it was to be carried by the Levites.

An interesting insight into this story, however, is the method by which the ark of the covenant arrived at the farmer’s house in the first place. The Philistines had stolen the ark of the covenant from the Israelites in a battle at the beginning of I Samuel, but, because they stole the ark of God, they experienced the wrath of God in every city where it dwelt. In desperation, they decided to send it back to a town in Israel along with sacrifices of golden artwork in order to appease the God of the Israelites. All of this was to determine if the judgment had really come from God. They crafted a new cart and sent the cart without a driver to the next town, and it safely arrived.

Now, in II Samuel 6, we see David trying to transport the ark of the covenant (i.e. do the work of the Lord) in the same way that the Philistines (the world) did it.

There are a few questions that are immediately raised.

  1. Was David’s new cart wrong because it was new? No, it was wrong because it was a cart.
  2. Was David’s cart wrong because the Philistines had used a cart? No, it was wrong regardless of what the Philistines had done before him.
  3. Was David trying to be like the Philistines? David may very well have never known that the Philistines had transported the cart in that way, judging by the distance of time that took place between the former story and the latter.

David’s cart was not wrong because it was a new cart, nor because it was the world’s method. David’s cart would not have been any more righteous if it had been an old cart or if the Philistines had never tried it. David’s cart was wrong because God had specifically designed a command for the transportation of the ark that was not to be broken.

David did, however, mirror the philosophy of the Philistines in his methods in many ways. They both used weapons; they both used armor; they both practiced military strategy; they both had temples; they both had a political system. Where David was not to mirror the philosophy of the Philistines was where God had prescribed otherwise.

21st century Christianity uses many things the world uses: lights, sound systems, screens, Facebook, websites, etc. (though all of these things have been a fight in Christian circles for this very reason).

Methods will never be bad because they're new. They will only be bad if they're wrong. Click To Tweet

4. “It’s good because it’s new.”

This introduces the last, equally dangerous mindset that Christians can have. The desire to be accessible to people, to make the gospel of Jesus Christ understandable, and to practice cross-cultural evangelism can lead to the mindset that “it’s good because it’s new.” These people are the ones who are the first to jump on the bandwagon and the first to jump off the train of “old things.” These are the close relatives of the “bad because it’s old” Christians.

A great example of these bandwagon Christians are the philosophers of Acts 17. Paul is in the city of Athens, the city of the world and its great ideas. He finds his way to the top of Mar’s Hill and enters into the conversations of the men in the city who love to talk about whatever it is that they have never heard of before. He approaches these pagans and philosophers with the idea of one God and a resurrected Savior. On the surface, there is no reason for Paul to believe that they will listen to him. But the Bible makes this note:

“For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.” — Act 17:21

This is the reason the Bible gives us for why the Athenians would listen to Paul in the first place, simply because they had never heard his message before. What is interesting is that the Bible seems to indicate this as a negative thing.

Paul’s message would only be new the first time, but never again. Paul would have to keep being new in order to gain the attention of the world. But he stays true to his message: One God, sending his Son to die for our sin and rising again, providing hope of eternal life. Some were saved and accepted the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Others rejected because they did not like the truth.

Many Christians are like the Athenians on the Hill—so disenchanted by the “good because it’s old” mentality, that they become “good because it’s new” Christians. They try something BECAUSE it is the new thing to do. They are the first to jump on board with whatever the crowd is thinking. They only read books from young men, and they only listen to the insight of those who propose what has not been tried. For their entire lives, many Christians have had so many wise and fundamental truths pounded into their brains by old men with good counsel. But the danger is that the impact of that wise counsel becomes lost as a result of their search for what is new. The arguments they are used to hearing seem to pale in comparison to whatever it is that they have not yet heard, even if the old argument actually holds a greater weight.

Many Christians are in the shoes of Paul, and we realize the ones we are trying to reach are quick followers of the trend. So we may be quick to change our purpose simply because we want to be fresh and exciting. We try the style, the music, the quotes, the ideas, and the catch phrases that are the latest thing just to try to relate. We are afraid to go stale, and the gospel of Jesus Christ—one God sending his only son to die for our sin and rising again, providing hope of joy in this life and eternity in the next—gets cast by the side in favor of what we think might attract those who search for whatever is new.

It will never be good  because it is new. It will only be good if it is right.

Methods will never be good because they're new. They will only be good if they are right. Click To Tweet

Conclusion:

And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him. And whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” — Colossians 3:17, 23

Let this be our guide.

It is good because it is righteous; it is bad because it is wicked.

It is good if it reaches our world; it is bad if it conforms to it.

It is good if the purpose is to bring glory to the Lord; it is bad if the purpose is to bring glory to men.

It is not good or bad if it is old or new. It is bad because it is wrong, and it is good because it is right.

Methods are not good or bad if they are old or new. They are bad if they are wrong, and they are good if they are right. Click To Tweet

 

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