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Changing times

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Gathering 2012 in the scope of history

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam…
For the times they are a-changin’.

It was 1963 when Bob Dylan first sang that song. And indeed the times changed. Within a month, President Kennedy was assassinated. The Vietnam War was ramping up and within a few more months, Congress, by an 88–2 majority in the Senate and 416–0 vote in the House of Representatives, authorized President Johnson to “take all necessary measures” to repel the forces from the North aligned against the U.S.

I was 11 years old, and the song is forever burned into my being. Maybe because I lived in a household immersed in stories of escaping the Russian revolution. Maybe because my Oma (who lived with us) was still shell-shocked during thunderstorms. Maybe it’s because I vividly remember the Bay of Pigs and the Kennedy assassination and nuclear war bunkers. Maybe it’s because apocalyptic preaching was alive and well.

Times change, and in the half-century that has passed, many changes have swept over us. Sexual revolutions, racial revolutions, communication revolutions, financial revolutions, technological revolutions, and the list could go on.

As so when Willy Reimer prepared MB Herald readers for Gathering 2012 with Terry Mochar’s admonition – “The Lord is changing the times and seasons in both Canada and within the denomination. He is calling you to a new reality that he’s been preparing you for, things you have never dreamed possible” – he was speaking language with which I resonated.

“The times they are a-changin’”? Indeed they are.

But changing times are complicated. That is self-evident of course, but songs and declarations don’t tell us what to do next. We can all see change as we look back, but understanding its trajectory looking forward isn’t as simple. There are, of course, plenty of confident voices claiming to know the right course, but far too often, like the decision of President Johnson’s Congress in 1964, they have led into quagmires.

Times change – that is a given. But what are kingdom people to do?

I believe it bears remembering that Jesus prepared us for life in a world of constantly changing times with a methodical process.

First, he tells us to weigh the words of the prognosticators carefully. Jesus is blunt on this point, “Watch out that you are not deceived” (Luke 21:8). Changing times leave us vulnerable to the twin dangers of panicky haste and fearful inaction.

Second, he warns against the language of cataclysm: “When you hear of wars and uprisings, do not be frightened. These things must happen first, but the end will not come right away” (Luke 21:9). There are many events that appear to be portents of change, then prove simply to be the mechanics of history running its course. Do not be frightened.

Third, Jesus tells us to study the changing times carefully: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near” (Luke 21:29–30). We are to be people who watch the turning of the seasons in the trees with the patient but invested eye of the farmer. When does a shift in colour signal that change is coming, and when does it tell us the moment is past? We are to watch for signs of the times, but do so carefully – even methodically.

As congregations of MB churches in Canada, we live in a constantly changing world. The structures that past generations put in place need constant testing. Sometimes we must rebuild those structures, sometimes we must abandon defunct structures, and we must always create new structures for new times. That’s the life of Jesus’ church and has been for nearly 2,000 years.

And what principle is to guide those changes? From the beginning, Jesus was clear, “You are the salt of the earth…. You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13–16). We must keep our lamps lit and our salt savoury. That is our mission.

Are we on the threshold of a new season within Canada and the Canadian Conference of MB Churches? History will make that determination, but whether we are at the crossroads or not, the challenge is the same. In a constantly changing world, we are to be kingdom salt and light; the preservation of those qualities must drive any adjustments we make.

James Toews is pastor of Neighbourhood Church, Nanaimo, B.C.s

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