Newer Is Not Always Better

“The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:9).
On the trail from Tipling to Linju in the Nepal Himalayas there is an interesting sight. Just outside the town there is a deep crevice that must be crossed, and over that crevice is not one, but two bridges, one situated directly over the other. The lower of the bridges is older, of traditional swinging style. Above it is a modern steel structure, obviously intended to replace and improve upon the original. But the steel bridge is twisted, its rails severely cork-screwed and it is impassable. At some point, a herd of cattle attempted to cross it, but all crowded onto one side and the bridge could not support the strain. The cattle fell and were killed, the bridge damaged beyond use.
Being of new design does not guarantee superior quality. Some things are old for a reason — they work. Effectiveness is determined by integrity of material, design, and workmanship. Whether or not a thing is traditional has little to do with those qualities. Many structures are of great age and are still functioning well. Others decay and fall out of use. Mere age is not the criteria. Similarly, innovations may excel, or they may fail spectacularly. Each must be judged on its own merit, not just on the basis of one’s attitude towards change.
There are few areas where the contrasts between tradition and innovation create more controversy than in religion. “Conservatives” (those who support the status quo) insist that all truth is revealed, all religious practice is predetermined, and nothing new or different is acceptable. “Liberals” (supporters of change) argue that progress in all aspects of life is not only possible but essential. They argue that new insights and applications are necessary to keep religion fresh and relevant.
There is truth in both these assertions. Truth does not become irrelevant just because it is old or familiar. The fundamental facts of Christianity are eternal and do not change. As Jude tells us, it is “the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Warnings against changing any of these facts abound in scripture. “Even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). “Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them…” (1 Timothy 4:16). “(Hold) fast the faithful word as (one) has been taught…” (Titus 1:9).
On the other hand, no generation has a sole claim to insight and application. God has seen fit to reveal his truths to us in a manner that demands interpretation and application. He gives wisdom (understanding and discretion) to those who ask him (James 1:5). All necessary doctrine and required duty is established as a matter of faith and obedience. But some religious practice involves expedience and choice. One is commanded to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Colossians 3:16), but is not required to sing any particular hymn at any specific time. Christians are required to assemble, but a particular time or place of assembly is not commanded.
Over time, various styles of worship and methods of evangelism will find favor. One is not necessarily superior to that which it replaces, or to that which would be its replacement. Each should be evaluated first on the basis of consistency with eternal principles, then upon effectiveness. A song does not draw us closer to God merely because we have never sung it before, or, conversely, because we have known it for decades. Something new may have great value. Something old may be irreplaceable. Let us be open to each.

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