The Price of Progress

By Michael E. Brooks
“Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved” (Matthew 9:17).
I am in Sybru Besi, at the edge of Langtang National Park in the Himalayas of Nepal. This is my seventh trip to or through Sybru, the first being sixteen years ago. I have a great fondness for this simple, remote, and extremely scenic little town.
This morning as we walked to the house where thirty five Tamang people waited for Bible Study, we passed a road that I did not remember from previous visits. My Nepali companion explained that it is a new road that leads to the border of China, about two hours drive away. I remember walking for six hours or more and still being another two hours from the border.
As I digested the fact of the new easier route, I realized that I was not completely happy about it. I hold fondly to my memories of the moderately difficult trek I enjoyed, of the remoteness of the area, and of the almost completely natural and unspoiled scenery everywhere, except for stone houses that fit right into the landscape.
Now there is a road. There is intrusion upon the view, invitation to many more people to come into the area, and the loss of some of the pristine atmosphere I treasured.
Yet who can deny that this type of progress is good for many people, especially those who live here and have the most at stake? Their transportation is greatly eased, economic opportunity is provided, and much good will no doubt come to them.
This is not the format to debate the value of environmental preservation versus the needs of the human population. That is a valid debate and one which needs much exploration. But this article is simply to observe that any change, even beneficial progress, comes at a price.
Man’s infrastructure, wherever it is placed, causes detriment to natural environments. Sometimes the infrastructure is essential regardless of the loss; sometimes it is worth the damage caused. At other times neither may be true.
Jesus acknowledged the same when the Pharisees asked why his disciples did not fast. Fasting was not wrong. It may even have some benefits to the sincere believer. But the Jewish practice of fasting apparently was not considered by Jesus as a good fit for Christianity. It was an old wineskin, which new wine would burst and ruin.
There has been much controversy in recent decades between so called “progressives” and “traditionalists” (I do not appreciate or enjoy using labels) in the Lord’s Church.
One side wants change. The other wants to keep things the same. This applies to evangelistic methods, worship styles, the role of women, the organization of the Church, and much more.
To both sides of this dispute I offer the following two observations. One is that change will happen. Nothing remains the same. Those who oppose change may slow it down, but will not stop it forever.
Rather than stubbornly resisting all change, perhaps their efforts would be better spent in attempts to control change and direct it properly, rather than simply resisting everything that is “new” (Solomon has something to say about whether anything really is — Ecclesiastes 1:9).
The second observation is that all change, even true progress, comes at a price. Advocates of change would do well to remember that, and to ensure that the benefits of the progress are greater than the loss incurred in order to provide it.
Christianity dispensed with an honored and valued Jewish tradition of fasting. Jesus assures us that the loss is more than made up by the gain.
But can modern change advocates give the same assurance? When a decades or centuries old practice is abandoned because it is old fashioned and does not fit modern culture (in the opinion of some), does the replacement meet the same needs and provide the same or comparable benefits?
Or are the needs of others simply ignored for the gratification of the ones desiring something new? And of course there is the far more important question, “Is it true progress, or is it digression?” Some change takes us away from God and His will. That is never worth the price which must be paid.
Not all change is bad. Not all good change is worth it. This is true whether we are talking of building a road in the mountains or seeking to practice Christianity in modern culture.

One Reply to “The Price of Progress”

  1. Very well reasoned.
    Changes based on scripture are inevitable and desirable. Our brotherhood tends to be somewhat moribund.
    Change needs to be gradual and led by elders and
    not by divisive elements.
    If we are not dynamic, evangelistic and totally
    loving–we will not be doing God’s will.

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