A paradigm shift is a gradual change in which a human cultural expression is gradually replaced by one forming alongside of it. The Greek word is formed from two words, one meaning “alongside” and the other meaning “to show or appear.”
A paradigm shift is taking place in the church. A new expression is gradually emerging alongside of the old one, which it will eventually replace. Eventually it will appear visibly along side of the old paradigm and people will have to choose between the two. One will die off and the other will grow in strength and visibility.
History shows that when these shifts take place most people are not even aware that the change is developing. Some people with spiritual vision are able to see it coming, but most people are oblivious to the transformation taking place right before their eyes. Eventually God raises up spokesmen who openly embrace and proclaim the paradigm until it is fully received by the people.
The Reformation: Our example
A great example would be the paradigm shift that occurred leading up to the life and ministry of Martin Luther in the sixteenth century. Though Luther became a primary spokesman for the paradigm shift when he nailed his ninety-five theses to the Wittenberg University church door, the change had begun even before he entered the scene. Europe was undergoing cultural, social, and political changes among the people. The paradigm shift was taking place but it was so gradual that most people did not notice.
The church of the day ruled strongly from the top down. Regular Christians had long sense been restricted from any meaningful participation in worship. Authority rested in the church institution while the Bible was deemphasized. By the time of the Reformation people were not allowed to read the Bible and the mass was held in the forgotten, antiquated Latin language that most people did not understand.
The church institution was so degraded that two years into the Reformation seven people were burned at the stake for teaching their children the Bible in English. The church institution opposed translation and teaching of the Bible so people could understand it. Preaching was discouraged and replaced with religious ceremony. Religious works that benefitted the church institution replaced true devotion to Christ and the institution used its power to extort money from the people to pay for their expensive buildings and programs.
A paradigm shift began to take place. People became uncomfortable with being excluded from the services of the church. They became hungry for the truth in God’s word. They desired to be able to participate in worship and the search for truth. They wanted to be able to read the Bible in their own language and teach its precepts to their children. They grew tired of the top-down influence of the powerful church institution. The unrest grew and became a wave of change that arrived on the beach when Luther began his protest. Then the new paradigm swept the continent of Europe and changed the face of the church.
The people in the midst of a paradigm shift do not always recognize what is happening. They feel some unrest and wonder about certain things they witness but for the most part they do not recognize the slow change that is taking place. It is being affected by converging cultural, social, political, religious and spiritual factors.
We are in a similar shift
The shift we are presently experiencing is motivated by many of the same conditions present in the sixteenth century. The church institution has become increasingly powerful and influential. The people have gradually been pushed to the side while the top-down authority of the institution controls all aspects of the church.
Large buildings and elaborate programs have replaced the participation of Christians in fellowship, worship and the quest for truth. The truth is established by the elite, seminary-trained experts who hand it down to the people through sermons, books, and religious dogma.
The Bible is often set aside to make way for stories and entertaining oratory that tickles the ears of the listeners but produces little enlightenment, spiritual healing and holiness. The people are not encouraged to read the Bible and find truth for themselves because the experts have a monopoly on truth and disseminate it as they please. Christians grow less and less connected to one another and to Christ because they become passive and neglect the life-transforming truths of Christ and His word.
The result of all of this is a secular church that is conformed to the world instead of transformed by the spiritual dynamics provided by God. Individual Christians cannot be distinguished from the world because their lives are no longer reflecting Christ.
The world looks on and sees no compelling reason to turn to Christ or the church because the Christians they know are living lives like the rest of the world except for some doctrinal beliefs. A large percentage of Christians today have accepted the world’s definition of marriage, worldview and lifestyle. They divorce at a similar rate, dedicate their lives to the god of materialism, send their children to the government indoctrination centers, and live their lives generally according the “American dream” which is of course a devilish deception.
Precious brothers and sisters we are right in the middle of this growing spiritual demise and most Christians have accepted it as the norm. Some factions of Christianity see it as the predictable end of the church because they see the church as a “nonfactor” in the end times. They contribute to the problem by supporting the dead, cerebral church that has replaced the living, life transforming one. What a shame!
But Christ does not accept it and He has inspired a paradigm shift that will gradually push the old expression aside. This shift has been underway for about three decades and will continue to slowly transform the expression of the church. Your part in it will be determined by how hungry you are to know Christ and walk in the fullness of what He has for you.
In the mid eighties the Lord began to separate people from the institutional church and purge their lives of the hindrances we now see prevailing in the organized church. He began to cleanse seeking believers of jealousy, strife, bitterness, unforgiveness and other works of the flesh that were hindering His spiritual progress. A period of inner healing touched people at a deeper place as He penetrated their lives with truth. He had to separate them from the institution because the old paradigm was hindering their spiritual growth.
The Lord began to teach people how to walk by His Spirit instead of by religious principles, fleshly feelings and institutional dogma. They learned to seek the will of God apart from the will of men and their religious programs. They consulted the Bible and the Lord in prayer for the decisions they made. They learned to walk with God.
God began to show these people their true spiritual needs—His word, fellowship, gathering with His people with Christ as the Guest of honor, and prayer. They discovered a simple way of life apart from the institutional leaders who claimed to have all the answers. They found simpler ways of gathering in homes or other informal places for real worship, fellowship, prayer and outreach that flowed from their hearts as the walked with God.
They discovered that church is people with Christ in their midst—nothing more and nothing less. They discovered that church leadership is based on spiritual maturity instead of institutional training and ordination. They found freedom in giving into real needs as the Spirit directed instead of tithing by coercion to a monolithic organization that used the money to further their control.
They discovered much more and they are now passing this on to their children who are teaching their children a simpler, genuine walk with Christ. This is an underground movement not one characterized by establishment spokesmen who speak out for change. The leaders in the organized church for the most part see this movement as a threat to their accepted paradigm. In many cases they speak out against it calling those who participate divisive, radical and critical. They see it as a rebellion against established truth instead of a grassroots reaction to religious chaos.
You are faced with a choice. Will you continue to drift along participating in the fading glory of a failing institution or will you seek God for your place in His perfect will? I suggest that you consider the following questions.
The nature of the church
Is the church a manmade organization controlled by men and built by the ingenuity and natural skills of clever personalities, or is it a living organism that grows by the life of God in the Spirit? (1 Cor. 12:12; Eph. 2:19-22).
The nature of spiritual leadership
Is the church to be led by naturally gifted men trained by human institutions of learning or by spiritually mature men of God who have learned how to help others walk with Christ through their own examples and teaching the word? (Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:1-3).
Finances in the church
Is the church to be financed by top-down pressure based on the Old Testament principle of tithing or are Christians to give as they are led by the Spirit to give to those in need? Is all the spending on buildings, salaries and programs really building up the church or merely furthering the organization while robbing from the truly needy? (2 Cor. 9:7)
Sermonizing versus ingesting the word
Are Christians to be spiritually fed by constant sermons by gifted teachers or by their own quest for truth in God’s word in fellowship with other seekers of truth? (1 John 2:27; 1 Thess. 5:21).
Do Christians grow spiritually in a non-participatory assembly where only elite people share or in the context of open sharing where there is accountability to God, His word and to fellow believers? (1 Cor. 14:26; Acts 2:42).
Intimacy of fellowship
Can Christians truly be equipped for life in Christ in large gatherings in the hundreds or thousands or should there be smaller gatherings where Christ and His word are central and where believers build one another up and look after one another through prayer and the gifts of the Spirit? Is fellowship merely eating together or is it sharing Christ between believers and allowing Him to be Guest of honor? (Acts 2:42-47).
Is worship merely good musical entertainment or is it spiritually bowing before God to honor and glorify Him and receive what He gives? (1 Cor. 14:25; Phil. 3:3).
Children and Family
Should children be separated from their parents during the most holy activity of gathering as the church or should we strive to hold families together to worship and fellowship together? (Eph. 6:1-3; Matt. 19:14).
These are the crucial questions. The answers will come only as you seek His truth apart from institutional pressure and religious dogma. If God is truly doing a new thing, as I believe, will you be part of it or will it pass you by? God bless you in your journey.