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Church: the form of change and the continuity of structure

From the July 1992 issue of The Christian Science Journal


All living things grow. By their very nature they will certainly undergo change. In human experience, any progressive development, both for individuals and society, requires a willingness to adjust wisely and readily to external circumstances that are almost continuously in states of transition. It's safe to say that the mental and physical landscape we live in at the close of the twentieth century would be virtually unrecognizable to a traveler from the late nineteenth century. Even someone stepping abruptly into the 1990s from the 1950s would need a new topographic map and careful instructions to find his way.

Yet, for most people, carried along with the flow of human history from one day to the next, there isn't much thought given to how radically altered our world is today from a generation ago. And in the second half of this century, the pace of change has obviously accelerated dramatically, placing unusual stresses not only on individuals but on entire cultures, political and economic systems, and institutions of every sort, not to mention the global environment.

Religious institutions certainly don't have special immunity to change. In fact it wouldn't be healthy if they did. A church that contents itself with living in the past, unresponsive to the present, eventually becomes a kind of dinosaur, poorly adapted to its surroundings and clearly in danger of extinction. A church that is vital and founding however, must remain true to its original spiritual vision and founding purpose while at the same time learning how most effectively to fulfill its present-day mission in what may be the very different environment of contemporary society. A church expecting to follow Christ Jesus' example and serve mankind — uplifting, redeeming, and healing broken lives — should be prepared to lead human thought along a direct line of moral and spiritual progress. And it should utilize forms that are properly suited to the age, consonant with its own essential mission, and most effective in communicating the church's purpose and gospel (its "good news") to the world.

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