Q: How many christians does it take to change a light bulb?
I think most people have an impression that christians are generally conservative, holding on to traditional values and truths and resistant to change.
Is this true? And if so, is it a problem?
Christians and conservatism
Conservatism means wanting to keep, or return to, traditional ideas and values, so conservatives tend to oppose change. So you’d likely expect christians who believe strongly in the Bible to be conservative – they don’t want to change from the way the Bible has traditionally been interpreted. And it seems at least likely that christians might be conservative on issues not covered by the Bible too, perhaps because of traditions and accepted behaviours.
Studies suggest that you’d be somewhat right in these expectations, though perhaps not as much as you thought. For example:
- Christians tend to slightly favour conservative political parties, but this is by no means uniform.
- Evangelical christians in the US are less likely to accept the science of global warming than average. In Australia, christians generally are less likely to accept climate science than are non-believers, however it is unclear whether conservative christians are more sceptical than non conservative.
- Evangelical christians in the US are far less likely than the population generally to support same sex marriage, though the majority of other christians support it. In Australia, more christians support “marriage equality” than don’t.
- White evangelicals in the US are also unlikely to accept the science of biological evolution, though other christian subgroups generally accept it.
- Christians in the US are more likely to have a moderate view of the Bible than believe it is inerrant and to be taken literally, though there are a significant number of inerrantists.
So it seems some, but not all, christians are uncomfortable with change, on some important issues at least.
A possible explanation?
Some of the surveys referenced suggest that conservatism stems from belief in an inerrant Bible and an unwillingness to depart from that belief. This source offers 7 reasons why christians refuse to change, including being more certain they are right, a fear of the future compared to the past and protecting what they have.
5 Reasons not to be afraid to change
1. The Bible says!
A key event for christians and change is Peter’s meeting with Cornelius in Acts 10 & 11. Peter was predisposed to avoid contact with gentiles, yet a revelation from the Holy Spirit at just the right time proved decisive, and the christian mission to the gentiles began. If Peter hadn’t been willing to change on a matter on which he held very strong convictions, the gentile mission might have been delayed.
Jesus was a radical change agent. He brought in a new covenant that replaced the old one (Luke 22:20), which had enormous ramifications for change for those who followed him. And he said we should be smart enough, and wise enough, to see the “signs of the times” (Matthew 16:2-3), discern the way things are going, and adapt accordingly (Matthew 5:23).
2. The Bible says?
But taking the Bible as inerrant is not something taught in scripture, and is a belief that many christians don’t hold. Modern scholarship suggests that the Bible isn’t inerrant, even where it is literal and historical (not all books and sections are intended to be historical).
If belief in inerrancy stifles any possibility of change, so that we are impeded in carrying out the mission of Jesus, then it will have done great harm.
3. Communicating relevantly
Paul urges us to communicate in ways that are relevant to the people around us, so that we might be most successful in encouraging people to follow Jesus (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). This will often require change, in our language, methods and emphases.
In an age when church is becoming increasingly irrelevant, even to many christians, this refusal to change by many christians is a major barrier to growing God’s kingdom.
4. Waiting for the old people?
It is often the older people (of which I guess I am one 🙁 ) who are most resistant to change, presumably because they have so much history with the status quo and are less flexible in their thinking.
However it is interesting to ponder how much secular change an 80-year old has seen in their lifetime – aeroplanes, communications including telephone and TV, medical advances, increased home and car ownership, space travel, changed clothing standards and styles, the changed role of women in society, etc. In most cases, older people have taken advantage of many of these changes to enrich their lives.
If this has been possible, shouldn’t it be possible to accept change in the church and christian faith?
5. The Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is a change agent. As we have seen, he kick-started the gentile mission and expanded it with the ministry of Paul (Acts 13:1-3).
Jesus said the Holy Spirit would guide his followers into “all the truth” (John 16:13). I presume this means both an initial understanding of truth, and adaptation as circumstances change – as exemplified again with Peter and Cornelius.
If the Holy Spirit is leading us, we need not be afraid of change. Of course that is a very important “if”!
So how many christian does it take to change?
Just one, provided the Spirit is guiding her or him.
Were you expecting some jokes?
Were you disappointed not to see some christian light bulb jokes? Rest easy, here is a link to a few. Enjoy a laugh at your brand of christianity.