By Rob Slane
A year ago I entered my 40s, so you can correctly calculate that I was born in the 1970s. When I think back to the world of my childhood, and compare it to the world today, there are far too many differences to list them all. Yet if I had to pick one thing among all others that I think stands out as the defining difference, it would be the stability then compared to the instability now.
I realize that in the 1970s, huge societal changes were already in full swing. No fault divorce was becoming increasingly common. Legalized abortion had just reared its ugly head. Parental authority was starting to be challenged like never before.
Despite these things, the world back then still seemed to have at least some kind of moorings. Most people still wanted to get married, and when they did so, they remained married. Most people still wanted children, and when they had them, they knew their responsibilities towards them. Most people accepted parental authority over children. And even though real belief in the Triune God was on the wane, most people still had some sort of nominal belief and saw the relevance of the moral law.
Today, so many of these stabilizing forces have simply vanished. Not only that, but the pace of life is generally so much faster than it was back then. Our transportation and our technology are faster. We change jobs far more often. We demand quicker access to this, faster service for that, and we are annoyed or indignant when we don’t get it. Yet the faster the pace of life becomes, the more we find it disappoints, and we find ourselves caught up in a world of flux, tired and burned out.
This rapid pace of life and continual change feeds back into our everyday lives and actually makes it harder for us to maintain stability in areas of life where we most need it. Which people would find it easier to remain faithfully married until death parts them: the ones who lived 200 years ago at a time when people put down roots in a place, had a job for life, and understood that they were—to quote Edmund Burke—part of a “contract between those who are dead, those who are living, and those who are to be born,” or those who have no concept of putting roots down, who have been brought up by the ever-changing TV screen, and who have been severed culturally, socially, morally, and historically from every generation that has been before?
And so we see our society becoming unglued, unravelling year by year, and it can leave us dumbfounded and often genuinely confused about how we should live within it. Yet live in this world we must. What are the alternatives?
Do we seek to “turn the clock back” (to quote that dumbest of slogans)? Can’t be done. Do we seek to retreat? Not an option, since Jesus commanded us to live in the midst of this world, to occupy until He comes, and to make disciples of all nations. No, we must learn to live within it, but we must do so by recovering something of the stability we have lost, even when the world around us continues in constant flux.
Have you ever seen one of those videos where they speed up people walking on a busy street, but there is one person walking towards the camera at normal speed? The rest of the world is rushing on around him, going somewhere or even nowhere really fast, and there’s this guy in the middle of it all, calmly walking along, seemingly oblivious to the rush and the panic around him. Essentially, this is what we need to become. We need to create islands of calmness and stability in the midst of an unstable society.
It should be so in the Church, but here’s the problem: there are thousands of churches out there that have decided that the way to deal with a world that is constantly reinventing itself is to constantly reinvent themselves. In their desperation to be “relevant,” they shape their service around what they think the people want, what they think will get the people in, and what they think will keep them there. Hack the service up. Change the order every week so that no one who comes three weeks in a row is in any danger of getting the same order of things twice. Cut the sermon to 10 minutes. Can’t speak for longer in case people get bored. Throw a few gimmicks into the mix. That should work.
Of course, there is an opposite ditch to fall into, which is a sort of “deliberate obscurantism” that makes it feel like you’ve just stepped back into the 17th century. That’s another issue for another article. But in the context of this article, the problem of relevance in the midst of a constantly changing society is not solved by reproducing a religious version of the same thing. What people really need in a world of constant flux and instability is stability, foundations, and an anchor point to their lives. They need the Rock of Salvation, and they need a church that is solid and steadfast in proclaiming Him week after week.
Coming into a church where God is taken seriously, worshipped reverently (and joyfully), and where there is some consistency, would actually be a massive blessing and a huge relief to so many in our manic society. Like the man in the illustration above, there in the midst of a society that is running to and fro, is the Church: resolute, unmovable, unshakeable. The ground and pillar of the truth.
In the wider context, this is one of the main reasons God has set apart one day in seven—the Lord’s Day. It is a day in which we can worship Him and enjoy the presence of His people, but it is also an anchor point. A day which is unmovable, unshakeable. It’s ironic that in a day when many Christians don’t really see the need to keep the day much different from the other six, the stability and breathing space it gives individuals, families, churches, and society as a whole to just pause, reflect, and tread on solid ground has never been more needed.
Yet calmness and stability must spread beyond the borders of our churches and the Lord’s Day. It ought to be a priority in our families. There are many ways of doing this, the most obvious being simply for husband and wife to remain faithful to one another and to display that faithfulness in all their dealings with their children and with others.
Then there are shared mealtimes. There is a temptation to send our children off to this activity and that, and we end up eating together less and less, until gradually the bonds that hold us together become loosened. Yet the stability that comes from regularly eating together, not to mention the sheer joy of doing so, is something that really is of vital importance to our individual and collective sanity.
But this sort of thing ought not to be limited to mealtimes. The desire for stability, even in a world that is a source of constant instability, should be deeply ingrained in us, and we should be seeking ways of nurturing it. Here’s a personal example: I walk with my family in the countryside on a regular basis. Not to do anything specific, or go anywhere in particular. Rather just to amble along, talk and enjoy each other’s company. I mention this only because I rarely see other families doing it. Yet it is one of the most joyful, bonding, and stabilizing things we do as a family. I highly recommended it to those who want to bring more stability to the lives of their families!
Let me conclude by going back to the illustration of the slow man in the rushing crowd. If that was for real, what do you suppose all those rushing people would be thinking? My guess is they’d be wondering how on earth he does it. How does he remain so calm, so serene, so unflappable when everything around him is manic?
The same will be true if we seriously strive to carve out islands of stability. It is not just for ourselves that we should strive for it. There is a genuine angst, fear, and general confusion in society, which rises in direct proportion to the changes and the flux that are foisted upon us. People need stability, and they currently don’t have it. The more that you are that guy who just walks calmly and serenely through the midst of the chaos, creating a stable family and worshipping in a stable church, the more it will be noticed, and people will want to know how you do it. That’s when you can tell them. It’s called the peace of God which passes all understanding. And the good news is that they can have it, too.
Rob Slane lives with his wife and six home-educated children in Salisbury, England. He is the author of The God Reality: A Critique of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, contributes to the Canadian magazine Reformed Perspective, and blogs on cultural issues from a Biblical perspective at www.theblogmire.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @theblogmire