How many christians does it take to change a light bulb?

light-bulb

Q: How many christians does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Change?

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:

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.

Photo Credit: Michael Rozycki Flickr via Compfight cc

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7 thoughts on “How many christians does it take to change a light bulb?

  1. matrimble says:

    I think the “if” you emphasized is the key. For Christians believe that evil isn’t simply a consequence of our decisions, but is an active force in the world seeking our demise with a cunning intelligence. This greatly complicates our situation and calls for a prudent conservatism regarding our interpretation and reinterpretation of Scripture over time. We can and do change, albeit slowly. This is because rigorously justifying a reinterpretation of Scripture is a profoundly challenging intellectual and spiritual undertaking. For to accept the reinterpretation of Scripture without this rigor is to debase its Holiness and treat it as simply a human anthology.

    As a people, we are still growing-up and I suspect aren’t nearly as old and wise as we believe we are. True wisdom is approaching the Word of God with grateful humilty, expecting that while we may not yet understand all that is contained within it, in time with patience and obedience we will. To do otherwise I fear is playing into the hands of the enemy.

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  2. unkleE says:

    I think I’d agree with most of what you say here. I think change can happen faster than you suggest, and sometimes must happen faster, but I still agree with the need for caution. I think we can be “safer” if we don’t make decisions as individuals, but look to see how the Holy Spirit is leading the church worldwide.

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  3. ignorantianescia says:

    Nice riposte. The question was inspired by the election results and the fact the voters seemed more influenced by the political culture than anything else.

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  4. unkleE says:

    Being here in the US at the moment, I’d have to say there are a number of factors driving the surprising christian support for Trump:

    * wanting to rinse the mouth out after the evils of the Obama presidency
    * Clinton seen as very strongly pro abortion
    * Clinton said to be dishonest
    * Clinton seen to be pro political correctness and hence anti free speech
    * Trump seen as not being captured by the evil political system
    * natural conservatism
    * Clinton seen as having lost US lives while Secretary of State
    * habit – we always vote Republican
    * not valuing climate change amelioration, social justice, healthcare, etc

    While most of these reasons seem to me to be spurious, illogical, plain untrue and ignoring the nastiness of Trump and the enormous failures of the GW Bush presidency, I think some reasons have some foundation.

    I think the next 4 years could be a global catastrophe, and that Trump is completely unprepared for, and even ignorant of, the demands of the job, he may be willing to rise to the occasion, he may be less bellicose in foreign policy to Clinton (e.g. he says the wars on terror were wrong) and he may be less disastrous than GW Bush was.

    One of the clear conclusions though, to me, is what a class act Obama has been. Even if one doesn’t like his policies (and mostly I agree with him), he has behaved with grace, intelligence, humour and cool, with no trace of scandal. Anyone who criticises him personally (rather than his policies) seems to me to be showing deep bias.

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  5. ignorantianescia says:

    Yes, most of these reasons can be seen as special cases of the fact that Trump was a member of the right team in the tribalist culture wars. Political identity trumps all else. (Of course there are also other causes, but this is in the first place about reasons.)

    And yes, Obama has had a rare level of character for a president (and I disagree strongly with a number of his policies in particular when it comes to human rights). A lot of the opposition to him has been visceral and vulgar, like the birtherism still at large among Republican voters, and the Republicans in Congress have behaved in a completely destructive manner (do you remember the 2013 debt gridlock?), but Obama still remained by and large respectful to his opponents.

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