That statement was made on a Facebook page for ministers recently. The conversation was about using the King James bible in church. Looking for a fight? That’ll get you one.
The pastor was insisting that the decline in the use of the KJV was a sign that the church has grown weak and shallow.
As soon as I read that line, my gut reaction (which I did not write in the comments) was “But the KJV was the most popular bible on earth for centuries! What does its popularity have to do with its value?”
Things become popular because people like them. Things used to be popular because people used to like them.
Sometimes when we complain about the way church is done today, we’re just longing for things that were popular when we were young. But, instead of admitting that, we try to convince ourselves and others that we’re sticking with the old ways because they’re better. And if the old ways were better, the new ways must be wrong.
So we blame “the church these days” for following the latest trends and putting popularity ahead of truth.
Certainly there are churches that bend their theology to suit the latest fad. But more often than not, churches are just adapting their methods to speak the Gospel in today’s language.
So what’s worse? Being a slave to what’s popular? Or being a slave to what used to be popular?
I say we stop doing both. And do what works.
What Used to Be Popular
King James Version Bible – There have been few greater gifts to the English-speaking world than the KJV. I was raised on it. Most of the bible verses in my head are from it. The photo at the top of this article is a framed page from a First Edition 1611 KJV bible that hangs prominently on my church office wall.
I honor the King James Version’s unprecedented importance in our history and our faith. But I don’t use it any more. Because its language, which used to help people understand the message, now blocks them from understanding it.
The only reason to keep using it today is familiarity. And it’s only familiar because it used to be popular. Besides, the stated reason for the KJV to begin with was to put the bible in language that common people could understand. It doesn’t do that any more.
(As an aside, I once asked an avid fan of the KJV if he’d be willing to used the Authorized Version instead of the KJV and he went ballistic. “Authorized?! By who?! I’m going to use the version that was authorized by God!” Of course, I was goading him. Look at the title page of any King James Version bible. Its official name has always been The Authorized Version.)
For an idea of how important the KJV has been historically, check out Wide As the Waters, by Benson Bobrick.
Pews – The most popular church seating for centuries. Now they’re uncomfortable, creaky and, because they’re bolted to the floor, they limit room usage to just a few hours each week.
Pulpits – This is probably the most popular piece of church furniture ever. Preachers used to be called Pulpiteers. But in many churches, the size, style and placement of the pulpit became more important than what’s preached from it.
Stained Glass Windows – The most popular style of church artwork for centuries. Their purpose was to be a visual story-telling medium. Today we have video projectors for that.
Yes, the beauty of stained glass far exceeds today’s PowerPoint presentations and videos. But stained glass was not without fault. I’ve been in European cathedrals where a line-up of the apostles had a thirteenth addition – the figure of the king or knight who commissioned the piece. They did this to give them a biblical place of authority among the peasants.
Church Bells – For centuries, this was the most popular way to summon people to church. Now, there’s an app for that.
Hymnbooks – The most popular way to sing hymns of praise for generations. And yes, they contained great songs of the faith. But for those who complain that people stare at a screen during worship today, was it any better when we all sang with our noses in a book?
Do What Works
None of these used-to-be-popular tools are right or wrong in themselves. If they still work, use them. If not, toss them. The same goes for current tools.
Don’t put what’s popular ahead of what’s true. But don’t put what used to be popular ahead of what works.
Speak the truth in a way that gets through to people. And realize that a method that works for you, may not work for others. And a method that used to work for you, may not work any more.
What’s popular comes and goes. Let it go.
So what do you think? What else have churches hung on to past their date of usefulness?
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