This series of 26 lessons was developed for classroom presentation from the book by David Miller that should be required reading for every preacher, elder, and Bible school teacher in the Lord’s church: “Piloting The Strait”. This book is available from a variety of bookstores, Sain Publications at www.sainpublicans.com as well as from David Miller at www.apologeticspress.org.
CHANGES IN THE CHURCH
SOURCES OF CHANGE-THEOLOGY
Jeremiah “THUS SAITH THE LORD, STAND YE IN THE WAYS, AND SEE, AND ASK FOR THE OLD PATHS, WHERE is THE GOOD WAY, AND WALK THEREIN, AND YE SHALL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOULS. BUT THEY SAID, WE WILL NOT WALK therein.”
Proverbs 16:25 “THERE IS A WAY THAT SEEMETH RIGHT UNTO A MAN, BUT THE END THEREOF are THE WAYS OF DEATH.”
In 1897 James Orr, professor of apologetics and systematic theology in the United Free Church College in Glasgow, Scotland, suggested that every period of church history has been preoccupied with some major religious doctrine. During the first to the eighth centuries men were trying to understand how God could be manifested in three persons (the trinity). This made agnosticism, docetism, etc. the primary doctrinal concerns. During the middle ages doctrinal discussion centered around the meaning of Christ’s atonement.
With the rebellion against Catholic doctrines, the rule of the Catholic Church, the copycat Church of England; the Episcopal Church in this country we encounter major issues concerning the role that human’s play in their own salvation. This brought rise to the faith only doctrine of Martin Luther and the even more radical grace only doctrine of John Calvin. In addition to the faith only and grace only doctrines Calvin also developed the notion of total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. Though an overhaul of Catholic doctrine was long overdue; these two men took it the wrong direction and what resulted was probably worse than that which it left.
Into this theological climate arose the men that attempted to call people back to the Bible and generated the movement we call the Restoration Movement. They recognized the need to avoid the man-made doctrines of both Catholicism and Protestantism and return folks to biblical doctrines of grace, faith and obedience. They pledged to “speak where the Bible speaks,” and “be silent where the Bible is silent”, restore the New Testament church and undenominational Christians.
What about today. During the twentieth century and even until this very day the overriding doctrinal problem facing us is the authority of the Bible. Can we understand and know God’s truth as revealed on the pages of Scripture? Is the Bible the literal, inerrant, plenary, verbally inspired word of God? Are the Scriptures to be taken seriously as the supreme regulator of our behavior?
Those who would undermine the authority of the Bible are doing so primarily through their compromise of the integrity of the biblical text (the new “versions” are helping). So called “mainline” Protestant churches are splitting over liberal interpretations of the Bible and whether or how the Bible is inspired. In the meantime, the thinking of American Society itself has been reshaped by scientific and educational acceptance of the Theory of Evolution. We will never know the true extent of the damage to the baby boomer generation caused by that teaching. The Ecumenical Movement and the Social Gospel are just further refinements directly resulting from ignoring biblical authority.
Churches of Christ have not been immune from these doctrinal illnesses. Because of our demand for strict Bible authority for all beliefs and practices we managed for many years to weather these storms that would blow us off the strait way but again as pointed out in our last lesson “Times they are a changin”. During the latter part of the 19th century many of our brethren left the old paths and became the Christian Church denomination over the instrument of music in worship and the Missionary Society. Some estimate that 85% of our brethren left along with 42 colleges (including Drake University, Butler College, Bethany College, Transylvania University and what became Texas Christian University just to name a few). The remaining minority remained faithful and in the late 1960’s numbered 10,000 congregations and between one and two million members in America. But:
I Corinthians 11:18-19 “FOR FIRST OF ALL, WHEN YE COME TOGETHER IN THE CHURCH, I HEAR THAT THERE BE DIVISIONS AMONG YOU; AND I PARTLY BELIEVE IT. FOR THERE MUST BE ALSO HERESIES AMONG YOU, THAT THEY WHICH ARE APPROVED MAY BE MADE MANIFEST AMONG YOU.”
Since the 1960s, churches of Christ have been undergoing change; gradual and then more radical. We have been experiencing a foundation shift that has escalated during the 1990’s and seems to have gathered steam as we entered the present century. The surface issues are almost as many and varied as the trouble spots themselves and the chorus of voices demanding change is presenting a variety of items e.g. the role of women; “special music (i.e. solos, choirs and praise teams); lifting up hands in worship, hand clapping/applause; dramatic performances in worship (usually starting in VBS or Bible Camp and coming in through the Bible School) (Puppet programs are a good example)); dedicating of babies; the authority of elders; the role of the Holy Spirit; the religious observance of Christmas and Easter; the status of the denominations as it relates to grace, unity, fellowship and the purposes of baptism, and interdenominational cooperation in organizations such as Salvation Army, and Promise Keepers.
All of these issues are interwoven through our brotherhood like a gold thread through a garment and the one single problem that has been most influential in allowing this to happen is the rejection of the authority of the scriptures.
There are numerous indicators among the churches of Christ to verify this conclusion. One of the most glaring in my mind is that a few years ago a major controversy erupted at one of our Christian universities. The Creation account of Genesis was being compromised in the science classroom by the promotion of Theistic Evolution and Liberal Theology’s higher critical theory that Genesis chapter one is a “myth” and “hymn.” To my knowledge one of those professors is still there and has been joined by more of the same.
How can this happen? How can our Christian universities, our bastions of higher learning and fortresses of truth, be invaded and compromised. It’s really very simple. How many of these schools have become “universities” rather than “colleges” over the past 25 years? What does it take to be recognized as a university vs. college? A university must have advanced degree programs. In order to have advanced degree programs they must have professors with advanced degrees. How do we get professors with advanced degrees when our Christian colleges are not academically qualified, according to the accreditation requirements, to award such degrees? We got them by sending our best and brightest to the denominational seminaries and helping them get their advanced degrees there. The trouble is; a large number of them got infected with a lot of other stuff at the same time. Not only did they lose their conviction about iron clad Bible doctrines but at the same time gathered in a sense of flexibility, relaxed attitude and tolerance that fits in with the “You’re OK, I’m OK” notion that says that we’re all going to the same place anyway.
The so-called scholars who stand behind the today’s attacks upon the traditional methods of Bible interpretation and use a “new hermeneutic” or new way of interpreting the Bible have been schooled in these denominational and secular institutions of higher learning, or more commonly today by men who were, and have sold out to the same liberal theology that was tearing the major denominations apart 15 years ago. These men have gone to the denominational seminary or more recently to our so-called Christian universities and feasted upon the ideas of Liberal and Neo-Orthodox theology and drank the companion spirit of rebellion against God’s authority and abandoned the strait way. They ridicule and demean the past generations and those of us today who insist on preaching “book, chapter and verse”. They make fun of the preaching and teaching that includes a great deal of Scripture and stresses the need for obedience to God. They have forgotten that Jesus said:
John 14:15-17 “IF YE LOVE ME, KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS. AND I WILL PRAY THE FATHER, AND HE SHALL GIVE YOU ANOTHER COMFORTER, THAT HE MAY ABIDE WITH YOU FOR EVER. even THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH; WHOM THE WORLD CANNOT RECEIVE, BECAUSE IT SEETH HIM NOT, NEITHER KNOWETH HIM: BUT YE KNOW HIM; FOR HE DWELLETH WITH YOU, AND SHALL BE IN YOU.”
John 15:9-10 “AS THE FATHER HATH LOVED ME, SO HAVE I LOVED YOU: CONTINUE YE IN MY LOVE. (here’s how) IF YE KEEP MY COMMANDMENTS, YE SHALL ABIDE IN MY LOVE; EVEN AS I HAVE KEPT MY FATHER’S COMMANDMENTS, AND ABIDE IN HIS LOVE.”
The same attitude of ignoring God’s authority has lead in some areas to the abandonment of scriptural authority in the attempt to overthrow the Bible’s teaching on the role of women in worship. The new interpretation of the Bible text would have us believe that Paul was addressing a cultural problem, not a doctrinal problem in
I Corinthians 14:34-35 “LET YOUR WOMEN KEEP SILENCE IN THE CHURCHES: FOR IT IS NOT PERMITTED UNTO THEM TO SPEAK; BUT they are commanded TO BE UNDER OBEDIENCE, AS ALSO SAITH THE LAW. AND IF THEY WILL LEARN ANY THING, LET THEM ASK THEIR HUSBANDS AT HOME: FOR IT IS A SHAME FOR WOMEN TO SPEAK IN THE CHURCH.”
And I hope we all understand that this verse taken in context and harmony with other verses that we don’t have time to go into in this discussion does not mean that women can’t ask questions in Bible study. It doesn’t mean that women can’t comment in the discussion, but applies to situations where they would be exercising authority over men.
Surely we can see that the change agents among us are allowing themselves to be used as partners in this theological and cultural revolution that is shaking, not only the foundations of the church, but the foundation morality of our nation and our culture. In both our society and the church the common thread among those who clamor for change is the fact that they reject authority of any kind. They reject standards of conduct, nothing is black and white any more everything is a dirty, tattletale gray. The church has not escaped being influenced. The time has long passed when those who fear for their souls need to understand and remember that we should do as Jesus said:
Matthew 7:15 “BEWARE OF FALSE PROPHETS, WHICH COME TO YOU IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING, BUT INWARDLY THEY ARE RAVENING WOLVES.”
Hear the warning by Paul of the Ephesian elders:
Acts -30 “FOR I KNOW THIS, THAT AFTER MY DEPARTING SHALL GRIEVOUS WOLVES ENTER IN AMONG YOU, NOT SPARING THE FLOCK. ALSO OF YOUR OWN SELVES SHALL MEN ARISE, SPEAKING PERVERSE THINGS, TO DRAW AWAY DISCIPLES AFTER THEM.”
Heed to words of the apostle Peter in his second letter:
II Peter 2:1 “BUT THERE ARE FALSE PROPHETS ALSO AMONG THE PEOPLE, EVEN AS THERE SHALL BE FALSE TEACHERS AMONG YOU, WHO PRIVILY SHALL BRING IN DAMNABLE HERESIES, EVEN DENYING THE LORD THAT BOUGHT THEM, AND BRING UPON THEMSELVES SWIFT DESTRUCTION.”
Practice the instructions given by the apostle John:
I John 4:1 “BELOVED, BELIEVE NOT EVERY SPIRIT, BUT TRY THE SPIRITS WHETHER THEY ARE OF GOD: BECAUSE MANY FALSE PROPHETS ARE GONE OUT INTO THE WORLD.”
When we have to deal with those who promote and try to force these changes on the church we need to be:
Ephesians 4:14-15 “…NO MORE CHILDREN, TOSSED TO AND FRO, AND CARRIED ABOUT WITH EVERY WIND OF DOCTRINE, BY THE SLEIGHT OF MEN, and CUNNING CRAFTINESS, WHEREBY THEY LIE IN WAIT TO DECEIVE; BUT SPEAKING THE TRUTH IN LOVE, MAY GROW UP INTO HIM IN ALL THINGS, WHICH IS THE HEAD, even CHRIST.”