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
SPECIFICS OF CHANGE - MISCELLANEOUS #1
Another change being implemented in churches of Christ and growing in popularity is the formal observance of religious holidays, specifically Christmas and Easter. Churches are now placing Christmas trees in their buildings. Preachers are preaching Christmas sermons and congregations are singing Christmas songs in the regular worship assembly of the church. Easter sunrise services are faddish – often in conjunction with denominational churches. Drama, pageants and performances complete with actors/actresses, costumes and choral productions are not uncommon.
Like many other practices of this nature, the observance of religious holidays as a religious activity in the churches of Christ is a recent innovation. It joins a number of other activities that are foreign to the first century church.
What is our biblical authority for celebrating any religious holiday? Must we have God’s explicit or implicit approval for what we do in religion? Does God want us to celebrate Christ’s birth? Does God want us to observe in a religious sense the resurrection of Christ on a particular Sunday in the Spring? Obviously God has not so indicated. On the other hand, He has indicated that He does want us to commemorate the death of Christ every Sunday. The current climate in the church is such that to question the practice of observing religious holidays is the same as declaring ourselves to be just like Scrooge. And since we have brought up Scrooge, let’s look at the celebration of Christmas.
Two extremes exist among believers. Some clamor for Christ to be put back into Christmas. Others just as strongly object to the Christian’s use of a Christmas tree or any other signs of participation. Two biblical principles ought to guide our thinking. In the first place, God has always been concerned with the religious implications of practices that the believer adopts. God want us to refrain from engaging in religious activities that are equated with false religion. Second, God desires that we engage only in those religious practices which are authorized.
Colossians “AND WHATSOEVER YE DO IN WORD OR DEED, do ALL IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS, GIVING THANKS TO GOD AND THE FATHER BY HIM.”
II John 9 “WHOSOEVER
TRANSGRESSETH, AND ABIDETH NOT IN THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST, HATH NOT GOD. HE THAT ABIDETH IN THE DOCTRINE OF CHRIST, HE
HATH BOTH THE FATHER AND THE SON.”
If religious activity is not in accordance with written revelation, it is sinful.
Leviticus 10:1-3 “AND NADAB AND ABIHU, THE SONS OF AARON, TOOK EITHER OF THEM HIS CENSER, AND PUT FIRE THEREIN, AND PUT INCENSE THEREON, AND OFFERED STRANGE FIRE BEFORE THE LORD, WHICH HE COMMANDED THEM NOT. AND THERE WENT OUT FIRE FROM THE LORD, AND DEVOURED THEM, AND THEY DIED BEFORE THE LORD. THEN MOSES SAID UNTO AARON, THIS is it THAT THE LORD SPAKE SAYING, I WILL BE SANCTIFIED IN THEM THAT COME NIGH ME, AND BEFORE ALL THE PEOPLE I WILL BE GLORIFIED. AND AARON HELD HIS PEACE.”
Galatians 4:8-11 “HOWBEIT THEN, WHEN YE KNEW NOT GOD, YE DID SERVICE UNTO THEM WHICH BY NATURE ARE NO GODS. BUT NOW, AFTER THEY YE HAVE KNOWN GOD, OR RATHER ARE KNOWN OF GOD, HOW TURN YE AGAIN TO THE WEAK AND BEGGARLY ELEMENTS, WHEREUNTO YE DESIRE AGAIN TO BE IN BONDAGE? YE OBSERVE DAYS, AND MONTHS, AND TIMES, AND YEARS. I AM AFRAID OF YOU, LEST I HAVE BESTOWED UPON YOU LABOUR IN VAIN.”
What are the implications of these two divine guidelines? First, Christians do not observe Christmas as a religious holiday. As a religious holy day, it is unauthorized. Scripture repeatedly stresses religious observance of Christ’s death (Luke ; Acts ; I Corinthians ), but makes no provision for the observance of Christ’s birth. To observe Christmas as a religious activity is to identify ourselves with those who practice vain worship (Matthew 15:9) and teach false religion.
Secondly, while Christians will avoid using symbols that associate the holiday with unauthorized religious activity; such as angels and nativity scenes, they can feel perfectly free to observe Christmas as a festive national holiday.
Romans 14:5 “ONE MAN ESTEEMETH ONE DAY ABOVE ANOTHER: ANOTHER ESTEEMETH EVERY DAY alike. LET EVERY MAN BE FULLY PERSUADED IN HIS OWN MIND.”
There is no prohibition against decorating trees, sharing
family time together, giving gifts, etc. but as a national holiday; not as a
A number of churches are encouraging young couples to bring their newborn infants down to the front of the auditorium during the regular church worship assembly. The preacher will take the child in his arms while he and the child’s parents face the assembly. He will say a few warm words of thankfulness for the child and express the sentiments of all that the child will grow up to be a faithful Christian man or woman. He may even encourage the parents up raise their child up with the proper spiritual training or express hope that God will bless the parents and their newborn. Then perhaps a prayer will be offered in behalf of the couple and their child.
Colossians “WHICH THINGS HAVE INDEED A SHOW OF WISDOM IN WILL WORSHIP, AND HUMILITY, AND NEGLECTING OF THE BODY, NOT IN ANY HONOUR TO THE SATISFYING OF THE FLESH.”
The early church certainly could
have practiced baby dedications if God had wanted them to do so. He did not and He gave us no instruction
concerning such activities. No cultural
factors existed then and none exist now to even lead us to attempt to use this
excuse for the practice. A baby
dedication adds a new dimension that goes beyond mere prayer. Baby dedications create a new act of worship
that is completely foreign to the New Testament. Baby dedications are formal ceremonies that
are patterned after the denominational practice of christening and infant
baptism. And they encourage the false
belief that babies are born sinners, as much of the religious world
believes. Baby dedications among
The Lord’s Supper
item of worship that is receiving the attention of the advocates of change
concerns the Lord’s Supper. The churches of Christ are not trying to change
what is served as in some denominations but rather, more often, the frequency
and the specific day as is common amongst many denominations.
Just before His death Jesus celebrated the Old Testament feast of unleavened bread. In the process, He instituted the Lord’s Supper as we can read in I Corinthians 11:20-27 and told His disciples that this “communion” as it is called in I Corinthians would be observed in the kingdom (Matthew 26:29). The bread and the fruit of the vine were to function as symbols for the body and blood of Jesus which was offered on the cross as a sacrifice for the world. When is this practice of observing the Lord’s Supper to be done? On Sunday? Every Sunday? Only on Sunday?
To answer these questions we turn to the Scriptures to determine what is the “THUS SAITH THE LORD.” Surely the practice of the early church under the guidance of the apostles would provide for us a pattern to consider if not follow.
Jesus resurrection took place on Sunday:
Mark 16:1 “AND WHEN THE SABBATH WAS PAST, MARY MAGDALENE, AND MARY THE mother OF JAMES, AND SALOME, HAD BOUGHT SWEET SPICES, THAT THEY MIGHT COME AND ANOINT HIM.”
John 20:1 “THE FIRST day OF THE WEEK COMETH MARY MAGDALENE EARLY, WHEN IT WAS YET DARK, UNTO THE SEPULCHRE, AND SEETH THE STONE TAKEN AWAY FROM THE SEPULCHRE.”
Jesus met with His disciples after the resurrection on Sunday:
John 20:19 “THEN THE SAME DAY AT EVENING, BEING THE FIRST day OF THE WEEK, WHEN THE DOORS WERE SHUT WHERE THE DISCIPLES WERE ASSEMBLED FOR FEAR OF THE JEWS, CAME JESUS AND STOOD IN THE MIDST, AND SAITH UNTO THEM, PEACE be UNTO YOU.”
Pentecost was a Jewish feast day and it was on Sunday:
Leviticus 23:15-16 “AND YE SHALL COUNT UNTO YOU FROM THE MORROW AFTER THE SABBATH, FROM THE DAY THAT YE BROUGHT THE SHEAF OF THE WAVE OFFERING; SEVEN SABBATHS SHALL BE COMPLETE: EVEN UNTO THE MORROW AFTER THE SEVENTH SABBATH SHALL BE NUMBER FIFTY DAYS; AND YE SHALL OFFER A NEW MEAT OFFERING UNTO THE LORD.”
The New Testament church assembled on Sunday:
Acts 20:7 “AND UPON THE FIRST day OF THE WEEK, WHEN THE DISCIPLES CAME TOGETHER TO BREAK BREAD, PAUL PREACHED UNTO THEM, READY TO DEPART ON THE MORROW, AND CONTINUED HIS SPEECH UNTIL MIDNIGHT.”
The doctrinal connection between the Lord’s Supper and Sunday, Jesus death and resurrection were intimately linked when the Lord’s Supper was observed on Sunday:
I Corinthians 11:26 “FOR AS OFTEN AS YE EAT THIS BREAD, AND DRINK THIS CUP, YE DO SHOW THE LORD’S DEATH TILL HE COME.”
But what is the practice among some of our brethren today; brethren that we would hope would know better. Most so-called Protestant churches today take the Lord’s Supper as often or as seldom as they may choose. The Roman Catholics celebrates Mass every day. A number of churches of Christ in recent years have announced celebrations of the Lord’s Supper as part of wedding ceremonies, or in connection with a reenactment of the Christ’s institution of the Lord’s Supper on Thursday night of Passover week before he was crucified, and on other occasions on various weekdays.
Sunday Night Cluster Groups
A large number of churches have implemented a variation in their Sunday night services in which the congregation is divided up into several groups. Each group meets in a separate home for Sunday evening services. When significant opposition to this change has been encountered, some churches have opted to continue having an assembly at the church building for those who do not wish to participate in the cluster groups.
What’s the problem?
1. Like all changes to New Testament worship, these cluster groups have originated from secular sources where small group theory is presently the rage.
2. They set up a potentially dangerous situation where the elders lose their ability to shepherd because of the many different groups.
3. They do not parallel the “house churches” in the New Testament because those churches were separate, autonomous congregations:
“GREET PRISCILLA AND
4. They do not follow the approved pattern provided by the apostles and the first century church:
I Corinthians “WHEN YE COME
TOGETHER THEREFORE INTO
The problem in
“Contemporary” Worship Services
Another change is for the church to have two worship services; one traditional and another “contemporary” where many of the other changes we have already studied are practiced.
But absolutely no biblically or legitimate rationale for having “two kinds of assemblies” on Sunday morning exists. It exists only to provide a more “hip” service instead of the traditional God ordained and directed worship that these people have found to be, to them, boring and somber.
As we have studied in earlier lessons worship to God must of necessity be done in the fashion that God wants. It must be done in the pattern that God has provided in the New Testament examples and commands. If worship is biblical, and therefore pleasing to God, then everyone – regardless of age or culture – ought to be able to worship meaningfully together. And that brings us to our last subject for this lesson.
A number of churches offer a separate worship assembly for children – a practice that seems to have begun in the digressive congregations of the late 1800’s and was used to bring in instruments into worship; first in the basement or a back room and then into the general assembly. This practice has come into vogue again among our brethren primarily as a result of the bus ministry approach to evangelism in the sixties and seventies. The basic rationale for such alternate assemblies is to provide children with a learning environment more conducive to their age and their lack of experience to formal worship settings.
Six things we should consider:
1. Past generations existed without it and their children grew up to be faithful Christians. Many of my memories of church have to do with things I learned listening to the sermons preached.
2. The adult or adults who are involved in the Children’s Church must forsake the worship assembly.
3. Saying that the children need their own assembly since they cannot or have not been properly taught to behave themselves in worship is flawed thinking. When will they ever learn to behave themselves properly? The answer is they won’t and the practices will follow them into the worship assembly when they finally are included.
4. Providing a “fun and games” atmosphere (not always the case) only encourages further immaturity and a lack of reverence for a time of worship. It also establishes a situation where when it becomes time for them to join the regular worship they will want to bring their “fun and games” with them into the regular worship and this is the source of some of the problems we have discussed in this series.
5. The Bible classes before worship provides the same opportunity for teaching at the level of the children as the Children’s Church. Therefore why is it necessary to have a separate assembly for their age level when one is already being provided?
6. Where does the Bible authorize the division of the assembly into groups according to special “needs?” If we take this logic to its extreme (and people will) the congregation could completely quit assembling as a single group and have separate worship services for seniors, teenagers, newly marrieds, black, white, college graduates, etc. ad nauesum. Paul wrote that the church meet in one place:
I Corinthians “WHEN YE COME
TOGETHER THEREFORE INTO
Testament example is for the entire church to assemble in “