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
What Are The Faithful To Do?
As the past twenty-five lessons in this series have presented, the churches of Christ are in the throes of a full-scale apostasy. We have pinpointed the cultural, theological, political, and scientific roots of the changes that are creating this apostasy. We have examined the circumstances that are fueling the changes as well as the mechanism for change – the “new hermeneutic.” The apostasy is taking the actual form of certain specific changes discussed in several of these lessons. Finally, the antidote to change has been proposed in terms of seven essential medications for recovery from the spiritual illness created by these changes.
The question now becomes “What we can do to make sure that we stay in the “strait” way; what we can to keep from wandering away from the “old paths?” How would God have us react? What does He want us to do when we are faced with change agent brethren who enter the local church and begin implementing their agenda.
Recognize The Change Agent
The first step in counteracting apostasy is to recognize the false teacher for what he is: a vicious wolf among sheep.
Matthew 7:15 “BEWARE OF FALSE PROPHETS, WHICH COME TO YOU IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING, BUT INWARDLY THEY ARE RAVENING WOLVES.”
Matthew “WHEREFORE BY THEIR FRUITS YE SHALL KNOW THEM.”
But, most of those who push for change are typically very pleasant individuals with charismatic personalities. They are personable and naturally attract people to themselves by their magnetic presence. They also project an image of spiritually. No wonder Jesus described such people as “WOLVES IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING.” They have all the signs of being religious, loving, harmless and innocent – like a sheep. But they are not! The very first step in handling change is to look beneath the surface facade and observe what they actually teach and practice. (Matthew 7:15-20)
judge them in terms of their internal motivations (Matthew 7:1). But we must
assess them in terms of their behavior and teaching – their fruit. We must recognize characteristics that betray
their true intentions. Usually one of
their people will be bold to advance his ideas in some settings, but be
strangely silent or evasive in others.
He will hotly defend a current false doctrine in a restricted setting,
but then freely admit, “I do not preach this from the pulpit.”
These people will progress to a certain point and then as it becomes clear that they were indeed saying what people feared they were saying and they will become more open in their efforts to gain agreement and support for their ideas. You begin to see that they now are identifying with those whom they previously held to be false teachers and enemies of the faith. We need to follow Paul’s admonition:
Philippians 3:16-18 “NEVERTHELESS, WHERETO WE HAVE ALREADY ATTAINED, LET US WALK BY THE SAME RULE, LET US MIND THE SAME THING. BRETHREN, BE FOLLOWERS TOGETHER OF ME, AND MARK THEM WHICH WALK SO AS YE HAVE US FOR AN ENSAMPLE. (FOR MANY WALK, OF WHOM I HAVE TOLD YOU OFTEN, AND NOW TELL YOU EVEN WEEPING, that they are THE ENEMIES OF THE CROSS OF CHRIST.”
With time, more and more faithful souls rise up in an effort to turn the false teacher from the error of his way, while seeking to minimize the chances of his “smooth and fair speech” deceiving “the hearts of the innocent.” Or as we begin to recognize them as those such as Paul describes:
Romans “FOR THEY THAT ARE SUCH SERVE NOT OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST, BUT THEIR OWN BELLY; AND BY GOOD WORDS AND FAIR SPEECHES DECEIVE THE HEARTS OF THE SIMPLE.”
Ephesians 4:14 “THAT WE henceforth BE 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;”
we oppose the false teacher; he will almost invariably begin to accuse us who
oppose him of being too narrow, paranoid, tradition-bound, legalistic,
unloving, witch hunters, meanspirited, stagnant and static. They will bring thinly veiled implications
into the discussion that are intended to lead people to think that the faithful
who are opposing them or what they teach are like-minded with the old Pharisees
of Jesus day. It isn’t long until the
faithful then are portrayed as wild-eyed fanatics and troublemakers. Just as the people of
Acts “AND BROUGHT THEM TO THE MAGISTRATES, SAYING, THESE MEN, BEING JEWS, DO EXCEEDINGLY TROUBLE OUR CITY.”
Or like those in Thessalonica:
Acts 17:6 “AND
WHEN THEY FOUND THEM NOT, THEY DREW JASON AND CERTAIN BRETHREN UNTO THE RULERS
OF THE CITY, CRYING, THESE THAT HAVE TURNED THE WORLD UPSIDE DOWN ARE COME
You and anyone else who opposes their teaching becomes their enemy, their enemy who they immediately turn to destroy. But oppose him we must or deny God and God’s will.
Dancing With Wolves
Brethren, dangerous trends are underway in our midst. Where once false teachers were quickly and firmly stopped and their influence and impact minimized, now broad segments of our brotherhood continue to offer themselves as prey to men who are given free rein to spread their false ideas. They are no longer described as “false teachers” who promote “false doctrine”. Now they are more often characterized as those who would “challenge our thinking” or those who would “broaden our horizons.” Rather than being duly noted and avoided as Paul directed the Roman brethren:
Romans “NOW I BESEECH YOU, BRETHREN, MARK THEM WHICH CAUSE DIVISIONS AND OFFENCES CONTRARY TO THE DOCTRINE WHICH YE HAVE LEARNED; AND AVOID THEM.”
they continue to operate freely and even function in influential capacities, write in or publish brotherhood journals, are used as guest speakers in pulpits and on lectureship platforms. Many no longer call for repentance as John did in Matthew 3:7-8 but rather they “negotiate merger” and “reconciliation” or “see unity.”
If we expect to please God, if we desire the church to survive these assaults from within, we simply must obey the commandments of God relative to dealing with false teachers and false brethren. We cannot dance with the wolves without reaping the consequences.
Don’t Be Passive or Inactive
Another step in handling these problems is to avoid being neutral. Many of our brethren seem to pride themselves in being able to see both sides of a controversy. Or they say we don’t have that problem here so we’re going to just ignore it. Faithfulness in God’s sight; includes the courage to stand up to people who depart from biblical teaching in word or deed.
Ephesians “AND HAVE NO FELLOWSHIP WITH THE UNFRUITFUL WORKS OF DARKNESS, BUT RATHER REPROVE them.”
In the very next chapter, as man has divided the Word, Paul uses the language of warfare to provide the instruction from the Holy Spirit:
“PUT ON THE WHOLE ARMOUR OF GOD, THAT YE MAY BE ABLE TO STAND AGAINST THE WILES FO THE DEVIL. FOR WE WRESTLE NOT AGAINST FLESH AND BLOOD, BUT AGAINST PRINCIPALITIES, AGAINST POWERS, AGAINST THE RULERS OF DARKNESS OF THIS WORLD, AGAINST SPIRITUAL WICKEDNESS IN HIGH places. WHEREFORE TAKE UNTO YOU THE WHOLE ARMOUR OF GOD, THAT YE MAY BE ABLE TO WITHSTAND IN THE EVIL DAY, AND HAVING DONE ALL, TO STAND.” Ephesians 6:11-13
Lastly we are to remove them from our presence:
“AND IF ANY MAN OBEY NOT OUR WORD BY THIS EPISTLE, NOTE THAT MAN, AND HAVE NO COMPANY WITH HIM, THAT HE MAY BE ASHAMED. YET COUNT him NOT AS AN ENEMY, BUT ADMONISH him AS A BROTHER.” II Thessalonians 3:14-15
In addition to recognizing who false teachers are and avoiding being neutral, we must also be uncompromising when it comes to sticking with Bible teaching on matters that these people are trying to change. We don’t like to be in situations where there are differences between brethren; as faithful children we want to follow the Holy Spirit’s instruction:
Romans “LET US THEREFORE FOLLOW AFTER THE THINGS WHICH MAKE FOR PEACE, AND THINGS WHEREWITH ONE MAY EDIFY ANOTHER.”
Romans 15:1-3 “WE THEN THAT ARE STRONG OUGHT TO BEAR THE INFIRMITIES OF THE WEAK, AND NOT TO PLEASE OURSELVES. LET EVERY ONE OF US PLEASE his NEIGHBOR FOR his GOOD TO EDIFICATION. FOR EVEN CHRIST PLEASED NOT HIMSELF, BUT, AS IT IS WRITTEN, THE REPROACHES OF THEM THAT REPROACHED THEE FELL ON ME.”
But this is not always possible and becoming more so as years go by. Because. At the same time we must face facts and spiritual reality. We cannot expect to endear our “liberal” brother – that is; one who promotes unbiblical change – to biblical truth in matters facing the church by inviting him to come and lecture to us, socialize with us, and have fellowship with us. All these tactics do (and they may be well-meaning) is cloud the waters for the congregation and leave them with the impression that the teaching and actions of the apostate brother are not so bad after all. We must follow the admonition of the apostle of love:
II John 9-11 “WHOSEEVER 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 THERE COME ANY UNTO YOU, AND BRING NOT THIS DOCTRINE, RECEIVE HIM NOT INTO your HOUSE, NEITHER BID HIM GOD SPEED: FOR HE THAT BIDDETH HIM GOD SPEED IS PARTAKER OF HIS EVIL DEEDS.”
Insist On Repentance and Cessation of Change
sin. It doesn’t matter what kind of sin
we’re talking about. When sin exists we
must insist on that sinner repent of his wrong doing. Even though we normally don’t think about an
apostate brother in this fashion; he’s not any different than the brother in
I Corinthians 5:1-2 “IT IS REPORTED COMMONLY that there is FORNICATION AMONG YOU, AND SUCH FORNICATION AS IS NOT SO MUCH AS NAMED AMONG THE GENTILES, THAT ONE SHOULD HAVE HIS FATHER’S WIFE. AND YE ARE PUFFED UP, AND HAVE NOT RATHER MOURNED, THAT HE THAT HATH DONE THIS DEED MIGHT BE TAKEN AWAY FROM AMONG YOU.
The problem was well known; it was even recognized as sin by those outside the Corinthian church. The instruction of the Holy Spirit through Paul is explicit and direct:
“TO DELIVER SUCH AN ONE UNTO SATAN FOR THE DESTRUCTION OF THE FLESH, THAT THE SPIRIT MAY BE SAVED IN THE DAY OF THE LORD JESUS.” I Corinthians 5:5
“PURGE OUT THEREFORE THE OLD LEAVEN, THAT YE MAY BE A NEW LUMP, AS YE ARE UNLEAVENED. FOR EVEN CHRIST OUR PASSOVEER IS SACRIFICED FOR US: I Corinthians 5:7
“FOR WHAT HAVE I TO DO TO JUDGE THEM ALSO THAT ARE WITHOUT? DO NOT YE JUDGE THEM THAT ARE WITHIN? BUT THEM THAT ARE WITHOUT GOD JUDGETH. THEREFORE PUT AWAY FROM AMONG YOURSELVES THAT WICKED PERSON.” I Corinthians 5:12-13
Be Courageous And Militant
Paul recognized that when good opposes evil that spiritual warfare is inevitable:
I Timothy “FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT OF FAITH, LAY HOLD ON ETERNAL LIFE, WHEREUNTO THOU ART ALSO CALLED, AND HAST PROFESSED A GOOD PROFESSION BEFORE MANY WITNESSES.”
Remain Kind, Gentle, Loving And as Tactful as Possible
In the churches of Christ we are in a dilemma. We have those brethren who are doctrinally sound and with whom we should feel comfortable and united in our fellowship and teaching. Yet some of them seem to lack genuine sensitivity and compassion for people; their attitude toward life is rather sour and negative; and their personal and spiritual maturity is somewhat shallow. As a result; their comments, methods and behaviour can be unnecessarily abrasive, caustic and out of harmony with the spirit of Christ.
We need to distance ourselves from the egotism, the pretense, and the smug sense of superiority that characterized the radical right and the Pharisee of Jesus day (Matthew 23).
We must not allow ourselves to become entangled in human loyalties, hearsay, prejudices, emotions and subjective judgments. Some members of the church seem to have been born into the kingdom in the attack mode. Their propensity for running roughshod over others, under the pious guise of loyalty to truth, is painfully evident in the host of congregations that have been split wide open without genuine justification and in some of the journals I received and read.
Of all times in the recent history of the church, we need genuine love for each other (Romans 12:9-21). If we have that kind of devotion for each other, we will still oppose the errors of the change agents and other apostate brethren; we will still covet doctrinal purity; we will still strongly defend the faith. But we will do all of these things with a kind and gentle spirit, giving each other every benefit of the doubt, approaching each other out of an attitude of humility and lowliness, feeling no animosity in our hearts (Romans 12:16; Philippians 2:1-4). We will patiently hope, think and believe the best about each other (I Corinthians 13:4-7).
Honestly Face Internal Motives
Another necessity in coping with the change occurring in the church is to give a genuine evaluation of our own motives and convictions. Our conceptions of what the church is about can become blurred. Why are we Christians? Why do we attend worship services? Why do we associate ourselves with a local church? Many would list the following:
“It’s a friendly church;” “The preacher is dynamic and caring;” “The building is breathtaking!” “I can get involved;” “They have a good youth program for my kids;” “They’re a loving, warm group of people;” “There’s so much activity and excitement there;” “They understand and accept me.”
All such exclamations are but a reflection of the times in which we live. These reasons cited as criteria for locating with a particular church are equally valid when applied to a denomination, the YMCA, a health club, or a neighborhood bridge club. Certainly all these things should exist in the congregation of the Lord’s church we make ourselves part of but they’re the “icing on the cake” and must not take precedence over what God intended as our number one concern. Jesus says:
SEEK YE FIRST THE
All of the things noted above may make us feel good about ourselves and our relationship with our local brethren but do absolutely nothing to assure that we will enjoy a home in heaven at the ends of this life’s journey. Simply pleasing God must be our primary goal in life. This means that our foremost consideration in selecting a congregation will be whether the leadership and members as a whole are trying to be true to God’s Word. Consequently, doctrinal stance should be the first matter of concern. If a congregation is not serious about staying true to the Book, all of the programs, good works, and enthusiasm in the world amount to little more than momentary distractions, or empty ritual.
I Thessalonians “PROVE ALL THINGS; HOLD FAST THAT WHICH IS GOOD.”
II Timothy “HOLD FAST THE FORM OF SOUND WORDS, WHICH THOU HAS HEARD OF ME, IN FAITH AND LOVE WHICH IS IN CHRIST JESUS.”
Hebrews “LET US HOLD FAST THE PROFESSION OF our FAITH WITHOUT WAVERING; (FOR HE is FAITHFUL THAT PROMISED;)”