How do you measure a church? Does a young, large crowd filling a beautiful sanctuary and complex indicate a strong church? Does the modernity and progressiveness of a congregation speak to its strength and vitality? Or is possible that God measures the church differently than men do? In his epistles, Paul uses five metaphors to describe the church and each one can be used as a measure of a healthy congregation. In this broadcast of Let the Bible Speak, we look at Paul’s Measure of a Strong Church.
I am sometimes approached by people who are greatly troubled by what is going on in their home church. They are very disillusioned with the direction the church is going, perhaps saying that the church is spiritually dead or that there are sins prevalent in that church that they simply feel they cannot tolerate. Sometimes people begin to see scriptural problems with the church where they worship, but they really don’t know how they should react or what they should do about it.
That begs the question: is there a time, in the eyes of God, when I should leave a local church? I want to consider with you some of the principles of scripture that I think will help us to make that determination. Let’s begin by looking at Jesus’ words to the seven churches of Asia Minor, particularly to the church at Sardis.
Revelation 3:1-4 “And unto the angel of the church in Sardis write; These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die: for I have not found thy works perfect before God. Remember therefore how thou hast received and heard, and hold fast, and repent. If therefore thou shalt not watch, I will come on thee as a thief, and thou shalt not know what hour I will come upon thee. Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.”
Obviously, here is a church that was fraught with a number of problems. We know they were serious problems because verse 4 tells us that there were a few even in Sardis who were innocent in regard to those sins. They had not defiled their garments. So, where did that leave them in their relationship to the remainder of that local church? Where does that put a person today who may be in a congregation where unscriptural things are practiced or where things are not what we would have them to be? Is it ever appropriate, and if so when should I leave a local church? When should I change congregations?
This is admittedly a rather difficult and sensitive subject. We should approach it very carefully and circumspectly for several reasons. First of all, I don’t want to minimize the importance of being a part of a local church. To the contrary, membership in the local church is not only good, but necessary. That is God’s plan. When we are baptized into Christ, we are added to the universal body of Christ, the church of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:47). Then we are to be part of a local congregation of that church, which is the visible, organized manifestation of the church in this world. So, I can’t be faithful to God and serve the Lord acceptably without being a faithful, active, involved part of a local body of believers, and worshipping and working within the confines of the local church. That runs contrary to what many preach and believe today, but it is what the Bible teaches about the Christian’s relationship to the church. I do not want to minimize the importance and necessity of that.
Secondly, many are very flippant and careless when it comes to their relationship to a local church and I don’t want to encourage that either. Some change churches about like they change shoes, you might say ‘church shopping’ like they do for businesses that peddle various products. Always looking for the latest, greatest, cutting edge trends in religion. As a result, churches today are trying to market themselves to people based on all the various benefits, attractions and ministries that they offer, hoping that people will pick them as a local church. I don’t want to encourage that mindset. Our choice of a local body of believers with which to be joined together is not only a very important choice, but it is an eternal choice. It is a matter that boils down to what the Bible teaches—not just what I want or prefer.
On the flip side of that, some are to the other extreme, to the point of being not only careless with the church, but careless with their souls. Regardless of whatever error may persist or what sin or digression may be being practiced, they wouldn’t think of leaving that church because of family ties, friendships, long-lasting personal or family traditions, community or business ties. Some are unfortunately spiritually or even intellectually lazy, not willing to investigate the scriptures and honestly compare what the Bible says to the beliefs and practices of the church that they call home. They are just content to be part of that certain religious body for whatever reason, and scriptural considerations are very minimal, if they exist at all.
Believe me, I understand. I really do understand the emotional and sentimental ties that bind a person to a particular religious tradition or group of people. It is very hard to stand up against friends and loved ones who may be in error. It is incredibly difficult to leave what we have been comfortable with for perhaps our entire lives, for something that represents a total change in spiritual direction and philosophy. I know it’s a struggle that is very real, perhaps even in your heart today. I hear concern from many of our audience over the direction that their church is going. It distresses you to see what is happening in the church that you have loved and long been part of. It is so hard to make a decision that will have such a long-lasting and radical impact on your life and the lives of others. Thus, we need to approach this question very carefully from a Bible standpoint.
The third reason we have to be so careful is that the Bible doesn’t explicitly address the notion of leaving a congregation of the Lord’s church and becoming part of another congregation. It certainly addresses the need to leave false religion and to embrace Christianity, but what about the church that claims to be the Lord Jesus Christ’s church, but is betraying that claim by its doctrine and its practice? What are we to do? We may not have explicit examples of what others did in ancient times if similar circumstances arose, but the Bible does give us ample principles to deduce what is right and appropriate and pleasing to the Lord.
Let me hasten to say that there is no such thing as a “perfect congregation.” Some people are always in search of the perfect church. Any flaw in any member of any church becomes an excuse for them to leave and go somewhere else. I am not suggesting that at all. In fact, the seven churches of Asia are identified as having some major problems (Revelation 2 & 3). Most of those congregations were strongly rebuked by Jesus for one reason or another, and were in danger of losing their candlesticks if they didn’t turn around and repent. You will notice if you read through those seven letters that the goal of Jesus’ rebuke was repentance and reform.
Our goal should be the same. Our first hope should be to reform a wayward church. Unfortunately, many will not be reformed. That is the sad reality. Much of the change that we see in the Lord’s church today and in religion in general is the result of a very slow, methodical and calculated agenda being carried out by what you might call ‘change agents.’ That is not easily countered or reversed. In many cases, those changes have been subtly creeping in for a long, long time now and carrying people along with them, and it is hard to row against that tide. Our hope should be to bring a wayward church back into the pathway of right and duty. To ask for the old paths and for people to gladly say, we will follow in those paths. But, as we noted recently in Jeremiah 6:16-17, that was not the reply of the ancient Israelites.
Jeremiah 6:16-17 “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. Also I set watchmen over you, saying, Hearken to the sound of the trumpet. But they said, We will not hearken.”
You are going to find a great resistance. Many will not be reformed, unfortunately. It is possible to be in a congregation where members are personally weak, where problems exist in that church, but where you can still acceptably live for the Lord. Revelation 3:4 illustrates that, as we noticed.
Revelation 3:4 “Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments; and they shall walk with me in white: for they are worthy.”
So, whatever the problems were in Sardis, there were members of the church there who remained unstained; they were not participating in the wrong themselves. Paul wrote to the Roman brethren to forbear with one another in matters of individual Christian liberties (Romans 14). There are areas of personal discretion, of liberty as Paul describes them, and in those areas, we are to be patient and tolerant and forbearing one with another. But offering to God false worship is NOT a liberty. Doctrines that pertain to our salvation and doing the will of God in truth are not things under consideration in Romans 14 when Paul was discussing the regulation of Christian liberties.
What about a situation where a person cannot remain without defiling their spiritual garments? What about a congregation where things are being practiced that merely by my participation in that congregation, I cannot remain unspotted? It is possible to become partakers of other men’s sins. This is written concerning the sins of Babylon:
Revelation 18:4 “And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.”
And Paul wrote this to the church at Ephesus:
Ephesians 5:11 “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”
You see, the Bible teaches that fellowship with others in Christ is found in a mutual fellowship with God through Christ, and is thus contingent on truth. John ties all of that together for us.
1 John 1:6-7 “If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin.”
You can’t be in fellowship with God and live in sin and remain and persist unrepentantly in error. Ultimately, fellowship with one another is based upon our relationship with Jesus Christ, which has to do with believing and abiding in the doctrine of Christ, the truth of God’s word. Let’s consider some situations where you may need to seriously consider leaving a local congregation. In fact, with many of these things I’m going to describe you NEED to leave if that congregation will not repent and be what the Lord wants it to be.
First, if your church boldly embraces evil, what the Bible calls wickedness, and refuses to repent, then you are in the wrong place. Sadly, sometimes that is the case. Members who unrepentantly live in sin and immorality are to be withdrawn from and disciplined, the Bible says. Not welcomed or applauded. If your church is embracing what God has called wickedness or abomination, you don’t belong there if they will not repent and get back on the right road. We see much of that in the religious world today, unfortunately.
Secondly, if your church is part of a denomination, you need to get out of that situation. I say that very plainly because denominations are foreign to the word of God. You will not find the idea of denominations within the model of the New Testament church, particularly in the book of Acts and throughout the epistles. Jesus told His disciples that He would build “My church” (Matthew 16:18). We’re told in Ephesians 4:4 that there is “One body.” God’s ideal and His expectation for that body is found in I Corinthians 1:10.
1 Corinthians 1:10 “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
Everything that Paul said there runs completely counter to the whole idea of sectarianism and denominationalism. By definition, the church is only spoken of in the New Testament universally and locally. In other words, the word church can refer to ALL the saved people who have ever lived upon the face of the earth, who now have a redeemed relationship with God through Jesus Christ. OR the church is spoken of in the local sense, where it becomes a literal, organized entity or congregation. Those are the only two instances to which the church is referred. Anything that is in between is foreign to the Bible. A denomination is not the universal church because every denomination claims that there are saved people in other denominations. Neither is a denomination the local church because many local churches make up a denomination. Therefore, a denomination is something that is foreign to the teachings of the Bible.
Denominations were created by men and founded on varied and conflicting creeds, dogmas and conventions that were convened and devised by men instead of using the scriptures as their creed. If you are part of a denomination, you are not in a congregation of the Lord’s church and you need to leave that system. You need to seek out the church that Jesus established using the New Testament as the standard of measurement.
Thirdly, if I cannot worship and serve God acceptably within a local church, I need to leave that church. Many aspects of my life as a Christian are inseparably tied to the corporate church. For example, take public worship. The church comes together to offer worship unto God and we’re told in Hebrews 10:25 not to forsake that. We’re told in Acts 20:7 that the disciples in Troas came together to break bread. Paul told the Corinthian brethren this:
1 Corinthians 11:18” For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.”
Paul also speaks of the church coming together for edification.
1 Corinthians 14:26 “How is it then, brethren? when ye come together, every one of you hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a tongue, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation. Let all things be done unto edifying.”
So, the church is to come together to participate in these matters of worship and edification. You can take your Bible and begin all the way back in the book of Genesis after man left the garden, and see that worship began to be offered by man to His Creator, and NEVER in all of that time has the manner of worship been left up to the worshipper. In fact, Jesus said this regarding the manner of worship:
John 4:24 “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.”
Even some churches of Christ today are beginning to depart from that principle and ideal. Some of them are beginning to entertain the idea of introducing instrumental music into the worship. If you respect the authority of the New Testament and the silence of the scriptures as a member of Christ’s church, you cannot go along with that. You can’t participate in that, as it is an unscriptural innovation.
We will see more and more women filling the pulpits of churches that once did not allow such because of Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 14:36. You are going to see women ordained as preachers and elders and placed in roles of leadership that the New Testament reserves for men. You will see more of that because it has swept over the denominational world, and we are now seeing it encroach upon the Lord’s church. The trend is in the wrong direction, not the scriptural direction.
Some churches of Christ are trending toward a contemporary worship, in the sense of this new emotion, experience-driven encounter that is replacing simple worship in Spirit and in truth and the patterns and inspired traditions of the apostolic church. Therefore, if a church is not worshipping according to the scripture, I as a participant in that worship CANNOT worship in an unscriptural manner. If a church does not worship as the Bible teaches, I can’t participate in that worship and remain unspotted myself.
Fourthly, if sound doctrine is not taught, I need to think about my relationship to that church. Granted, there will always be disagreements about various issues, but as for anything that is germane to my salvation and the salvation of others, there MUST be unity. We mentioned Romans 14 and Paul’s discussion about liberties a moment ago. There are misunderstandings that Christians have about certain teachings of scripture and when the Bible doesn’t legislate regarding those things, liberty exists. But on the other hand, there are requirements spelled out in God’s word, commands that are given, examples that are laid out for us to follow. So, in those areas that are germane to my obedience to God and my salvation, we must strive for unity in those things. Some churches today are drifting from the very core message of the gospel. Many preachers deny that obedience is a necessary part of the gospel, despite what the Hebrew writer said.
Hebrews 5:9 “And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him;”
We’re being told, even in some pulpits of the Lord’s church, that we’ve really misunderstood and baptism is not as important as we once believed. Peter said something different.
Acts 2:38 “Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…”
We learn later in the book of Acts that sins are not washed away until one is baptized, as Saul was told by Ananias so long ago.
Acts 22:16 “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”
There are doctrines such as eternal security and salvation by grace and faith alone today. You hear many doctrines taught about grace that exploit and cheapen the grace of God, as Jude spoke about.
Jude 4 “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Friend, these are serious matters. I need to be concerned about what’s coming from the pulpit in the congregation where I attend. As we recently discussed, churches are changing today. I know that disturbs many of you and you don’t know what to do or where to turn. Have you been left behind by all of the change and upheaval? Do you feel like a stranger perhaps where you have worshipped for years? Do you feel like a hostage to change agents and those who are executing an agenda to transform the Lord’s church into a denomination?
I want you to know there is an alternative. There are still people who ask for the old paths (Jeremiah 6:16). They are still trying to follow closely the examples and commands of the Lord and His apostles—not only in daily life, but in the work and worship of the church. If you’d like to investigate that further, I hope you’ll reach out today.
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As churches change and in some cases, drift away from the truth in doctrine and practice, what are faithful Christians to do? Can they remain faithful to God in the midst of digression and apostasy? Is there a point where such an one needs to leave and find another congregation to be part of? The goal of any true believer should be to correct and reform those who have lost their way. But what if repentance and reformation do not occur? These questions often involve not only truth but also emotions and strong ties to other people. In this broadcast of Let the Bible Speak, we consider principles that may help us answer the question: When should I leave a church?
It almost seems like the world is changing faster than ever before. Our culture is rapidly adapting to social standards and norms, and as it turns out, so are many churches. If it had been suggested twenty-five years ago that many mainstream denominations would be embracing some of the things they are today, we would’ve found that very hard to believe. The past ten years alone has seen the acceleration of doctrinal, moral, and philosophical change to the point of causing an upheaval in the religious world.
What about your church? Is it changing with the times? Should it be? Should we expect the church to follow the lead of the culture around it? Does the church that you are a part of tolerate or practice things that a few years ago would’ve been soundly rejected by the leadership and the majority of the membership? Churches DO change.
2 Peter 1:10-15 “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall: For so an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Wherefore I will not be negligent to put you always in remembrance of these things, though ye know them, and be established in the present truth. Yea, I think it meet, as long as I am in this tabernacle, to stir you up by putting you in remembrance; Knowing that shortly I must put off this my tabernacle, even as our Lord Jesus Christ hath shewed me. Moreover I will endeavour that ye may be able after my decease to have these things always in remembrance.”
In this epistle, Peter is concerned about what will happen to the church after the death of he and the other apostles. He establishes their authority as apostles, saying that their word was the result of eyewitness testimony of Christ and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the very next chapter, he warns that false teachers would arise and lead the church astray. His concern for the moment was that the church be established in the present truth so it would not be led into heresy and apostasy.
That alone tells us that churches sometimes change. The apostles were concerned about that fact. We’re not talking about incidental change, or merely cultural change. We’re talking about foundational and doctrinal change and upheaval. Is your church one of the many who are caught up in the tidal wave of change today? That is the focus of this week’s study.
It seems like nearly every day we hear of another religious leader or organization changing his/their position to be more in line with contemporary culture. Scriptural traditions or moral truths long held almost universally by professing Christians are being reconsidered and mostly abandoned in an effort to make the church more acceptable and appealing to the world. Churches are changing morally and doctrinally, and they’re doing so at a dizzying pace.
Is your church abandoning its former stand against sin and evil? Is it becoming more liberal, loose, and worldly with each passing year? That should cause you to stop and think about some things. The winds of change are blowing—not only throughout the denominations, but even among the Lord’s church and churches long associated with what is coined The Restoration Movement. Simple, Biblical worship is being replaced with showy, emotion-driven experiences that are patterned more after the latest trends in the denominational world than after the examples and teachings of the New Testament. Some have embraced practices that were always before rejected because of the appeal for Bible Authority. Things such as women preachers and elders, instrumental music, praise teams and bands, and so on. Congregations that no longer want to be known as a church of Christ, taking that description off of their signage even, in an attempt to disassociate themselves from their own past and assimilate to the wider religious community around them.
I received a message from a viewer in north Louisiana recently who named the church he had been a member of for some time, and he said they had not only “taken the designation “Church of Christ” off of their sign, but are now in the process of incorporating instrumental music into the worship in a slow but calculated process.” I’ve heard from many over the last few years who report a similar story. Some churches of Christ have even abandoned the foundational teachings of the gospel plan of salvation and are adopting Calvinistic ideas about salvation, such as salvation by faith only–rejecting the necessity of baptism, and promoting charismatic and denominational ideas about the work and influence of the Holy Spirit in conversion and so forth. Are the winds of change blowing in the place you call home? Do you feel like an outsider in your own home congregation because all of the change has left you behind? You are certainly not alone and your circumstance is one that the Bible very much addresses.
But first, let me hasten to say that SOME change is good and even necessary. There are certainly some changes that we need to see within the church today. We need to see a change from indifference to zeal. How badly we need to see a change from worldliness to holiness. From carnality to spirituality, from spiritual ignorance to knowledge. I think all of us could agree with that. But these changes are not brought about by setting aside the Bible pattern for something new and perhaps emotionally appealing. Rather, they are brought about by the transformation that the gospel is able to affect within the heart.
There are things that perhaps we need to change about how we broadcast and disseminate the gospel in the world today. The globe is now girdled by a network of instant mass communication so that we are presented with new and exciting avenues through which to proclaim the gospel. It’s pretty obvious that simply being stuck in the 1950’s and passing out a handbill advertising a yearly gospel meeting isn’t the most effective way to spread the gospel today. Gospel meetings as we’ve coined them can be wonderful, but we’re not going to reach the culture until we go to the culture and shine as a light of influence, taking the gospel to where people are today.
That is all very true. But what we must NOT do is change, compromise, or dilute the truth in an effort to attract a crowd. It is still the gospel that saves. It is still the doctrine of Christ in which we must abide. It is still the truth that sanctifies and unless people learn the truth, are convicted of their sins, turn in faith, repentance, and obedience to Jesus Christ and allow Him to change their lives, they are not going to be saved. And we’re not doing anything to help them whether we get them to attend a service and swell our numbers or not.
As I stated, change is not necessarily wrong. In fact, it is sometimes healthy and desperately needed. But the need for change stops short of the doctrine and teachings of Christ and His apostles. Sacred truths and patterns in scripture cannot be cast aside and God be pleased with it.
2 John 1:9 “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.”
1 Corinthians 11:2 “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances (better translated as traditions), as I delivered them to you.”
So, why are so many churches in the throes of change today? Why, perhaps, is your church changing? Some churches change because they adopt a pragmatic view of church growth. This is the prime motivation in much of what we’re seeing today. Pragmatism is the idea that the effectiveness of a practice or idea determines whether it is right or wrong, valid or invalid. In other words, if it works, then it must be right. If it draws a large crowd, then that is the way to go. The pragmatist doesn’t ask what saith the scriptures? but rather, what saith the majority? What is the world seeking? What will make the church most appealing to the masses or to the younger generation?
The result is that we see churches operate like businesses, with a quota and a bottom line, and the measure of success becomes the size of the crowd, the social standing of the church in the community, the amount of money that it brings in, the popularity of its preacher, and so on. When a church turns to pragmatism as its model for growth, the first thing that is necessarily sacrificed is truth, because the reality is that truth itself is often very offensive to the world. Sinners don’t like to be told that they’re sinners.
John 3:20-21 “For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God.”
So, the pragmatic church turns away from any kind of preaching or messaging that involves identifying and condemning sin. Friend, the gospel is certainly a popular message and it is to be preached in love, without a doubt. It is a message of love and entreaty, peace and salvation. But, make no mistake: it’s also a message of change and repentance. A gospel that does not convict a man of sin and lead him to give up his sin and allow the Lord to change his life is no gospel at all. It is false doctrine. Churches are very misguided today who believe that they have to change the message of scripture to make it more palatable, more acceptable and easier to take for a lost and sinful world.
Secondly, sometimes churches change because they desire to be like the nations about them. For example, the restoration plea of the 19th century was a response to the sectarian model of the reformation. The appeal to speak as the Bible speaks and be silent where the Bible is silent was the call that rang out.
1 Peter 4:11 “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God…”
In other words, let him speak as God has spoken. That is a worthy plea and it is a scriptural and an apostolic plea. If we live up to it, the result is that we will be different from others about us. When human creeds and humanly devised practices and man-given names and so on fragmented the religious world into dozens of denominations and hundreds of sects and factions, the ideal of the restoration was to follow no creed but the Bible. To call Bible things by Bible names and do Bible things in Bible ways. Some people tell us that the Restoration plea has failed and I roundly reject that.
The Restoration plea made the churches of Christ different. It called people out of the error of sectarianism and denominationalism back to the truth of God’s word. But today, a significant part of that plea is being abandoned as congregations of the Lord’s church seek to be like the ‘exciting’ and growing religious groups around them.
Long ago after the aged prophet Samuel had made his sons to be judges over God’s people, this is what the scriptures say took place.
1 Samuel 8:4-8 “Then all the elders of Israel gathered themselves together, and came to Samuel unto Ramah, And said unto him, Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations. But the thing displeased Samuel, when they said, Give us a king to judge us. And Samuel prayed unto the LORD. And the LORD said unto Samuel, Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee: for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them. According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even unto this day, wherewith they have forsaken me, and served other gods, so do they also unto thee.”
They wanted a king so they could be like the nations around them. Not because it was God’s will, but because they envied and idolized the pagan nations around them, thinking their ways were better than God’s way. God told Samuel that in so doing, they were rejecting God’s own lordship over them. Friend, that’s what churches do today when they look to false religions as their model and their ideal instead of looking to the authority of the scriptures.
Thirdly, some churches change because they become ignorant of the scriptures.
Hosea 4:6 “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge…”
You know, when people aren’t familiar with the doctrines of the New Testament, they become easy prey for change agents and false teachings. That is why in so many pulpits today there is so little emphasis on theology and sound doctrine. Have you noticed that as a whole? I mean, there are some wonderful preachers in the world today who still preach the Bible and a thus saith the Lord. Their sermons delve deep into the truths of God’s word. But you also have to admit that much of what the world is hearing today, much of what people are trudging to church to hear from week to week is rubbish. It’s fluff. It’s shallow. It’s vain.
How many so-called sermons do you hear today that place a small emphasis on scripture and its exegesis? Little scripture is even quoted, but instead authors and psychologists are quoted, jokes and stories abound, theatrics and dramatism is used to illustrate some shallow and vapid social or moral lesson. As a result, people are left spiritually starved and those churches are easily led in whichever direction by the winds of culture and change.
Ephesians 4:13-15 “Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 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; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:”
Carried about with every wind of doctrine, Paul says. That’s what we see today, but Paul says that’s not to be. Churches change because they become ignorant of sound Bible doctrine, and so often that is the fault of men who fill pulpits and the men who lead the flock.
Fourthly, when churches change it is because they are taking a lower view of scriptural authority. In other words, no longer is the Bible looked at as a pattern for the work and worship of the church. No longer do they seek a command or example from the scriptures to see if their practice is right in the eyes of God. Instead, they say God has no pattern for how we are to worship. He just leaves it up to us to worship in whatever way emotionally or spiritually stimulates us. They interpret plain statements in the scriptures in such a way as to explain them away and essentially make them meaningless to the modern church.
Let me give you an example: The apostle Paul could not have written anything more plainly than when he wrote to the church in Corinth.
1 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.”
I know that teaching is not popular today. It’s not in line with what our modern culture says about what the role of women should be in the work of the church, the preaching of the gospel and so forth. But, friends, it IS what the Bible says.
Paul was either an apostle or he wasn’t. He was either inspired of the Holy Spirit or he wasn’t. It takes a man with a host of seminary degrees to come in and try to explain that away. What else could Paul have said to express himself any more plainly? Yet, in an effort to accommodate our changing world, even brethren are now attempting to explain Paul’s words away. Will they explain them away when we are judged by the scriptures in the last days as Jesus said we will be?
The silence of the scriptures used to be respected. Many churches once rejected instrumental music in worship because it is never commanded or authorized in the New Testament—and it’s not, by the way. Instead we’re told this:
Ephesians 5:19 “Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord;”
Many churches have now decided that since the Bible doesn’t explicitly forbid instrumental music—in other words, it doesn’t say “Thou shalt not use an organ, a piano, etc. in the worship,”—then it should be employed in worship. Simply because it is not expressly or explicitly forbidden–despite the fact that the early church knew nothing of its use and it took six hundred years for it to be introduced, and that by the Roman Catholic church. But, you see, they’re adopting a new hermeneutic that says that as long as the Bible doesn’t specifically and plainly forbid it, then it must be alright to practice.
Friend, the Bible never tells us to play an instrument in worship to God in the church. The Bible tells us that we are to sing and make melody in our hearts to the Lord (Ephesians 5:19). The Bible also says that we are to sing with grace in our hearts unto the Lord (Colossians 3:16). History tells us that the early church offered vocal music unto the Lord. Instrumental music was unknown to the New Testament church, as I said, until some six hundred years after the church’s establishment, when the Roman Catholic church introduced it.
When we adopt a hermeneutic that says “as long as the Bible doesn’t expressly forbid something, it’s okay to practice,” you can see where this type of thinking leads. I just cited 1 Corinthians 14:34 where the Bible expressly forbids women preachers. Yet, some of the same churches are ignoring that prohibition—even though the Bible does expressly forbid it. They are adopting women preachers. That ought to cause us all to pause and think about how we are interpreting the Bible and just how far we are willing to go. At what point do we stop saying the Bible doesn’t mean what it says? At what point do we draw the line and say No! to practices that are not authorized by the scriptures? This was Paul’s command:
Colossians 3:17 “And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of (or by the authority of) the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.”
In closing, I want to say this: you may be very concerned about what you’re seeing in the church today. You may lament the many changes that are sweeping through the religious world. May I remind you that the winds of change have been blowing for a long, long time. The spirit of innovation was kindled a long time ago and some churches have been changing longer than you might realize. It’s ironic that many are lamenting and complaining about the changes taking place NOW, but seemingly haven’t been bothered by the change that has already led them away from the Bible pattern. Many churches fought instrumental music tooth and nail; others sought to introduce it. Yet, many of those same churches welcome the use of Sunday Schools and individual communion cups. Friend, there is no more scriptural authority for one than there is the other.
Is your church changing? Maybe it actually changed a long time ago. The question is, will you stand up for what is written or will you continue to drift with the tide of change? If so, how far will you let it carry you? How far will your church have to go before you say I can’t go along with that? because the agents of change are never satisfied, you can mark that down. The spirit of innovation never reaches a point where it is enough. The very nature of apostasy and departure is to keep going. It’s NEVER enough. Those who seek to drift away from the Bible never get to a point where they say enough. Change will simply continue.
I would appeal to you today in the words of the weeping prophet Jeremiah to wayward Israel so long ago:
Jeremiah 6:16 “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, you know what one of the saddest statements in all of the Bible is? The statement that follows Jeremiah’s plea.
Jeremiah 6:16 “…But they said, We will not walk therein.”
That’s what the world is saying today: we don’t want the old paths. The religious world, even some in the church today are saying we don’t want the old paths. Will you stand with Jeremiah? Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way…What saith the scriptures? As God speaks, l’ll speak. As God is silent, I’ll be silent. Ask for the old paths and find rest for your souls.
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The winds of change are sweeping across the religious community almost as fast as they are reshaping the world at large. Long-standing beliefs and scriptural traditions are being abandoned in a pragmatic effort to make the church more adaptable and palatable to the secular world and particularly, the millennial generation. Many churches of Christ are adopting practices and approaches to scripture that were long avoided by congregations associated with restoration of primitive Christianity. This change has left many behind and confused. In this broadcast of Let the Bible Speak we look at why churches change, when change is good and when it is not.