Tom Roberts

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Associate Editorial

Decades of Discontent

What is wrong with the church of Christ?

If you say, "Nothing, it is the Lord's church, and I am satisfied with what the Bible reveals about it," you might be in a minority position. Many are ready to change the work, worship and structure of the church of Christ, including its identity as the "church of Christ." Are you aware of what is happening?

We have been through decades in which many have sought to change the Lord's church into something more tolerant and imitative of denominational theology. The exclusiveness of truth and those characteristics that identify God's people from those of the denominational world are being eroded in many places. We see the evidence of it in the Tampa Bay area and around the nation. Consider some of the issues that the Lord's people are facing:

Delete "Church of Christ" From Signs.  A number of brethren have decided that the phrase "church of Christ" is too denominational and has become so identified with doctrines peculiar to "us" that it is considered prejudicial to wear that designation. Thus, we see brethren putting up signs that say "Christians meet here" instead of "church of Christ." While we realize that the Bible uses different designations for the Lord's people, "Christians meet here" does not address the congregational aspect of the church. You could put that sign up at your house when you have family times of prayer! Let us hope that the name "Christian" does not become too denominational! If "church of Christ" has become too identified with "us" so that it is prejudicial and denominational, maybe we should decide to meet on some day other than Sunday (the first day of the week - Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2) because most denominations meet on Sunday too. Maybe we shouldn't meet at all on "Easter Sunday" lest people suspect that we observe that holiday. Some churches have decided that Bible correspondence courses and other evangelistic methods should not incorporate "church of Christ" in their message. The end result is that some people are entering the church unaware that it is the "church of Christ" (Rom. 16:16). One of the largest "non-institutional" churches in Texas has an evangelist who will not tell contacts for conversion that he is with the church of Christ. When they are baptized, they still do not know that they are members of the church of Christ. He states that he wants people to "have a relationship with Jesus." We are made to wonder how one can just have a "relationship with Jesus" without having a relationship with His body. Are you ashamed of the church of Christ? Many are, and "change agents" are determined to effect such changes that will make the Lord's church more acceptable to the world. Recently, the Oak Hill church of Christ in San Antonio, Texas where Max Lucado preaches dropped "church of Christ" and incorporated the name "Community Church" at the same time they incorporated instrumental music into their worship. "Other churches known to have added instrumental services -- besides 3,800-member Oak Hills -- include Northwest, Seattle, the largest in that region; Amarillo South, Texas; Farmer's Branch, Texas; and Southlake Boulevard, in the Dallas/Forth Worth area." "Mac Lynn, longtime church statistician, sees a shift in church attitudes of which instrumental music is only one indicator. 'Many churches are less concerned with historic markers that distinguished Churches of Christ. A half century ago, those indicators of true Christian practice included a cappella music, baptism for remission of sins, weekly communion, church organization and men in leadership. Today, the distinctives are eroding, as the culture impacts the churches. Most of the markers are still in place, but the attitude toward their essentiality has changed.'" (taken from Oct 12, 2003 Reason For Hope bulletin from South Livingston church of Christ, tr) Though not a prophet, I predict that this will happen more and more as people express their disappointment at the "tradition" of the "church of Christ."

Adopt a More Tolerant View of Doctrinal Error.   The worship of God's people has always been different from denominational churches that feel free to "go beyond the doctrine of Christ" (2 Jn. 9-11). But some seem to be embarrassed by plain preaching that contrasts the Lord's teaching with such error. "Don't call names." "Don't preach against instrumental music." "Be more positive in approach." "What difference does it make if Genesis 1-2 are literal or figurative?" "What difference does it make if the serpent in Genesis 3 is literal or a pagan myth?" Many have accepted that we should "tolerate contradictory teachings on important moral and doctrinal questions". Some are willing to receive a teacher of error into the congregation in gospel meetings if he will not preach his error in that particular meeting. Even the meaning of "false teacher" is being redefined so as to allow a man to hold and teach error so long as he is "honest." Thus, preachers who hold to soul-damning error on adulterous marriages are invited to preach in gospel meetings or write for publications, so long as they do it "somewhere else" and not in the local meeting. Fellowship with false teachers is being expanded even while those who oppose the error are ostracized and demonized for speaking out against error. Many preachers have adopted a code of silence toward error. They never preach against anything. A generation of people has been allowed to grow up without error being identified. A sense of false security is fostered by preachers who make members "feel good" without engaging in a fight with Satan and the "doctrines of demons" 1 Tim. 4:1ff; 2 Tim 2:3-4; Eph. 6:10-20). The "bold speaking" mentioned by Paul in these verses is anathema in such churches. Brethren, it is dangerous when sound teaching on doctrinal issues finds discontent among people in the pew. Anything less that the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:27) is insufficient to get the job done.

Immorality Has Become Acceptable Among God's People.  When is the last time you heard condemnation of social drinking, immodest apparel, mixed swimming, dancing, gambling, or such like? There is an identifiable discontent with bold preaching against immorality. If the truth is told, many know of situations in local churches where teenagers go to proms, wear the typical low-cut prom dress, and attend the prom dance. And if the truth is told, many parents and elders turn their heads the other way and ignore it and preachers fail to preach against it. In fact, you can even see preachers who wear short shorts today, so it is not surprising to see members in mini-skirts, bathing suits and short shorts. It is not at all unusual to hear of members who drink at home and who drink socially. It has become common for Christians to attend R-rated movies in which promiscuous sex is the common theme. Is it any wonder why divorce is so rampant among us? I can name some congregations where the preacher and elders know of dancing and drinking among the membership but who turn a blind eye to the practice. We all know of the expression, "Don't ask, don't tell." Well this has become common among Christians as well. The consequence to an immoral life style is that those who practice it do not want strong preaching against it. Moral cowards who are "hirelings" (Jn 10:12) will not preach against such practices - thus the weak preaching goes hand in hand with increasing immorality.

Among non-institutional churches, there has arisen a certified discontent against sound preaching that identifies the error and those who propagate it. Many preachers have adopted a code of silence about controversy and error that keeps members in the dark and ignorant of issues that are leading us into digression and apostasy. Many have never heard of the push for unity in diversity because their preachers don't preach about it. They also don't preach about the controversy about Genesis and the creation or the literal serpent. They don't talk about Romans 14 and the push to "receive" sinful practices. They don't talk about the error advocated about the deity/humanity of Jesus. This code of silence displays a discontent with preaching the truth! Decades of such discontent is having its effect. There is weakness in knowledge among God's people. There is weakness in identifying error. There is weakness in morality. The will to "fight the good fight" (1 Tim. 6:12) has vanished. Members are calling for shorter sermons and sermons with less scripture and more worldly wisdom. "Book, chapter and verse" preaching has given way to discussions on how to manage your money, what every husband needs to know about his wife (pop psychology), how to be happy, how to be fulfilled, etc., etc. Gospel meetings now give way to youth rallies that have "lock-ins" with clowns and bowling and entertainment (such as the events at Coppell, Tx). Singing is divided between "contemporary" and "traditional" songs to accommodate a changing youth culture that is being isolated from their elders. Books from denominational authors such as the "Purpose Driven Church" are recommended to younger preachers to develop "outreach"  programs. Evidently, Paul didn't know enough about grace and evangelism to keep us informed!

However, some faithful Christians are taking a stand. It is a stand for "preaching the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15) that appeals to the "whole counsel of God" to boldly proclaim the gospel. In some congregations, the principles of truth and righteousness are taught and the identity of error and those who espouse it are exposed. Some are content with the church as God built it through Jesus Christ and want all the lost to be saved. They are content with the doctrines of the New Testament. They are content with the morality revealed in the scriptures. They are content with the worship revealed in God's word. They have no desire to promote unity in diversity or to dilute sound doctrine in order to be more appealing to the denominational world. They have no intention of abandoning the "church of Christ." They believe the creation account in Genesis 1-2 is literal, as well as the serpent in chapter 3. They stand opposed to every effort to accommodate "science" by those willing to change literal truth to "figures" or "motifs". They are calling our brethren back to the "old paths" which many have forsaken for the more popular and "broad way" that only leads to destruction (Mt. 7:13). What about you? Those who will not stand for anything will fall for everything; those who will not stand for the truth will fall for error. Will you take a stand?   

An Invitation to Communicate.  Without apology, we speak out against innovations that would change the Lord's church into another denomination. We speak plainly and boldly because it is past time to do so.

However, we would like to be clear that we are open to Bible study, to brotherly communication about any or all questions that face us today.  Please do not confuse boldness of speech (Eph. 6:19) with arrogance or closed minds. We seek to be as the Bereans of Acts 17:11 and "search the scriptures daily to see if this things are so." We invite communication from those who might disagree with us. If you find us in error, please don't let us go politely into torment without seeking to change our direction.

We are facing an increased tolerance for false doctrines and are speaking out against it. Are we wrong?

We are facing the fact that brethren are less informed about the Bible than ever before. Are we wrong?

We are facing the fact that brethren are becoming more worldly today. Are we wrong?

We are facing the fact that many are content to drift with the crowd and are ashamed to stand for truth. Are we wrong?

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