What to watch for as you visit other congregations
I am not a “gloom and doom” preacher. I try to present the truth of God’s Word and the truth of our world as reasonably as possible. There are many local congregations, elderships, preachers, and individual members shifting with the tide.
It is clear that we live in a time of transition and change. We make observations each succeeding generation by some trait or attitude seen. The generation names began with world events and lead to attitudes toward life and trends they are setting. Included are the following generations (decades): Depression (30), Post-War (40), Industrial (50), Vietnam War (60), Baby Boomer (70), Baby Busters (80), and Gen X (90).
With these trends come changes in attitude about God, religion, politics, morals, material possessions and authority. While these trends seem to constantly shift and change, God and His Word do not change. The challenge facing the church and its leaders (elders and preachers) is to distinguish between what can change (customs) and what cannot change (commands).
We will enter a discussion of some trends that have risen in that past 10 to 15 years. Some of these were first thought to be an isolated incident. Lately, more congregations have begun to accept these ideas. We are now seeing more congregations beginning to practice these changes in their teaching and worship.
NOTE: Of the 14 items we will study in this series, 10 of them deal with worship. This is where much of the attack is taking place. This is also the reason that you can tell when you visit such a church during a worship service. You will see the “red flags.”
My task in this study is the following:
Make you aware of some of these changes taking place
Study what the Bible teaches
Separate what is discretionary from what is commanded
Determine what our reaction and attitude should be toward these changes
Because the changes are so varied and pervasive, I have divided this subject into the following 14 areas. I am hopeful that we will not take a long time to examine this material, but we must be aware of what is happening. We must be alert to the changes that are taking place around us. We must know how to correctly respond to these alterations.
Four kinds of worship mentioned in the New Testament
Ignorant worship – Acts 17:23
Vain worship – Matthew 15:9
Will worship – Colossians 2:23
Spiritual worship – Romans 12:2; John 4:24
Correct worship requires:
Proper audience – God. John 4:24
attitude – in spirit
1 Corinthians 14:15 – understanding
Hebrews 12:28 – reverence and godly fear (awe)
actions – in truth
1 Corinthians 14:40 – decently and in order
Study the Greek word – “aletheia” – truth
Here is a chart to study
|Ecclesiastes 12:13||Fear God||Keep commandments|
|Acts 10:35||Fear Him||Work righteousness|
|1 John 3:18||Word & Tongue||Deed & Truth|
|Romans 1:9||With my spirit||In the gospel|
A genuine attitude
For out benefit
Current worship is boring
Make commands optional
New Style of Preaching
Do you remember when a preacher quoted 20 or 30 verses in a sermon?
Our preaching was clear, Biblical, and logical.
Today, psychology, sociology, and politics have replaced Scripture.
Some claim that preaching is out of touch
The new catch phrase is “felt needs” which need to be met.
“Find a need and fill it.” This is the motto to grow churches.
Study methods of “super church” growth
Felt needs = perceptions of what the participants want or desire.
Man sets the agenda. Man establishes the priorities.
Jeremiah 10:23; Proverbs 14:12, 20:24
Felt needs = selfishness. God knows better than we do
Biblical preaching must focus on God.
Preaching must be balanced - positive and negative; OT and NT
Preaching must deal with doctrine, life issues, eternal issues
Preaching must instruct on baptism, church, worship
Preaching must discuss family, home, finances, work, social
Preaching must teach ethics, morals, values
Preaching must educate the mortal about the immortal, the temporal about the eternal, the fleshly about the spiritual
I spend time each year looking at the sermons I preach to make sure there is a balance in topics and texts
I believe it is important for preachers to cite book, chapter, and verse
BCV = cite the source of authority, God said it
Hearers learn the Bible and its teachings
Proves the authority, not just vague references to Scripture
There is a reaffirmation of our faith
For those taking notes – they can be a Berean (Acts 17:11)
For those listening on tape – they can know the source
I try, but do not always succeed, to give the reference first. This allows those in the audience to look up the passage in their Bible
Some are now ridiculing this type of preaching – “Bible thumpers” “Scripture quoters” “Cite the reference”
Fear of offending visitors
Just a custom, a ritual
Reject the idea of obedience as part of salvation
Music in our worship has been under the microscope for the past 200 years. In the early decades of the Restoration Movement (late 1700’s and early 1800’s) there was no question. We needed vocal congregational singing. No instruments. No choirs. No special music (solos, quartets).
Then came restless change. Some thought the church would grow faster if we added instrumental music. The result was a split, officially in 1906, between the Christian Church and churches of Christ.
Today, history seems to be repeating itself. It is important that we re-visit the Biblical arguments on this issue.
Some have argued that special music was used in the early church. It is reasoned that in the early church, “everyone has a psalm, has doctrine,” means that the worship was spontaneous and informal. It is also their contention that someone might sing a solo in the worship assembly.
“Each one has a psalm” could mean:
Song leaders select a song
Someone reads a selected psalm
Hymn writers introduce a new work
Lightfoot’s paraphrase reads, “When ye come together into one place, one is for having the time and worship spent chiefly in singing psalms, another in preaching, &c.” Marvin Vincent says that the use of psalms was not limited to singing. It would include reading and meditation on a poetic text.
The Greek word “psalmos”, translated “psalm” refers to poetic inspired writings.
First, “teaching and admonishing” in this passage is written with present participles. This means action that is currently going on.
Second, “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” is in the dative case. This means they are the objects used as a means to do the teaching and admonishing. They are the means by which the teaching and admonishing take place.
Third, the verse is in the imperative mood. This means that this verse is a command.
Here is what the verse teaches.
Teaching and admonishing must occur
The vehicle for this teaching and admonishing is selected. Psalms, hymn, and spiritual songs are the authorized means.
“Singing” is the action required.
“Speaking” furthers identifies the action as vocal.
Connecting the phrases about teaching, singing, and psalms, is the phrase, “one another.” The entire congregation is commanded to sing. They are to sing together. They are to sing the same words at the same time.
This phrase cannot mean for one or a few to sing and others to listen.
Prayers and preaching are not to “one another.” There is a way in which we worship by listening. We listen, meditate, understand, and mentally agree with the one leading in prayer. We do the same with the sermon or Bible class teacher.
Singing is to one another. We are to do this jointly and in unison.
In most congregations, a song leader is asked to guide the worshippers in singing. This allows the worship to be conducted “decently and in order.” (1 Corinthians 14:40) God does not want worship to be marred by confusion. (1 Corinthians 14:33)
One preacher wrote, “Rather than forbidding singing groups in worship, Scripture actually enjoins them.” If this statement were correct then every period of worship would violate this command if there were no solo or choral presentations.
When all the passages have been studied, we must conclude that God intended worship to involve “one another” singing of spiritual songs. This singing is vocal, not instrumental. This singing is in unison. This singing teaches and admonishes one another.
A question to consider: Why do some insist on special music?
If you have a choir or solo, you will select those with the better gift for music.
The selection of a soloist would be a special honor and bring personal glory.
Special music creates an artificial and superficial sense of spirituality.
Thus, this special music is for personal glory and for its entertainment value.
One of the newer “fads” among some congregations is the practice of holding up one’s arms during the worship. It is often explained that such is the very meaning of worship in the New Testament. (1 Timothy 2:8)
There are about seven different postures described in the Bible for prayer.
Kneeling with head bowed (Psalm 95:6)
Kneeling with arms raised (1 Kings 8:54; 2 Chronicles 6:13)
Kneeling while prostrate [crouched in knees with face on ground] (1 Kings 18:42; Matthew 26:39)
Standing with head bowed (Luke 18:13; Genesis 24:26, 48)
Standing with eyes uplifted (Luke 18:11)
Standing with arms raised (1 Kings 8:22; Nehemiah 8:6)
Prostrate on ground (Joshua 7:6, 10)
As you can see there are many bodily postures pictured in the Bible. In the New Testament, the emphasis is NOT on the position of the body, but the position of the heart.
It would appear that the body posture during prayer is optional and of little concern to God. One’s prayer is not heard, or rejected, because of the posture of the body. The position of the body seems to flow from the attitude of the heart.
An issue that needs to be raised – Why is there a felt need for this change? Is there a feeling that making a change will make our worship more spiritual? How will a change in the external activity aid our devotion of heart?
Jesus rejected the trend of his day to focus on externals. (Matthew 6:5; Matthew 23:5-7, 25-30; Luke 18:11) He urged the Samaritan woman at the well not to focus on the location. (John 4:21-24)
What does they passage teach? Does God require us to hold up hands during prayer?
The phrase “holding up holy hands” is a figure of speech. It is called metonymy. Metonymy is a figure of speech in which one word is substituted for another. A rancher might hire a new hand. Hand is a metonymy for a worker. Jesus instructed his apostles to drink the cup. Cup is a metonymy for the contents of the cup. In this verse, Paul uses the posture of prayer in the place of prayer itself.
NOTE: The passage specifically requests males to pray. If this verse authorizes hand raising, only men are allowed to raise hands.
Lifting up hands during prayer is done in public, but not in private. Why? Is it done for appearances?
This verse is discussing prayer. But many who raise their hands, do so during the singing, during the sermon, and during communion in addition to prayer.
Most who hold their arms up in the air also do a dance, swaying from side to side.
As with many of the changes in worship, handclapping has taken on a life of its own. It is being used in two different ways. These are each discussed below.
The first way in which handclapping is found in worship was as an accompaniment to singing. There are two sub-forms being used.
As rhythmical accompaniment – clapping to the beat of the tune
As emphasis or as a pause in singing – as “smash” in song about foolish man building a house on the sand.
Other forms include snapping fingers, tapping toes, clicking tongue, whistling, and slapping knees.
As you study the chart it is important to ask some questions.
What kind of music does God command – Vocal or Non-vocal?
What is the significant difference in percussion instruments and handclapping to accompany the song?
Does handclapping meet the requirements of what God expects music to do in worship – does it teach and admonish?
The second way handclapping is used in worship services takes the form of applause. Many congregations applaud the beginning and end of the sermon, after a baptism, at communion, after a special musical presentation, and at dismissal.
Some suggest that handclapping is just a modern way of saying, “Amen.” Those opposed to applause in worship cry, “We have never done that before.” Both ends of the spectrum need to be examined.
What is the significance of applause in America? When you hear some applause, what do you think is going on? Applause is a way to show approval. We applaud ballgames, concerts, and theater performances. Our applause says, “You did a good job.”
It is also used at times to show recognition. We appreciate a person’s skill as a performer. We recognize their place of power or authority. We applaud at the introduction of a famous person, a senator, or the president. Applause is heard when someone wins an award. Our applause says, “You are worthy to be honored. Congratulations.”
Applause is also offered to express excitement. When we are excited we applaud. We may be moved emotionally be a performance, excited by an athlete, or happy at a birthday party. Our applause is saying, “I am excited.”
The fourth purpose of applause is courtesy. Even when we disagree with the political view, are not fans of that person, we will applaud out of kindness and common courtesy. Politicians applaud the President when he enters to deliver the State of the Union Address.
How does handclapping fit in our worship? What are we trying to say by our applause? What is our applause saying?
Approval of the person?
Recognition of someone’s accomplishment?
Emotion and excitement of the moment?
Courtesy and respect for the office?
The English word “amen” comes from an Old English word meaning, “so be it.” It is, in fact, a transliteration of a Hebrew word meaning “firm.” The idea expressed in saying, “Amen,” communicates an affirmation or an agreement with a statement or position.
“Amen” places a stamp of agreement and an impression of approval to what is being said or done. When a man leads a prayer, the audience can say, “Amen,” thus agreeing with the thoughts expressed in the prayer. A preacher may make a strong statement of truth and some in the audience will agree with a hearty, “Amen.”
Amen occurs 126 times in the New Testament. There are three similar terms used in our New Testament. They are translated – So let it be, truly, amen.
In the New Testament, saying, “Amen,” was a public and vocal method of showing agreement and affirmation to the truthfulness and reliability of God’s word. It was also a way to express submission to the truth.
“Amen” is not really designed to communicate the idea “I agree with that” or “I
like that.” Biblically, it doesn’t really matter whether or not I agree with
God’s Word. God’s word is true, sure, and authoritative and binding and deserves
to be affirmed as such. (Dave Miller, Piloting the Strait, page 237)
“Go into all the world and ACT the gospel to every creature,” is the motto of many seeking to change the format of worship. Many congregations are now using adults and teens to present a skit, drama of some life situation. The format is generally to present a problem, discussing it, and finally arrive at a good solution. This is the format of the situation comedy. (By the way, some churches are now showing episodes of “Andy Griffith” for the same purpose.) The preacher then takes a few minutes to make a Biblical application to the drama.
The dramatic reading has taken on two forms.
Selection of some poem, section of a book, devotional type – The first
uses non-inspired material to teach Biblical truths. There is nothing wrong
with this – IF the reading is used to reinforce the Bible. On too many
occasions the Bible and the dramatic reading have exchanged places. The
reading is the focus and the Bible is used as the supplementary material.
Personally written testimony of a person’s faith and salvation – Now congregations have some form of the denominational practice of testifying about their salvation and faith strengthening experiences. The problem with these “testimonies” is that many stories are expanded (truth is stretched) to out-do other stories. The story may be false. The person telling the story may be deceived about the details. These stories may be interesting, but they are not our authority.
My two mites – While there might be a place for such stories, readings, poems and testimonies, there is a danger. The real danger is that the Bible is forced to take a secondary and supportive role. We ought to study the Bible and use other material as illustrative of the Biblical truths.
Another area of change in recent years is the role of women in worship and leadership. I share a few examples.
A woman preached a sermon to a large audience of men and women at “Jubilee” in Nashville, TN.
On July 31, 1988, a church in Houston, TX announced their intention to appoint women to active roles in worship, included reading Scripture, leading in prayer, and adding a woman minister to the full time staff.
In January, 1990 a church in Birmingham, AL announced their decision to include women in roles of leadership. Since then female deacons have been appointed. Women have led prayers and read Scriptures in Sunday morning worship services.
In 1992, Pepperdine University decided to include more women in public worship assemblies. A woman was asked to lead the opening prayer on August 31st.
These are just a few, but set the stage for others to follow. Some churches have “women ministers / counselors” on staff. Some have women deacons. Some have women leading in some parts of the worship.
Relevant Biblical Principles – Study 1 Corinthians 11:1-15; 14:31-35
Women – female as opposed to the male of the species
To teach – deliver a didactic discourse, preach a sermon, a prepared address
Usurp authority (KJV) – to have power, to exercise authority over others
Over the man – phrase applies to BOTH “teach and usurp authority”, in the context we are dealing with the man of verse 8.
Summary of these verses:
Men are to pray everywhere (8)
Women are to dress appropriately (9)
Women are to demonstrate godliness in their lives (10)
Women are to learn in calmness, with tranquility (11)
Women are not to teach or have authority OVER THE MAN (12)
Man (Adam) was first formed; it is a matter of seniority (13)
If it were a matter of weaker or more sinful, man was more at fault (14)
Woman brought Jesus into the world (15)
“Deacon” when used in a technical sense refers to the office of a deacon.
This word is used in a non-technical sense and refers to anyone who serves, ministers, or attends to the needs of others. This word is used of preachers, elders, Christ, apostles, women, civil rulers, and many others.
In the non-technical sense, there are many women who serve this church in some way – teachers, stay in nursery, prepare communion, take food to families, send flowers, make bears, etc. They are serving, ministering to the needs of people.
They are NOT “Deacons” in the technical sense. This office has specific qualifications that must be met. The Deacon must be a man, married to a wife, and have children. (1 Timothy 3:8-13)
There are only two passages dealing with the church and the observance of special days and seasons.
Galatians 4:10-11 – The message is a warning about “binding” holy days out of Judaism on Gentile Christians. If anyone (elders, preachers, or others) seeks to BIND a day, ritual, ceremony, or custom on others, it is wrong.
Romans 14:5-8 – Romans 14 teaches that we have Christian liberty. These are matters about which God has not given any specific legislation. How each of us chooses to observe any day or not observe any day is a matter of personal liberty.
America has several civil holidays (July 4, Flag Day, Veterans Day, Labor Day, Mother’s Day), which are often noted or observed in some way in our worship services. We may sing patriotic songs on Veteran’s Day. A sermon on mothers will be preached on Mother’s Day.
The church does not establish these days. But, as Christians, we are also participants in the affairs of this nation. As citizens of America, we can conform to the customs of this society as long as it does not violate Biblical teachings.
There also several religious holidays (Easter, Christmas, Good Friday), which people generally observe with religious ceremonies. It is also true that many religious holidays also have non-religious customs and traditions.
As Christians, seeking to follow the Bible in all matters of faith and practice, we do not bind religious holidays. We have no authority to bind such days on others. We are given no clear command, example or necessary inference to establish religious holidays.
The only “holy day” in the New Testament church was the assembly of the saints for worship each Sunday. It was on this day that they would give, study, partake of communion, pray and sing together.
There is a third group of holidays – those that originated as religious holy days, but today have no religious importance. Among these holidays are New Year’s Day, Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day, Mardi gras and Halloween.
The origin of a holiday is irrelevant. What is important is how this holiday is observed and practiced today. The customs, as long as they do not contradict Scripture, are allowed.
There are now congregation that set aside one Sunday per year (some as often as once a month) in which all mothers and fathers of newborn infants are invited to come to the front of the auditorium during a Sunday morning worship service.
The preacher will take the baby in his arms while the parents face the audience. He will say a few kind words of gratitude for the birth of this child. He expresses the desire that the infant grow up to become a Christian. He then charges the parents to train, teach and mold the child to grow in faith. The ceremony ends with a prayer for the parents.
Praying for new parents is not wrong. Christians have been doing this for a long time. The Bible encourages us to pray for one another. We should pray for parents, children, teens, adults, senior members and all other groups in the church.
First, it is important to note that this is close to, but not, infant baptism. Some denominations that practice infant baptism do so in a ceremony similar to the dedication ceremonies described above.
There is no passage forbidding such a ceremony. Neither is there any hint of authority for dedicating babies. Here is the crux of the issue.
Do we do ONLY what God commanded
Are we free to do everything God did not forbid
Some, who object to this practice, make their objection on the grounds that it seems similar to and in many ways mimics the practice in denominationalism. The observation is true, it does appear to be similar to the ceremony in some denominations. However, this is not why it is wrong. It is wrong because it does not have Biblical authority.
There is a current trend to change the observance of the Lord’s Supper. Some partake on Thursday evening. Some are serving communion during weddings. Some are changing the unleavened bread and fruit of the vine to other elements.
There is a church near a church related university that has a communion service every Thursday evening. Those who come enter a dimly lit room with the communion trays in the middle. There is spontaneous singing, scripture reading, prayers and testimonies. Whenever one feels ready, they move to the center, partake of the bread and fruit of the vine, and return to their place to continue singing and praying.
Jesus instituted the Lord’s Supper and taught his apostles that it was to be observed “often” and in memory of the death of Christ.
Here is what we know. The early church met every Sunday and partook of communion during this assembly.
They partook on SUNDAY.
They participated EVERY Sunday.
They took part ONLY on Sunday.
The first statement about the function of the newly established church is found in Acts 2:42. They (all the baptized believers) continued steadfastly in:
Fellowship (giving, sharing)
Breaking bread (communion)
Does not Acts 2:46 suggest that they would partake of communion on other days? No, it does not. Notice that Luke uses another phrase to define the first so there would be no confusion. They did “eat their meat” with gladness. This shows what took place on a daily basis was not communion, but common meals.
This passage is clear about what the first century Christians did. Why did Paul wait seven days? He was waiting for the “first day of the week” (Sunday) when the church assembled.
There are two phrases that clarify each other. “First day of the week” and “to break bread” explain each other. When did they break bread? When they met on the first day of the week. What did they do on the first day of the week? They broke bread. How often did they break bread? They broke bread when there was a first day of the week.
The primary reason for writing the section in chapter 11 is to correct abuses that had developed in the observance of the communion. We are commanded to do this “often” and “until he comes.”
It is interesting to note that the exact same phrase of Acts 20:7 is also used in 1 Corinthians 16:1-2. Any discussion about the frequency of communion also regulates the frequency of taking up a contribution for the work of the church.
Some congregations have stopped having general assemblies of all members except on Sunday morning. On Sunday evenings they have “cluster groups” or “cells” of Christians meeting in homes.
It is true that multiple assemblies on Sunday, Wednesday classes and other occasional meetings are not commanded. It is the task of elders to “feed the flock.” They determine the times and needs for the church to be fed. Some have questioned the authority of other than once a week assemblies. The fact is the early church met “daily.”
There are churches now having “cluster groups” or “cells” of Christians meeting in homes. These groups are usually 8 to 15 people who meet together in a less formal meeting. Sometimes there is a planned study or topic. Other times it is just an occasion for a group to get together for hot dogs and fellowship.
There is not a prohibition in the Bible on this. There are some issues that cause some concern and must be addressed.
Is the flock being fed?
How can elders “oversee” the flock when it is scattered?
Do you have some system to involve the uninvolved?
How can you be sure all cells are learning truth?
Some congregations are now seeking to extend the cluster groups to cover all services. They are seeking to sub-divide the congregation into a number of cells. Each cell meets for worship at a specified time for worship on Sunday. During the week the cell meets for a second time for fellowship and some Bible study.
Of course, for the first 300 years, the church did not own property. There were no church buildings until after 325 AD. The church met in rented halls like the upper room of Acts 20, or they met in homes of Christians (see Romans 16:5, 15; Philemon 2)
If the church were small enough to fit in a private home, this would work well. As the congregation grew, it was necessary for them to find a larger place to assemble.
How can an eldership oversee the flock, feed them, and minister to them? How can a program of work be conducted? How can the church communicate with each other? How can those in other cells get to know and encourage a newly baptized believer?
Major problem – 1 Corinthians 11:20 “When you come together into one place.”
Another change is taking place in congregations still meeting together. This change is in the format of their worship. Some have argued that the old rituals – song, prayer, song, and sermon – are cold and formal.
A contemporary worship includes some, if not all, of the following:
Little or no planned structure
Singing is selected spontaneously by the audience
Prayers are led when one is “led to pray.”
Dress is casual
Time of services is set to allow for other activities (golf, fishing)
Offered as an alternative to the “regular” service later that morning
The notion is flawed. We are not to adjust worship to fit the world. We must teach the world to change so they can worship God. The church does not change its moral values to fit the world. The world must change its ethics to conform their lives to God.
Another worship format issue in many congregations is called “Junior Church.” There are two approaches here.
Some dismiss the younger children just before the sermon. They go to a separate location to study the Bible on their level.
Some have formed entire “junior” churches. These churches include young boys (and girls) being appointed elders and deacons. These junior churches serve communion just like the big folks do.
The argument is made that by removing the children; the adults will be able to worship better. There will be less distraction from children. They will learn more if they hear a lesson taught on their level.
Some of these points have some merit. Some parents do not properly control their children and they do distract others. Most churches have a nursery where infants and small children can be taken when they are unruly or need attention.
On the other hand – There are some very valid reasons for keeping them in the auditorium.
Children will learn to sit still only when they are taught to do so in the assembly.
Small children hear more of the sermon than you think they do.
Adults who are needed to teach the junior church are removed from the assembly; miss the fellowship of singing, prayers and communion.
We have Bible classes for these reasons. Here, in the classes, children are taught the Bible on their own level.
Children will learn more about worship by participating, observing and asking questions about what they see.
From the early days of the Restoration Movement, there have been some who sought to find a way to form unity with denominations. This section discusses several of these now being tried again.
Webster’s Dictionary, “Denomination – a group having a name; a sect; one of a series of units separately named.” Encyclopedic Dictionary, “Denominationalism – a disposition to divide into or form denominations.” Oxford American Dictionary, “Denominator – the number written below the line in a fraction, showing how many parts the whole is divided into.”
“ The very word denomination means a named or designated division. It is religious groups forming themselves, clustering themselves, on the basis of different designations, different names, with differing doctrines, and different affiliations.” (1, 284)
Here are some Biblical conclusions one must reach from a study of the New Testament.
God planned to establish His church in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost after the death and resurrection of Christ.
All men must obey the one plan of salvation given by God, preached by the apostles; believe, repent, confess, and be baptized.
All who obey these commands are added to the church.
The church is organized into local units (congregations) with elders and deacons.
As a corporate body, they only wear a scriptural name.
Individual members wear only scriptural names.
This group assembles together for worship and organized work of the church.
Christ has limited the sphere of work for church.
The church of the Restoration Movement has gone through four stages in its relationship with the denominational religions.
Spoken Understanding. Those in various denominations are lost. They have not obeyed the gospel commands. They are not worshipping as the New Testament teaches.
Unspoken Understanding. We all knew the condition of those who belong to denominations. But, we shied away from speaking against them for fear of offending them and hurting their feelings.
Unspoken Misunderstanding. A generation that never heard denominations taught against came to believe that the church was indifferent toward them. They mistook silence for approval.
Spoken Misunderstanding. Now there are many speaking out about “Christians in all denominations.” Some have suggested that we (churches of Christ) are a denomination. It is being taught that the church of Christ is just one denomination among many and those who are in denominations are saved Christians.
Unity in Diversity
From the 1830’s to the present there have been men who sought to remain part of the Restoration Movement and, at the same time, urge acceptance of those in various denominations as acceptable to our fellowship. In the last 15 or 20 years there has been a more concerted effort to erase the line of distinction between denominations and the church of or Lord.
NOTE: The issue is NOT whether a Christian must baptize a person. Nor is the issue whether the person was baptized in a building owned by members of the church of Christ. The real issue IS whether these individuals are acceptable to God while they remain in a denomination. Are they in a saved condition while a member of a denomination?
Baptism and Plan of Salvation – The
first important question asks if one in a denomination has been properly
baptized. Most denominations reject the purpose for baptism. Most do not believe
it is essential for salvation.
There are three “essentials” for New Testament baptism:
Who? Not infants, only believers, those seeking forgiveness of sins
How? Not sprinkling, only immersion in water, a burial
Why? For remission of sins, wash away sins, salvation
The water of baptism separates the saved from the lost; the unforgiven from the forgiven; the worldly from the church; the disobedient from the obedient.
Status while in a denomination – The second important question is if a Christian can be in a denomination and be saved at the same time. As long as one maintains membership, is active, and participates in false doctrine, false worship, he remains an unfaithful and erring child of God. If one remains in this condition, one is lost.
Fellowship with denominations – It is very clear in the New Testament that one cannot join in, participate with, and have fellowship with those who teach and practice error. (Ephesians 5:11; Romans 16:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 John 9-11)
Passages abused about Unity and Fellowship
Mark 9:38-41- The man in this passage is not a member of a denomination. He was not teaching or practicing different from Jesus. He was simply unknown by the apostles. It was the egotism of the apostles and the feelings of exclusiveness and envy of others that Jesus taught as being improper. They needed to learn that others could obey the gospel and be acceptable to God. (Acts 10:34-35)
Romans 14 – This chapter is on the subject of things about which God is indifferent. In matters of indifference to God, individuals have liberty to choose for themselves. In these areas of indifference, each man is a law to himself. This chapter does not deal with matters of faith or doctrine. It is an abuse of this passage to apply it to topics that are not indifferent to God.
1 Corinthians 1:10-17 – The division described here was an internal division within one congregation. All involved in this division were Christians. To assume this passage seeks to approve unity with various denominations is wrong.
2 John 9 – Some try to pervert this passage to teach that one who does not abide in the “doctrine of Christ” means the teachings “about” Christ. Thus, most denominations that teach about the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ are OK. The phrase “doctrine of Christ” means all the body of truth. (Jude 3) It refers to the whole of Christian doctrine. Vincent says, “Not the teachings concerning Christ, but the teaching of Christ Himself and of His apostles.”
John 17 – Jesus prayed for unity.
He prayed for unity among “all them that believe on me through their word.” It
is being taught by some that unity must take precedence over doctrine. We may
differ in doctrine. We must be united in our faith in Jesus. Many try to give
this passage preeminence above all other passages.
Key Issue – Who is a believer? Is it anyone who has some understanding about Jesus, His divinity, His death, and His resurrection? Does believing in Jesus also include obedience to His commands? (James 2:19-26; John 14:15; John 15:14; 1 John 5:3)
Saved by Grace – Alone?
Many are now teaching that we are saved by grace alone, with no act of obedience required. To quote just a few: “We do not contribute one whit to our salvation.” “There is no human part of salvation.” “ I had absolutely nothing to do with my own salvation.”
We are saved by grace. (Ephesians 2:8) We are also saved by faith, obedience, blood of Christ, mercy, repentance, oral confession, and baptism. It is not an either / or situation. Salvation is attributed to ALL the above. Grace is a summary of God’s part in our salvation. Faith is a summary of man’s part in salvation. Both are included in Ephesians 2:8-10.
Events which lead to Denominational Tendencies
Pulpit exchange – Today, many preachers are exchanging pulpits with denominational preachers. There are two problems with this. 1) Our preachers are not teaching the truth in their pulpits. 2) Their preachers are teaching error in our pulpits.
Evading use of the name “church of Christ” – Many are dropping all association with the churches of Christ. Some are going to “Athens Church” or some “Community” or “Bible” church moniker.
Promise Keeper participation – “Promise Keepers” is an interdenominational organization urging men to keep their commitments to their marriages, jobs, and churches. This organization is filled with false doctrine. Some brethren, and some preachers, have joined in the activities of this “fellowship.”
Joint worship services – Similar to having pulpit exchanges is the idea of joint services. Two or more various denominations, along with some congregation of the church, will meet together for a Sunday night worship service. A Baptist will preach; a Methodist will lead in prayer; a Pentecostal will sing a solo. A member of the church will read a passage of Scripture. Such joint services involve the fellowship, support and encouragement (God’s speed) to those who teach and practice error.
Based on the previous sections of this study, it is clear that many, mostly the younger generation in the church, are seeking to change and restructure the church. We have examined many of the ways they are seeking to change the worship and doctrine of the church.
They are making inroads. This is a red flag that cannot be ignored. The only reason they have not made wholesale changes in the vast majority of congregations is the resistance of elderships. The very term “elder” implies that these are men who are older and wiser. Since elders are opposing these changes, some have sought to remove or reduce the power and authority of elders.
Some have said that the only authority of elders is the power of a good example. The statement is made, “They lead by example.” Of course, the attempt is to remove from them any authority. If they are successful here, then all the other changes they are seeking to implement will invade the church with ease.
It is important that we understand the terms the New Testament uses in reference to this office. There are three terms used interchangeably in two passages. Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:1-3)
Elder – It is clear that God wanted men older and wiser. God is looking for men with wisdom and maturity. Several qualifications show that God is seeking mature men who are experienced and stable.
Bishop – The Greek word is also translated “overseer.” The word describes a manager or foreman. They must oversee the work of the church. This word means that one must see to it that the work done by others is done properly. This is the work of a manager.
Pastor – The verb form means, “to feed.” The Greek word is also translated as shepherd. It is the work of the shepherd to lead the sheep to where they can be fed. It is also the work of the shepherd to protect, care for, and heal the injured sheep.
Add these three terms together and you have God seeking men who are mature enough to manage and oversee the operation of the church. They are to be shepherds who tend and feed the flock. Both of the latter two terms involve decision-making authority.
There are many ways to analyze the qualifications for elders given in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Here is my over simplified outline. All of the qualifications fit into one of two areas that God is looking for.
Men of high moral integrity.
Men with leadership ability.
Every qualification for an elder will fit into one of two categories. God is looking for good men, men of high morals, honest men of integrity. God is looking for men of ability to make decisions and provide leadership to the flock of God. The lambs need care. The sheep need to be fed. The weak need a shepherd. The strong need an overseer.
Local – It is clear that God intended elders’ authority to be limited to one congregation. Each local body of believers is autonomous and independent. Elders are not allowed to rule beyond the local congregation. There is no hierarchy in the church. There is no county, state, regional or national eldership.
Expedients – God has spoken. In those matters, elders do not have authority to override God. Elders cannot change, cancel or add to the commands of God. Elders’ authority is in the area of judgments and what is best for the flock. Matters such as – hiring a preacher, firing a preacher, selecting those to lead in worship, setting time of services, setting budgets, delegating authority to those over a specific program.
The elders’ authority extends to the following areas:
Financial decisions – setting budgets, pay raises
Hiring and firing of employees – setting terms of employment, vacations, time off, pay
Physical and material – building, grounds, buy property
Programs of work – adding programs, adjusting existing works
Education of members – classes, teachers, materials
Expedients – time of services, buying new song books
Counseling – sin, marriages, strife between members
Evangelism – establishing programs for outreach
Missions – where to focus, how to support
The trend we have seen in the world is also very visible in the church. There is a breakdown of the moral fiber of the people. Things that were, without question, thought to be wrong, are now acceptable and allowed. I had a lady talk to me about a sinful matter she allowed her daughter to participate in. She said, “Of course, I was raised at a time when that was a sin.” Things that used to make us blush now do not even raise an eyebrow. Why?
Many relax their firm belief in the Word of God as the authority in faith and practice. If we can ignore the teachings about the Lord’s Supper or acceptable music in worship, then we can ignore the Bible teachings on some moral questions.
My purpose here is not to delve into the teachings of Scripture on these matters. It is important that we understand where some are coming from when they reject New Testament instructions.
The Bible is clear enough that God sees life existing in the womb, before birth. God knows men by name, before they are born. A growing quantity of Christians are now seeking to justify abortion as a “woman’s right to choose.”
I do not know of any moral issue taught with more clarity than the question of the morality of the homosexual lifestyle. Both Old and New Testament are very clear on this issue. Today, some seek to justify, condone, and endorse the sin of homosexuality. We are hearing of some seeking to allow “same-sex marriages” and accept a practicing homosexual as a local minister.
The word “gamble” is not a Biblical term. The moral dilemma here is on issues such as honesty, work ethics, greedy gain, covetousness, cheating, and the principle of “no work, no eat.” Gambling clearly violates these high moral principles and is, therefore, wrong. In the church some see nothing wrong with a weekend trip to a casino or the purchase of a lottery ticket. “It is my money and I can spend it as I see fit,” ignores the Biblical principle of stewardship.
A religious statistician, George Barna, has been studying spiritual, church and moral trends for several decades. A startling statistic, which began appearing about 10 years ago, is the fact that more “born again Christians” are likely to divorce than the general population of the country. Mr. Barna’s research shows that across the USA, there is a divorce ratio of 4.3 divorces for every 1,000 population. Among those who claim to be “born again Christians” the ratio is 7.2 per 1,000 Christians. This should send us scurrying for answers and solutions.
Miller, Dave. Piloting the Strait. Bedford, TX 1996. (The major outline comes from this work. I have added and adjusted to teach this material. I have used some charts and diagrams from this book.)
Luscombe, Manly. Change Agents. Tullahoma, TN. 1994.