What Is The Agenda Of The "Change Agents"?
by Lawson Mayo
There is a large, influential movement within the body of Christ to change the structure of the church. Those within this movement are promoting a new hermeneutic; they say that truth cannot be known. Furthermore, they claim that the New Testament Church has not been restored; because of this, they are calling for change.
Can truth be known? Is change wrong? Does the church need to be restructured? These are questions that demand answers; answers that I've been asked to supply in this lecture.
First, let me confirm, with Scripture, that truth can be known.. In John 8:32 we hear Christ say, "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Jesus, Himself, is the source of the truth about which He speaks. He is the Way, the Truth and the Life; no man cometh to the Father, but by Him (John 14:6). For some, this is a narrow philosophy, but for the sound believer, it is the source of eternal life.
There is no way to have a soul-saving relationship with God except through Christ and His Word. If any man shall add to, or take from the Word, he shall reap the consequence in the day of judgement (Revelation 22:18,19). Woe unto the "agent" that would institute an unscriptural change within the church; his name shall be stricken from the Book of Life.
It is my conviction that God knew what He wanted when He planned the church. It is also my conviction that Jesus Christ was capable of setting in order that which God planned. If this is not so, our faith is in vain.
In the words of a popular song: "The times, they are a changin'" (Bob Dylan). Yes! The times, they are a changin'! To quote Dave Miller: ". . .civilisation has been in a state of cultural flux for the last three decades. From the Christian perspective, this disorientation has not been good. The overall social shift has dramatically weakened [our] value system -- religiously, morally, and spiritually. The church has not eluded the clutches of this social circumstance. The influence of these cultural currents is being strongly felt. In fact, hurricane force winds of change are pounding down upon the body of Christ. The instigators insist that change is absolutely essential if the church is to remain 'relevant' to society and 'appealing' to human culture." (Piloting the Strait)
The change agents (as they are called by those of us who wish to remain doctrinally sound) would turn the church of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, into nothing more than a secular body. For the sake of appeal, they would have use compromise God's Holy Word. In the guise of relevancy, they would have us lose our identity. The "old paths" are too strait; the "old way" is too narrow (Jeremiah 6:16).
Three of the better known spokesmen among the change agents are: Rubel Shelly, Lynn Anderson, and Max Lucado. I tell you, brethren, beware of these men and their writings. In the name of Christ, they are advocating soul-threatening reforms and alterations in God's most holy pattern.
At the 1996 Conference on Spiritual Renewal that was held in Florence, Alabama, where Shelly participated with a group of religious leaders from a large assortment of denominational and charismatic groups, he was introduced as a "leader" in the "renewal movement" among churches of Christ. Such an introduction speaks volumes regarding the "reforms" that Shelly would have us adopt in the body of Christ.
Likewise, Anderson has been associated with many soul-threatening innovations, seeking what he terms "a search of wonder". Unfortunately, he has influenced many Christians to join him in his irresistible, irreverent, irresponsible search.
Lucado also exchanges pulpits with denominational preachers, encouraging them in their error. After speaking for a Baptist church, in San Antonio, Texas, Lucado offered the Lord's invitation to the accompanying strains of the organ.
This same Lucado, who serves as minister for the Oak Hills church of Christ in San Antonio, Texas, hosted a "seminar" this past October, to prepare for the South Texas Billy Graham Crusade that was to be held in April of this year (1997). Since this "crusade" was sponsored by a broad cross-section of denominational churches, it should have been of no relevance to the Lord's church; much less should "one of our ministers" serve as host for its preparatory meeting!
Unity in diversity: this is the plea that's pulsating within the church today. Unity in diversity? How can that be? "Can two walk together unless they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3). But listen to Shelly, in his address before the numbers that gathered for the Conference on Spiritual Renewal:
One of the things I think is wonderful and precious and dear to the heart of God, about a conference like this is that it's a conference that cuts across the lines.
Across what lines, Shelly? The lines that God has erected to keep us separated from the false religion of the world? Denominational barriers don't matter anymore; not in the minds of the change agents. Again, listen to Shelly:
We do not have to lose our separate denominational identities, we do not have to give up our particular heritages and histories, we do not have to give up our distinctive practices with regard to our different organisational structures, worship, and so on. I see no need for that.
See what I mean; denominational barriers don't matter anymore -- at least, not in the mind of the change agents. Denominational doctrines don't matter anymore. Denominational differences don't matter anymore. According to the change agents we can be united in our differences. Their cry is for unity in diversity.
Shelly is not alone in his philosophy. Influential men around the world are waving the same philosophical flag. Listen to Bill Banowsky, former president of Pepperdine University, as he speaks to students and faculty at Abilene Christian University where he advocated inclusive fellowship with denominationalism: "I started," he said, "with the idea of an identifiably exclusive church, but have grown into a concept of a universally inclusive church" (paraphrased).
Listen to others: Harold Hazelip, president of David Lipscomb University; Dr Jack Boyd, professor at Abilene Christian University; Glen Owen, associated with the Herald of Truth; Mike Cope, co-editor of Wineskins (magazine of liberal persuasion); and many others. They all herald the same devastating message: unity in diversity; unity in diversity; unity in diversity. But I tell you there can be no unity in diversity. There may be union in diversity, but there cannot be unity. There may be union in error, but if there is, there can be no unity in Christ.
Another area that the change agents have targeted is our manner of worship. Before we examine the changes that are taking place in worship within the body of Christ, let us briefly consider the purpose and pattern of worship that is set forth in the Word.
Worship is to be adoration that is expressed in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Collectively, we are to participate in the worship service; as priests, we are to offer adoration to the Father. As set forth in the Scripture, Christians are to meet around the Lord's table on the first day of the week for the distinct purpose of remembering the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ (Matthew 26:26-29). When we come together, we sing (Ephesians 5:19), we pray (1 Thessalonians 5:17), and we preach (Acts 20:7).
Where do we get our authority for such a pattern? Everything we do is done for the sole purpose of pleasing God, as set forth in the New Testament. The changes that are taking place in worship, however, are for the sole purpose of the worshipper; i.e. to make the worshipper (not the one that is being worshipped) feel better. For example: the addition of instrumental music; humming and/or clapping; choirs, quartets and solos.
Such illicit changes have become increasingly common among our liberal brethren. Sad to say, but such is taking place without so much as a turn of the head or a blink of the eye. I tell you, my brethren, the church is under siege from within. Our brotherhood is seeking to please itself rather than God.
Another addition that I've noticed in my travels is this: applause in our assemblies. Applause after a baptism; applause after a point well made; applause after an announcement, etc. In my mind, applause recognises the "performer" and/or the "performance" and differs vastly from vocal affirmation by saying "amen" when the truthfulness of God's Word is being proclaimed. Applause is irreverent and disruptive. It's an action that is out of character with the quite, reverent, respectful, worshipful atmosphere that God would expect (1 Corinthians 14:4).
While on the subject of hands, let us consider the matter of "lifting up holy hands" that some are now doing in prayer and worship. In aping this Pentecostal practice, we fail to understand the difference in what is being done today, and that which was done in ancient times. True: in God's Word, we find several prayer postures, one of which consists of arms outstretched and elevated with palms up: the posture of request (e.g. 1 Kings 8:22; Ezra 9:5). This posture was also used in antiquity to approach a king or a pagan deity. Those who do this today, do so with palms down, arms swaying from side to side (sometimes with just one arm raised), and they do it, not only during prayer, but also during singing and preaching. It has become an outward expression of feeling that is either added to or substituted for that which God has commanded.
Other changes in the worship service are these: drama to "enhance" the preaching; observing the Lord's supper on any day of the week; the use of women in leadership roles (serving at the Lord's table, reading Scripture, directing prayer, leading singing, participating on committees, etc). While it is true that in Christ, there is neither male nor female (that is, gender does not hinder one from becoming a Christian), there is still ample evidence that God has placed leadership roles in the hands of the men; not the women!
Another change that has taken place has to do with our preaching. In days gone by, our preachers gave book, chapter and verse for everything they said. Sermons were heavily sprinkled with Scripture. Quotations from God's Word flowed freely from the pulpit. But that has changed. It is not unusual, in our age, to sit through an entire sermon, and not hear a single Scripture mentioned.
Even our announcements have taken a new slant. Once, when visiting a congregation in the States, in our travels, I shook my head in disbelief when I heard this announcement: "Our youth devotional will be a softball game this week." Question: how can a softball game be a youth devotional? Somewhere along the way, we missed the mark; we put the emphasis on the wrong syllable! Somewhere along the way, we've managed to turn worship into play. How did this happen?
If the Word of God contains the Gospel of Christ: which it does (1 Corinthians 15:1-3); if the Gospel is the power of God unto salvation: which it is (Romans 1:16); it seems to me that we need to be preaching the Gospel of Christ (Romans 10:13-17)! Not a social group! Not a self-satisfying gospel! Not a people-pleasing gospel! Not a world-appealing gospel! Just the soul-saving gospel! Nothing more; nothing less! In the words of Paul, "Though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel...let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8,9). If we seek to please men, we are not the servants of Christ (Galatians 1:10).
This brings me to the third area of change: the defending of the Truth. In Jude, we are admonished to "earnestly contend for the faith" (vs.3). This is the challenge that faithful Christians need to meet today! We need to stand firm; we need to defend the cause of Christ against the slighting, the ridiculing, and the belittling that comes from those who claimed, at one time, to be numbered among us. They no longer stand with us; they've lost their respect for God's divine word.
Would some, who once named the name of Christ, now preach contrary to God's Word? Would they malign the faithful? Would they? Well...listen to the words of Waylon Jennings whose parents are faithful members of the Body of Christ; speaking of the church, he said: "They are self-righteous, narrow-minded, and truly believe they are the only ones going to heaven. 'If you don't believe the way I do,' they say, 'you are going straight to hellfire and damnation, with a side order of brimstone'". (Nashville Tennessean)
When asked if he thought he would make a lot of "fundamentalists" angry with such a statement, the well known singer replied, "Well, I probably will, but I don't care."
The very next day, the same paper (Nashville Tennessean) carried a letter from Rubel Shelly in which he acknowledges that the church in days past might have fit Waylon's description, and expresses hope that "Church of Christ parishioners" have grown beyond the view of being the only true Christians.
What impact do such outspoken comments, by such outspoken men, make on the world? That we can't know the truth. That truth is a relative matter. That the Bible can't be trusted; it is always changing; it is never stable. Such comments negate the truth; they make it void and without form. They suggest that Christians are narrow-minded, divided, contentious, legalistic, pharisaic.
Cultural, theological, political, and scientific currents within the world form the root system of change within the church. "Do your own thing" has become the motto of our age in both the world and the church. Alternatives to God's plan have been introduced. Rejection of Biblical traditional has surfaced. The desire to adopt denominational trends and fellowship denominational groups is taking its toll. Restructuring is taking place.
As Dave Miller points out in his book: the authority of elders, the extent of fellowship, the purpose of baptism, what constitutes adultery, whether the Genesis narrative may be considered a myth, how the Bible is interpreted and whether or not it constitutes a pattern to which people must conform, definitions of modesty...all of these things are being re-evaluated and redefined by the change agents of our time. It's almost as if they are seeing how far they can go before God intervenes, and as long as God doesn't intervene, the changes are counted as good. In actuality, however, the changes reflect the rebellious nature of a resistant people that have not recognised the eternal consequence of their actions.
Furthermore, they circle the globe "to make one proselyte, and when he is made, [they] make him twofold more the child of hell than [they]" (Matthew 23:15). The church in Australia is not immune to such. Not at all! Change, rebellion, and resistance is creeping in. The destructive trends have already taken hold. We have but to look at the liberal men that our Australian brethren are bringing in from the States, to catch a glimpse of what is happening right here, in our own country, under our own eyes.