One Man’s Story: Spiritual and Emotional Effects of Change Within the Church
Special editorial for BNc, by Daron Hoggatt
“And he said to them: ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!’” Mark 7:9
There are many things going on in the church of Christ today. Many things have been changing now for several years. When looking back on the history of the church we can see that when changes began to occur, the number of members also began to change. The number of people, attending the church of Christ started declining and has continued to decline ever since.
This opens up a few questions. Did the changes cause this decline? Were the changes right or wrong? How do we address the changes? These are questions we need to ask ourselves and then research for ourselves.
There are several dangers to be aware of. These dangers include pluralism, subtlety, moving away from scripture, teaching that truth is not knowable and that there is danger of humanism and dissolution of a moral foundation. With these dangers in place it makes it very difficult to identify what they look like. Some of the easiest ways is to observe that there is a greater emphasis on feelings and emotions other than doctrine. They also vary from the New Testament pattern. There will also be a militant criticism of traditional Christiananity.
Paul warned the first-century Christians in Corinth “not to think beyond what is written.” Simply put, if the Bible does not authorize us to do something –- do not do it. We are to do only what the Bible instructs and nothing more. Deuteronomy 4:2 instructs us to neither add nor take away from God’s Word. This was repeated by John in Revelation 22:18-19.
In John 12:49-50 Jesus said, “For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.”
Jesus Christ did not speak on His own. He spoke only what God told Him to. If Christ did not interject His own authority, how can we justify applying our own authority?
There were some people who had genuine hearts and still failed to follow the silence of God. Leviticus 10 tells us the story of Nadab and Abihu. Here they brought an “unauthorized” fire to the Lord. This fire was offered with good intensions, but because it was not authorized, God consumed them in the fire. God said, “I must be glorified” (Leviticus 10:3).
In I Samuel 13 Saul became impatient and forced himself to offer a sacrifice to God. However, Samuel said,
“You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you. For now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The LORD has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the LORD has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the LORD commanded you.”
Second Chronicles 26:16 says of Uzziah, “But when he was strong his heart was lifted up, to his destruction, for he transgressed against the LORD his God by entering the temple of the LORD to burn incense on the altar of incense.”
We find here that Uzziah, although strong-hearted, did not follow what God instructed and was destroyed.
Changes in the churches of Christ are a growing problem. I have experienced them firsthand. The current changes created several spiritual and emotional effects on the followers of Christ. How do we address these problems and what happens if we give up the fight?
I addressed several of the issues in a local congregation. While addressing them I knew that I had to provide as much scriptural evidence that I could. While writing a paper to address and study with the elders I spent countless hours in the Word and researching writings other faithful men. When I presented the paper to the elders, we went through it together and I briefly explained each issue. The paper was set up in a Bible study format. Throughout the study one of the elders said, “Well, everyone has a right to their opinion.” When I asked, “Where did I use my opinion?”, he was unable to reply.
The study paper had no opinion involved in it. It was well grounded with scripture. These gentlemen fell into an area of personal feelings instead of sound doctrine.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4
When faced with opinion, defend the Scriptures with the Scriptures. When the Scriptures are dismissed with flippancy, remember that they are the sole foundation of the faith. Our God placed Scripture in our hands in order to keep varying and ever-changing opinions from dividing the church and carrying it into the broad path of destruction.
Members of the church have a responsibility to use the Bible to weigh changes in worship and the purpose for new programs. Are the programs being put in place in order to attract new adherents, or are they put in place to better lead the brotherhood to Christ? Are changes in worship made in order to focus hearts on the Creator, or are they meant to add drama and emotion because they “feel right”?
Friends, we may change with the times, but no man, up to and including an elder in the church, should be allowed to change the authority of Scripture without challenge.
When I received a written response from the elders (which took over 8 months), I found that they were not able to support the issues at hand. However, they also discounted the Scriptures that were on the paper, I presented to them, in front of them. They simply responded with, “We do not feel that you supported your arguments, but we appreciate your courage.”
When receiving this response I immediately knew that these gentlemen were not grounded in the Word of God. Just like in a debate, both sides present evidence to support what they are saying. They were not able to refute the scriptures presented so they simply pulled rank, if you will. This is the militant style of many involved in the changes.
Over the next several months the attitudes and actions from the elders showed their lack of care for the truth. These men could not shake my hand and would not acknowledge my existence, but portrayed to be loving, caring elders with the rest of the congregation. Behind closed doors one elder even threatened physical violence. The aggressive stance they took was unbelievable.
During this period I also took a master-level course on Postmodernism in the Church. This class showed and confirmed my thoughts of the changes and why they were taking place. There are many powerful people in prominent places who started or support the changes.
I spent many hours, lying in bed, wide awake, thinking about the issues and the dissension that was at hand. Every conversation I had with my family and friends became focused on the issues. It was very easy to become obsessed with the situation. This not only drove on us emotionally, but spiritually. Anger became a part of our everyday life. The anger towards these men grew daily.
Even worse than my own emotion and anger, my worship became spiritless. I started attending services without being prepared to worship God. We should pay attention to what is being said or taught, but I was unable to focus.
We need to be sure and show our appreciation to God, whom we serve and worship. My thoughts were not there. I became focused on finding error in everything instead of truly worshiping. Matthew 15:8 says, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” I became guilty of this.
This total process took approximately two years. After that period it became clear that these gentlemen were not going to change their way of thinking. They started telling people that if they did not like what was going on then they needed to leave. Thus, this eventually resulting in my family leaving the congregation and friends behind.
Unfortunately, there comes a time that we must separate ourselves from these situations. When it takes over your everyday thoughts and worship to the Lord, it is time to go. We could no longer continue to subject ourselves to false teachings and serving under this type of eldership.
First Corinthians 10:13 says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.”
However, by leaving this congregation (our escape), we can now get back to the true worship to God that he indeed deserves.
When we separated ourselves from this situation we immediately felt relieved. The pressures were gone, the sleep returned, and joy filled our souls again. Now we have a renewed feeling toward our Lord. The air is clean and the hurt has changed. We now hurt for the loss of those that remain (oblivious to the problems), but we can breathe much easier.
Searching for a new church home is never easy. We must take our time, ask a lot of questions and listen closely to what is being taught. Lots of prayer and study will go into this search. With growing kids at home it is very important for us to make sure the youth programs are appropriate and to observe how well everyone is accepted into the group.
Always remember what is said in James 5:19-20, “Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.”
As a devout brother recently told me, “Be sure standing up for the truth is always the right thing … and (even though some may disagree) you are not the bad guy. Remember, Paul said, ‘Have I become your enemy because I tell you the truth?’ (Galatians 4:16). Speaking the truth never makes you the enemy.”
Randal and his wife Vicki have lived and worked in Brazil since Nov. 1984. They have three married children and five grandchildren. He enjoys his new home office. http://randal.us