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Shall We Change?

By Robert C. Veil, Jr.

religion, articles, christianity

We live in a world of drastic change. World call to mind the instability. Within our own land, society is on the move, continually changing culturally, linguistically, technologically, and morally. There is a tendency toward change, an inclination that penetrates the church.

Change itself is neither good nor bad but is neutral. As far as his nature is concerned, God changes not (Mal. 3:6). Yet, God has changed his mind in given situations depending upon the actions of men.

Today in the church, there are many calls for change. There is pressure to make changes in a variety of areas. Should we heed the call and make changes? The answer to this question depends upon the nature of the activity sought to be changed.

Things in the Church That Should Not Be Changed

God's pattern for the church is supreme and cannot be changed. Paul says that God's people are his heritage in Christ (Eph. 1:11), and the church is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23). We can no more change the fundamental nature of the church than we can change Christ. The pattern remains true, whether we come to know and follow it or not (2 Tim. 2:11-13; 1 Tim. 2:4).

One thing in the church which should not be changed is the insistence upon biblical authority for all we do in religion. "And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus" (Col. 3:17). This requires speaking and acting in the manner authorized by the Word of the Lord (Heb. 1:1-2; 1 Pet. 4:11). Surely, there is no light for those who "speak not according to this word" (Isa. 8:20).

Change for change's sake is distressing and unnecessary in the Lord's church. We must avoid the pitfall of seeking a change, simply and solely because a thing has always been done a certain way. It is a distasteful form of arrogance to deny a practice merely because our fathers did it that way. Does any thoughtful person really believe that we stand upon the pinnacle and know everything better than our ancestors? This breed of thinking is directly opposed to the principles of the Gospel. Contrary to a lot of modem thought, it is no sign of maturity to look askance at the views and practices of our predecessors. The practice of doing so is an over reaction to the equally improper habit of blindly accepting a position simply because "we've always done it that way."

There is nothing wrong with traditions per se. Paul commanded the Corinthians to hold fast the "traditions" as he had delivered them (I Cor. II: 2). Traditions which must be rejected are those which are (1) after men, and (2) not after Christ (Col. 2:8). Some traditions "after men" are perfectly proper, because they are also "after Christ." That is, they violate no principle or teaching of the Gospel. For example, it is traditional in most congregations publicly to offer an invitation, giving members of the audience an opportunity to obey the Gospel. Most churches also reinforce the invitation with a song designed to encourage those ready to respond. This tradition shows the concern the congregation has for reaching the lost. It reminds the members of their responsibilities in this regard, and it emphasizes the urgency of coming to Christ. When properly conducted, the invitation and invitation song have proven highly effective. It is a tradition that should not be abandoned merely for the sake of change or simply because it is traditional.

We must not change our unmistakable emphasis upon evangelism. Churches do not exist only to serve their members. The mission of the church is to seek and save the lost. Some congregations are making less progress in converting the community because they have lost sight of this fundamental mission. Growing churches have evangelistic pulpits, evangelistic classes, and evangelistic members. The worship service is more than a celebration for the saved; it is an invitation to the lost (Acts 16:25).

Another thing that should not be changed is teaching against sin in view of a pending Judgment Day. We need to be reminded that sin is serious and that sin will keep people from being saved. It is too easy to shove this reality from our minds as we go about our daily affairs. Preachers need to be encouraged to take a stand against sin (2 Tim. 4:2).

Things in the Church That Should Be Changed

Since members of the church are humans, it is possible for them to err and require change. Just as some changes can be bad, some are good and even required. For example, religious practices and vocabulary for which there is no biblical authority should immediately be changed. Like any change, this may come with difficulty. It is not easy to lay aside customs and traditions we have practiced for years. People do not lightly and effortlessly change their vocabulary -- but that may be required as we mature in Christ.

We should change traditions that are not scriptural and effective; however the attitude which insists upon a new way merely because the present practice is traditional is arrogance and should be changed.

Some congregations emphasize their own needs more than the needs of the lost; this practice of selfishness should be changed.

Another situation crying out for change is the confusion surrounding the idea of "negative preaching." Some well-meaning but misguided brethren have been so taken with the notion that negative preaching is improper that, through their objections, they have practically destroyed the effectiveness of preaching and teaching altogether. Biblical preaching is balanced. It is positive and negative. It exhorts, and it corrects (2 Tim. 4:2). It is not a placebo for the congregation; it may be hard medicine. Balanced teaching makes churches grow. This type of preaching warns, cries out in urgency, and sternly rebukes if necessary. The balanced preacher is balanced whatever his audience. Brethren who are not supporting this kind of courageous preaching need immediately to chance.

As humans, we prefer stability. Change is distressing (Job 10:17) and may be a sign of instability (Jer. 2:36). Yet, we must be willing to change when God requires (Psa. 55:19). By so doing, we abide with God, and we may sing with confidence, "Oh thou who changes not, abide with me!"

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Published July 1993