To Change or Not to Change?
By Dennis (Skip) Francis
There has been tremendous pressure applied in recent years to change the message the church preaches, to change the methods used for getting the message across, and to change the moral ground on which the church stands.
The agents of change say that the church and it's message has become irrelevant, and for it to become relevant again, change must occur. Talk seems to center around such issues as "tolerance," and "presentability." It is suggested that the church should become tolerant of certain types of behavior or attitudes or that the church should become more presentable to society to be accepted by more of that same society.
In religious issues, change is good when it brings us closer to God and his ways. Change that takes us away from God and his teachings is, of course, bad.
The apostle Paul, speaks about how some changed to become closer to God. "But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness" (Rom. 6:17-18). Changing from slaves of sin to slaves of righteousness was good.
Paul also wrote, "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ" (Gal. 1:6-7).
The Galatians had obeyed the gospel but had changed and were turning away from Jesus Christ. In Galatians 3:1, Paul says to them, "Oh foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth." The Galatians had changed, but it was not good change. Further, those who were responsible for their change were called "perverters of the gospel."
There are good changes and some bad changes. Are the changes that modern-day critics of the church desire good or bad?
Many today say that the church must become more tolerant. Tolerance, in the mind of some, means non- judgmental. To many, being non-judgmental means never saying that anything is wrong, except, of course, saying that being judgmental is wrong.
In Luke 13:3, Jesus says, "But unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" and illustrates for us that he is not tolerant of sin! In Luke 19:45-46, we read how Jesus went into the temple and drove out the moneychangers, and then says to them, "It is written, My house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves." This also illustrates that Jesus was not tolerant of those who defile God's house.
Not only was Jesus intolerant of some things while he was on this earth, the Bible tells us that he will not be tolerant when he comes again. In 2 Thessalonians 1:8, Paul tells us that Jesus will come with "flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel." Jesus is most decidedly not tolerant of those who do not obey the gospel!
God's Word does teach tolerance, but not tolerance of sin. Rather, it teaches tolerance of people, not their behavior. God does not desire that anyone should perish, but that "all should come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9).
What about the presentability of the church and it's message? Should that be changed?
Most of those who advocate changing the presentability of the church are talking about making the church more entertaining. They want fun and games.
God is not the author of confusion but of peace. How confusing worship would be if the church caters to each person's idea of fun and games. In verse 40 of that same chapter, we are taught, "Let all things be done decently and in order" (1 Cor. 14:33). The Corinthian church turned the Lord's supper into fun-time, and some even got drunk (1 Cor. 11:21). This caused them to be guilty of the body and blood of Jesus Christ by taking it in this unworthy manner.
Paul told us in Romans 1:16 that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Further, in the first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says that it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe (1 Cor. 1:21), and he decried the wisdom of this world which tells us that the message of the cross is foolishness. Paul says "For it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent" (1 Cor. 1:19). He goes on to say, "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" The message of the cross and the method of its presentation are not up to us.
The church is not to be like a politician and take polls to see which way the wind is blowing and then go in that direction to gain votes and followers. The church is to be governed by principles — eternal principles. If that pleases men, good; if it does not, too bad for those who are displeased, but the church must not waver. The church is often counter-cultural, and that is what makes her a "city set upon a hill."
We need not please the men of this world; on the contrary, the Scriptures teach that we are not to please men. Ephesians 6:6 tells us we are not to act "with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but as bond-servants of Christ." Paul tells us in Galatians 1:10, "For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ."
Feel-good theology says that anything that makes you feel good is right. Christianity says obeying God is right and will give you peace — and that makes you feel good. There is a difference in saying that feeling good is the standard for conduct, and in saying that right conduct produces happiness. Some seem to say, "I know that I am right because I feel good." We ought to say, "I know that I am right because I obey the gospel, and that makes me feel good."
Practicing feel-good theology has another detrimental effect of even greater importance: one cannot be saved until one is convicted and convinced of his own sin. You cannot convince a person of his sin by using the "I'm OK, you're OK" methods which are advocated today. No one seeks God until he is convinced that he is a sinner and needs God. There is such a thing as "godly sorrow that works a repentance that is not to be repented of."
Some advocates of feel-good theology say, "You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar." That is true, but we seek the souls of men, not flies.
Should the church change to be tolerant of sin or to be more entertaining? Not according to the Word of God! The Bible has not changed, people and their needs have not changed, the church should not change.
Published August 1996