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The Church in Transition

By Adron Doran

religion, articles, christianity

Many of our brethren are speaking and writing about making changes in the church to make a transition into the coming twenty­first century. They justify their claim that the church must affect changes in certain areas because society is in the process of change so as to meet the challenge of the next century. The social order has changed throughout the ages and will continue to change in response to the will of men. However, the church is neither a social institution nor the creature of society. The church is a divine institution purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ whom God made head of the body, the church, therefore, is subject to the stipulations which God places upon it.

The role of woman has changed in the social fields of education, government, business and professions. This is no reason or excuse, though, to advocate and instigate changes in the role of women in the church. The social order has renounced the authority of the Scriptures but this is no reason for the church to propose and adapt a new theology that changes the interpretation of the Bible. The church is supposed to be the agent to change society and not one that reacts in accordance to societal influences.

The apostle announced to the church in Rome the criteria by which we should pursue spiritual matters:

Do not be conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your minds, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable and perfect will of God (Rom. 12:2).

The Holy Spirit claims that the church of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ was in the eternal purpose of God the Father (Eph. 3:7­12). The ancient prophets pointed to the time and place for the establishment of the kingdom of God (Dan. 2:44; Isa. 2:1­4). The Son of God himself promised that He would build the church (Matt. 16:13­19).

In due season the purpose of God was realized, the prophesies were fulfilled the promises were kept on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem in the year A D. 33. The Holy Spirit came upon the apostles after they had been endued with power from on high to execute the Great Commission (Mark 16:15; Acts 2). The power of God was wrought in Christ whom he raised from the dead and gave him to be head of the church (Eph.. 1:18­23).

Following the sermon delivered by the apostle Simon Peter, three thousand gladly received his word, were baptized, and in the same day were added unto them (Acts 2:41). Dr. Luke adds the observation that "the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved" (Acts 2:47). The ancient order of things was set forth by the apostles doctrine in which the early saints continued steadfastly (Acts 2:42). That order has obtained throughout the centuries and men should not tinker with that system in the close of the present century.

Transition to Christianity

God intended for the Jews, Gentiles and heathens of the first century to make a transition from their foreign state to Christianity. God mandated this difficult transition from Judaism and false gods to a new system. The apostle Paul told the Colossians that God blotted "out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to the cross" (Col. 2:14). This was a well­planned transition into a state where salvation was brought to all men in the church through the blood of Jesus Christ. There is no other period in human history comparable.

Transition to Catholicism

In spite of the warnings by the apostles to the church against apostasy the body of Christ began a slow and gradual process of falling away during the third and fourth centuries. The result was that the New Testament church was transformed into the Roman Catholic Church. The apostate church reached its height in ecclesiastical and civil political powers in 1215 with the meeting of the Fourth Lateran Council in Rome. The papacy had become full grown and monarchs were made subject to it. The pope was declared to be the Vicar of Christ and authorized to speak ex cathedra. This transition held sway during the period of the Dark Ages.

Transition to Protestantism

The apostate church made the transition from the complete denomination of the Catholic Church to the system of Protestantism during the 1500s and 1600s. The Italian Renaissance and the European Protestant Reformation brought about this transition. Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wycliffe, Ulrich Zwingli and others sought to reform the false teachings and the corrupt practices of the Catholic Church. However, they did little more than affect a transition into denominationalism and sectarianism. This state of religion gave rise to various human creeds and confessions of faith which obtain to this good day.

Transition from Reformation to Restoration

The state of conflict, division, controversy and contention, in which the apostate church found itself, gave rise to efforts to restore New Testament Christianity. The church had lost its identity and the gospel of Christ had lost its power and significance. Individuals were called by the names of men who led the Reformation.

The first efforts to restore the New Testament church were made in Scotland by John Glas, Robert Sandeman, Greville Ewing and the Haldane brothers. They affected a break with the Church of Scotland in the 1700s and went about establishing independent churches that would take the Bible as their only rule of faith and practice.

The process of the Restoration Movement was more perfectly executed in America under the leadership of Barton Warren Stone in Kentucky and Thomas Campbell and his son, Alexander, in Pennsylvania during the early 1800s. By accepting the motto to "speak where the Scriptures speaks and remain silent where the Scriptures are silent," they were able to bring about a transition from Protestantism to New Testament Christianity. They prepared to eliminate from the teaching and practice those things that are not contained in the Bible and refuse admission of those things into the worship of the church on which the Bible is silent. This was a most significant transition which the church made in an effort to restore "pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father" (James 1:7).

Transition to Innovations

The associates of Barton Stone and of Alexander Campbell came together at the Hill Street Church, Lexington, Kentucky on January 1, 1832, to bind themselves in a more perfect union. The representatives agreed with Raccoon John Smith in his keynote address when he said:

God has but one people on this earth. He has given them but one book. Let us come to the Bible alone, which is able to give us all of the light we need.

The Stone-Campbell movement united and advanced on the basis of that principle as Christians only and as the corporate body of Christ. However, by 1849 a delegate assembly of restorers met in Cincinnati, Ohio, and organized the American Christian Missionary Society. Many of the restored congregations became society churches while others remained non-society churches. A decade later (1859) one of the self-styled liberals within the movement, L.L. Pinkerton, introduced a mechanical instrument of music into the worship of the Midway, Ky. church. Their innovation further divided the churches into society-organ churches and non-society non-organ churches. In the main those congregations that affiliated with the missionary society and introduced the organ into worship became known as Christian Churches while those which rejected both continued to be known as churches of Christ. When the gate to innovations was opened the Christian Church/Disciples of Christ movement went into a full-fledged denomination. The transition from a biblical position to a non-biblical position proved catastrophic to the church.

History Repents

We ask our brethren, in the light of history, and ourselves why would some today lead the church into unscriptural changes under the guise of transition? We can meet all of the challenges of a new century without changing the doctrine of Christ and the practices of the New Testament church. We can deal effectively with societal changes by keeping the "ancient landmarks" and walking in the "old paths."

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Published October 1997