By H.E. Phillips
Brother Willis asked me to write something on the subject: Where We Are and Where We Are Going as it respects the church. I told him I would do the best I could. I am sure some will not view the present condition of the church and its future as I do, but the facts are before us to make our conclusions in the light of Scripture. I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet. But I believe the signs of the times indicate the direction the church of this generation will go if the trend continues.
I am not a pessimist by nature. Neither am I a blind optimist who sees no negatives. There is the middle ground of reality. We live in a real world where there is good and evil, right and wrong, life and death.
Where We Are Now
From about 1945 serious doctrinal issues arose that resulted in a division among churches of Christ which still exists today. This division came because some would not respect the authority of Christ in the areas of evangelism, benevolence and congregational organization. Such a division does not occur without lingering consequences beyond the pain of division. The bitter fruits of this division are left with us today in the form of influences that hinder the gospel of Christ.
I mention three major problems that are besetting churches of Christ:
A. Worldliness. Worldliness is that state of the heart that is ruled by Satan through the lusts of the flesh. It is the carnal heart that is reflected in the words and deeds of the one afflicted. There is so much worldliness in the church today that it is very difficult to get the members to think on spiritual things. Worldliness begins with the love of the world. One who loves the world cannot love God (1 Jn. 2:15). One who would be a friend of the world is the enemy of God (Jas. 4:4).
Immorality in sex is a terribly infectious sin. We are suffering from the immoral attitude and practice of the sex revolution of the 60’s and 70’s. The divorce and remarriage syndrome has seized the lives of many in the church, including some preachers, elders and deacons. The symptoms of this moral sickness is far reaching and is growing rapidly. Men who once stood strong for the truth are now trying to find excuses for ignoring New Testament teaching on divorce and remarriage. When such a practice becomes popular, efforts are made to justify it by perversion of the Scriptures.
Worldly dress is a strong evidence of a carnal mind. Near nudity in our present society has been accepted everywhere in public places. In the movies and on television explicit nudity and sex scenes are pumped into our living rooms, and many members of the church watch it and enjoy what they see. They make no provisions to protect their children from this moral filth. Dress styles reflect the moral corruption of this generation, and much of it is among members of the church. They ape the entertainment world and the depraved of earth. The “come-as-you-are” concept is popular in many churches over the country.
Alcohol and drugs are tolerated by some in the church. Social drinking of alcohol is justified and accepted by many in the church.
Language is a barometer of the heart (Matt. 12:34-37). The language that some professed Christians use is shameful even to the world. Lying, evil speaking, profanity, vulgarity, gossip and slander are commonplace. This is evidence of worldliness in the church.
B. Iniquity. “Iniquity” means “violation of law, iniquity, . . . without law, lawless, transgressor, wicked. ” Jesus spoke of those who had no regard for divine authority in Matthew 7:23. This attitude toward authority is still causing havoc among churches today.
Compromise is one trait of iniquity. An increasing number today shun debating their cause or contending for the faith once delivered (Jude 3). They only debate when they are defending their personal honor and when they debate that it is wrong to debate. Compromise is used to attain some kind of unity. The compromise with the denominational world, as well as with false brethren, does not attain anything akin to Bible unity.
Apathy is like a pall over society today, especially the home and the church. The gross indifference of members of the church is so discouraging that most congregations are doing little or nothing to grow numerically and spiritually. It is discouraging to those who are trying to do the will of God. This sin is the main reason there is little or no learning in Bible classes. It explains why so many of our young people are quitting the church.
Greed is at the root of crime and sins of the human race (1 Tim. 6: 10). Avarice isalways the outgrowth of iniquity. In fact, anarchy exists because man is covetous. The law of the Lord teaches man to be benevolent and obedient to the truth. When man loses respect for the authority of Christ, he becomes self-serving and greedy. Church members are very greedy in this age.
C. Unbelief. Unbelief is the lack of trust and conviction in God’s word. It produces very serious consequences (Heb. 3:12).
Ignorance. The appalling ignorance of the average member of the church certifies the unbelief in Christ and his word. This unbelief is the result of not studying the word of God, and very few seem to want to study any where.
Perversion of worship. Worship in spirit and truth is authorized in the New Testament (Jn. 4:24). The singing has become more entertaining than for worship. The preaching has been toned down to a fifteen minute, flattering oration that excites the people to applaud it. Prayer has become a ritual for both men and women in the public gathering, more for show than the ears of God. Worship is being changed to accommodate the pleasure of the sensual minded members, and that for the increase of membership.
Change organization. For many years there has been a gradual change from the scriptural organization of the local church to a substitute form of government and unqualified men are appointed to unknown posts of authority doing duties never authorized in the New Testament.
Social Gospel. The emphasis upon the social needs and benefits to human life upon this earth, and the pleasure and good will of mankind has become the prime goals of the church in many localities. The benevolent needs of the world are used to build membership of the church. It will not save one soul.
Where We Are Going
Where is all this leading us? What will the church be in another fifty years? History records a surprising change from 1940 to the present time of the movement away from the truth. Attitudes have changed, regard for Scripture has diminished, and love for the truth has waxed cold.
Where are we going? The trend indicates a continuation of the same problem with a faster departure from the truth. It will likely get more radical as denominationalism has done. I think I see upon the horizon of the future, based upon the present trend, and in addition to what we have observed, three major departures:
A. Develop a New Creed. When men and women struggle to work together while holding different beliefs concerning God, the Bible, the church, worship, conditions of salvation, heaven and hell, they must have some creed to hold them together. The Bible will not do it for them. The use of some modern versions to establish the doctrines they want to adopt is being done. Some of these versions are,as bad as the creeds of denominationalism. Some denominations have made their own translations to form their creed.
B. Restructure the Organization of the Church. Already the stage is set for this movement. The elders and deacons are rejected as unnecessary in this day. The qualifications are rewritten or completely rejected. The Feminist Movement and other like organizations will bring pressure to have women appointed to the eldership. Women will also be preaching as the departure goes on. Some of the denominations now have women preachers.
I think the future will have a modification of the present perverted organization of the local church. We will see a more democratic form of government. The signals are already being given. If it keeps going from the truth we will have the “committees” composed of women and men whose duty it will be to advise and guide the elders. Some of these committees will be composed of women, senior citizens, singles, teenagers, and young parents all representing those groups in the -church. They will become a part of the ruling element of the local church. Majority rule will decide the course of the church, and God’s plan, as described in Philippians 1:1,2, will be abandoned.
There will probably be a council of churches from various “sects” of churches of Christ that will form the catalyst for a central rule for unity and fellowship. Some efforts have been made in this direction for some time.
Someone will say: “That is ridiculous; churches of Christ will never go that far.” Do not be naive; some “churches of Christ” have come that far in my lifetime.
C. Pervert the Mission of the Church. As churches move away from the truth, they will follow the lead of denominationalism toward the social gospel and away from its mission to support the gospel. In addition to what is already being done, various endeavors will be created and supported by the church, and some will join the denominational operations that cover the field. Space does not permit the listing of possible operations by these churches. If you think this is impossible, stop and look at what liberal churches of Christ are doing now. In time they will go further from the truth.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 17, pp. 528-529
September 7, 1989