It is remarkable that the church of Jesus Christ, as originally constituted in the initial centuries of its existence, was an organization of tremendous power. It transfigured the old world. The Lord hinted of this in his prophetic parable of the leaven (Matt. 13:33).
Historians have noted that as a consequence of Christianity, many evil practices of the ancient world (e.g., crucifixion, the brutal gladiatorial games, slavery, the abuse of women, infanticide, etc.) were eradicated or at least condensed. Even notable antagonists of the gospel such as British Philosopher, Bertrand Russell conceded that the influence of Christianity “remains the inspiration of much that is most hopeful in our drab world”.
It is interesting to note that the period when the church was exerting such a significant impact, it was being persecuted bitterly, until a strange twist of fate occurred in A.D. 313, when Roman Emperor, Constantine issued his famous “Edict of Toleration,” which brought an abrupt end to Christian persecution. Unfortunately, it also birthed an era of spiritual deterioration. Christianity even became a state religion. Ultimately, the church was “baptized” in an atmosphere that can only be described as worldliness. Great and devastating changes were wrought that finally resulted in an egregious, fully-organized apostasy the residue of which still abides to this day.
The concept of restoring pristine Christianity was revolutionary, both in Europe and in America. Courageous pioneers sought a return to the original pattern of Christ’s religion. The idea caught on, and the cause of the “ancient order” spread like a prairie fire across the frontier in the waning days of the nineteenth century.
More recently modernism has been succeeded by a philosophy known as “Post-modernism”. This dogma, more dangerous even than modernism, is a mid-to-late 20th-century theory that contends there is no such thing as real knowledge—at least in the objective sense. Rather, truth is subjectively determined by each individual. Postmodernism reflects a “rebellion against all aspects of the modern culture that had prevailed in the West since the late 19th century”. Postmodernism has impacted the religious community at large in a devastating fashion, and the churches of Christ have been significantly influenced by this ideology as well.
Over the past several decades there has developed a growing mentality that the church is an outdated organism. Somehow, we have lost touch with the “millennial” generation. It is, therefore, imperative (they say) that we “update” the church model; we must make it trendier. This idea is rooted in a cultural phenomenon that may be figuratively described as “societal osmosis.” Environmental influences silently and slowly move from one realm to another. The trends of secular society to a significant degree have seeped into the religious fabric of our culture.
There is no better example of this than the current endorsement of homosexual unions in some of the historic Protestant sects, and increasingly so within the churches of Christ. That which once was an abomination is now fashionable. Furthermore, the contaminated elements of “Christendom” in differing degrees ultimately trickle into the Church. Not a few citizens of Christ’s kingdom are like the Israel of Samuel’s day. They lust to be like the nations [churches] round about (1 Sam. 8:5).
Another disturbing development is our progressive departure from a dependence on the Bible as the authoritative source of instruction in religion and ethics towards a subjective-style, get-in-touch-with-your-feelings philosophy. Many congregations no longer have substantial Bible classes where the Word of God is explored deeply and taught powerfully, with a solid application made to Christian living. Rather, we have “sharing” sessions wherein we “testify” of exciting events we’ve experienced in the work-place.
Even some of our Bible class literature (not a little of which has been transported from denominational publishing concerns) is filled with people-centered scenarios. At the same time, a “new hermeneutic” has evolved by which the authority of apostolic example is questioned, the concept of necessary inference is ridiculed, the matter of the silence of the Scriptures is affirmed to be a pure fabrication. Incredibly, some even advocate that the issue of authority is in the final analysis irrelevant!.
“Single again” groups are in vogue. Experts in “marriage enrichment” skills are in great demand, while the seminar directors generally are careful to throw a wide loop that avoids confrontation with the biblical law of divorce and remarriage. Every sort of quirky notion imaginable, the design of which is to “sanctify” adulterous liaisons, has surfaced in recent years. While we must have sincere compassion for those who are victims of divorce, the compromise of biblical truth is not a solution for these heartaches.
Just as the world of denominationalism has been gimmick-driven in recent years, so our people have not been far behind. We have explored every mechanism under the sun for attracting the public’s attention. We have offered a variety of classes (somewhat analogous to a community college) and a host of public services within our neighborhoods in hopes of enticing the baby-boomers, Generation-X, and now Millennials. All the while, we largely have ignored the very thing responsible for our greatest success — the wonderful and simple proclamation of the gospel.
While some labor under the illusion that the modern world no longer wants the message of a dusty book twenty centuries old, actually, just the reverse is true. Many are starving for spiritual truth. Rich Bible teaching presented by instructors who are excited about the treasures of scripture is attracting the attention of a whole new generation of lost people.
The denominational world has little interest in the teaching of the New Testament in terms of a divinely-authorized worship format. Will-worship (Col. 2:23) for the most part has been the order of the day. It is almost certain that conditions are developing among churches of Christ that eventually will accommodate large-scale innovations in congregational worship. Even now, a number of sizable churches following the lead of denominational groups are staggering their services, providing a “traditional” worship format for the older generation. Then also a jazzed-up service is arranged for those who are more contemporary.
again, it is a sad commentary on our attitude toward the hours of sacred worship that our dress has degenerated to the exceedingly casual, not to mention sloppy. What has happened to our sense of reverence for the solemnity of the occasion? What impression do we convey to adherents of other religions? Contrast the decorum of the “Jehovah’s Witnesses,” as they proceed from door-to-door, impeccably dressed, with the bedraggled appearance of some Christians in the worship assemblies.
In his letter to the saints in Rome, Paul instructed the brethren to “be not fashioned according to the world” (Rom. 12:2). The present imperative form of the verb means, “stop being fashioned [conformed — KJV]!” The principle involved in this admonition is broad in its application. Barclay attempts to catch the spirit of it.
Influence is a powerful force. Every person both influences and is influenced by others in varying degrees. Jesus stressed the importance of godly influence when he compared his disciples to salt (Matt. 5:13). Apostle Paul also warned of the power of bad influence when he noted that “evil companionships corrupt good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33 ASV). The Greek word for “companionships” is himilia having to do with association. Here it denotes “bad company”. We tend to behave like those we run with.
Brothers and sisters in faith, we must summon the courage to make the appropriate applications, yielding to truth and common sense, rather than to the fickle trends of an unspiritual world.
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