THE CHURCH OF CHRIST AND CHANGE

Mike Hixson


        The last few years have proven difficult for churches of Christ, to say the least. Change agents have led an all out assault on the Lord’s body. Unfortunately, many congregations have fallen prey to the change agent agenda. One example of the standoff that exists among conservative and liberal brethren is reflected in the turmoil and division that is ravaging the Madison Church of Christ in Nashville. The late Ira North would turn over in his grave if he knew of the demise of this beloved congregation of God’s people. It would no doubt bring tears to his eyes to see the multitudes of people that have left because of the changes being promulgated.

        Many brethren are unwilling to acknowledge that the church of Christ is being rent asunder by change agents. They have chosen to put their proverbial heads in the sand. It may be the case that some underestimate the seriousness of the breach, while others hope it will dissipate with time. Sadly, such is not the case.

        While the task of exposing error is never enjoyable, the Bible mandates marking those who would pervert the gospel. In Romans 16:17, Paul wrote, “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” Furthermore, in Titus 1:11, the inspired apostle said that false teachers’ “mouths must be stopped.” It should be noted that this is one of the responsibilities of elders. Oftentimes, elders and preachers do not want to get involved, thereby neglecting their God given responsibilities and opening the door to division, deception, and the potential damnation of precious souls (cf. I Tim. 2:17-18).

        When trying to isolate where many of the problems in the church stem, we must conclude that our Christian colleges and universities have contributed significantly to the breach that currently exists. Many of our professors, trained at the feet of liberal and modernistic “scholars,” have imbibed their poisonous teaching and are polluting the waters of New Testament Christianity. This charge is not made lightly, nor is it without documentation. In Memphis, faithful brethren are well aware of how the community church movement has been fostered by Harding University Graduate School of Religion. When John Mark Hicks, a faculty member at the school joined hands with Gary Ealy to establish the Cordova Community Church, the Memphis Commercial Appeal stated the “Community Church describes itself as a self-governing, Bible-believing and teaching church, loosely affiliated with the church of Christ.” Hicks and Ealy produced a Theological and Strategic Statement for a New Church Planting in which they espoused, “The musical worship of this new church plant is accapella (without instrumental music), not because we believe it should divide the body of Christ as a matter of salvation or because it is a fundamental gospel issue (as in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ)” (pp. 6-7). Can you imagine a professor in one of our schools establishing a work that is “loosely affiliated with the church of Christ”? What about teaching our prospective preachers that instrumental music is not a salvation issue? It should be noted that brother Hicks is now on the faculty at Lipscomb and continues to serve as a part-time professor of Christian doctrine at Harding Graduate School. He is also the adult education minister of the Woodmont Hills Church in Nashville where Rubel Shelly preaches. Woodmont Hills, if you will recall, supported the Billy Graham crusade. As the old saying goes, “Birds of a feather flock together.”

        In recounting the numerous obstacles and anxieties he faced in declaring the gospel, the apostle Paul included his “care for all the churches” (II Cor. 11:28). Paul’s love for the church was such that he sought to warn and protect her from false teachers. While in Miletus, he charged the elders of the church in Ephesus with these sobering words: “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn everyone night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified” (Acts 20:28-32).

        The old cliché, “To be forewarned is to be forearmed,” is helpful in fighting error and protecting the bride of Christ. The need today exists for brethren to know the source from which many of our problems are stemming, and sadly, it is our Christian schools. This is not a blanket indictment leveled against every school. Nor, is it to suggest that some schools that are moving away from the principles of New Testament Christianity do not have good people on their campuses. However, it is a siren warning that some of our schools no longer embrace the ideals of their founders, who believed in the principles of restoration Christianity. Do you really think David Lipscomb would have sanctioned the hiring of Dr. John Mark Hicks, who helped start a community church that is loosely affiliated with the church of Christ? Would he have favored putting a man in the classroom that does not believe instrumental music is a salvation issue? The university’s current president, Dr. Steve Flatt, apparently has no problem having a man on the Bible faculty with these positions.

        What are we to also think about Dr. John York, Dr. Mark Black, and Dr. Earl Lavender’s association with the Woodmont Hills Church where Rubel Shelly preaches? York, Black, and Lavender serve as associate professors of Bible at Lipscomb. Bear in mind that Woodmont Hills has no problem fellowshipping denominationalism. They fully supported the Billy Graham Crusade. Do you think David Lipscomb would have been supportive of the Graham meeting? Is it not an affront to churches of Christ for Dr. Steve Flatt to suggest all is well with the university when they have Bible faculty members worshipping with a congregation that no longer practices New Testament Christianity? Is it not time to begin holding administrators and board members accountable for contributing to the division and error that is permeating the church?

        In an attempt to speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15), expressions of concern have been legitimately raised about the negative impact our schools are exerting on churches of Christ. This is not to suggest that every school is moving in the wrong direction. Neither is it meant to denigrate Christian education. However, it is a documented fact that many of our schools no longer embrace the ideals of restoration Christianity. Furthermore, it is crystal clear that some of the changes being promulgated can be traced to our Christian universities. This charge is not made flippantly, nor is it voiced with any fear of contradiction.

        It should be of grave concern to every faithful member of the church that our schools have hired faculty members that do not believe in distinctive New Testament Christianity. Furthermore, they are the ones that have been given the stewardship of molding the minds of future guardians of the faith. How surprised should we be when young people who come out of our Christian universities see nothing wrong with fellowshipping denominations or using mechanical instruments of music in worship? Are we going to be shocked when future graduates begin establishing and attending community churches? Will we be aghast when they deny “pattern theology”? The hard truth is the die has been cast, and the pupil is but a reflection of the professor.

        One thing that might be of interest to note is that a little over a year ago a retired professor in the Bible department at Lipscomb told me that the university is not concerned what traditional or mainline churches of Christ think about how they are currently operating. It may be the case that once a school becomes well endowed they no longer feel a responsibility to the church.

        As a brotherhood, is there anything we can do to curtail the digressive efforts of our Christian universities? Absolutely, stop sending them money (cf. II John 9-11). I do not know of any institution where money does not talk. For example, Harding Graduate School reported, “In the year 2001, we were blessed with 2,291 gifts. These ranged from 97 cents to $60,000” (The Bridge, 43:2, March 2002, p. 4). If Harding Graduate School experienced a 50% decrease in gifts, it might garner some attention. The same could be said for ceasing to contribute to other institutions. Think about it!

(Macon Road Family News, 47:11-13, March 13-27, 2002, pp. 1-2).


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