CHANGES IN WORSHIP (Part 1: Change Without Chaos)

False teachings do not come into congregations with great, red signs proclaiming, “I am a false teacher, and I am here to divide the church.” Instead, they stealthily creep in “privily” (ASV) or “unawares” (KJV), doing their work like termites, undermining the foundations, and remaining largely undetected until the damage is done (Jude 4). Jesus warns of false prophets and their methods of entering among the saints, “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves” (Matt. 7:15). The apostle Paul speaks of those who “by smooth and fair speech…beguile the hearts of the innocent” (Rom. 16:18, ASV). While not all change has to be bad, “bold” and “responsible” changes can be helpful when the changes are in harmony with biblical teachings. However, many changes to worship that transpire over the 21st century have predominantly been to increase numbers, keep members, keeping up with the times, or in some cases just to make money! Church history proves that most people who call themselves Christians compromise their beliefs and practices to make their churches appear successful by the standards of the world/time. Such changes that occur in spite of the Word, Christians should indeed fear and fight.

One shocking example of the devious methodology of change was found in the early 90s in an article from Wineskins called “Change Without Chaos” (Lynn Anderson, “Change Without Chaos,” Wineskins. Vol. II, May 1993.). The author states that he will “unabashedly push for positive changes.” He tells his readers, “Many churches need to change their worship style…many churches in our fellowship must change or die!” He sets forth his “takeover” strategy in stages. He explains that those who desire change should push the church to the limits of tolerance with “new ideas.” Go as far as you can, but then back off! “Weave in and out” and wait awhile. Talk about “safe things.” Then, when the time is right, begin to push for changes once again. If change is too fast then people will fear and turn away from it, but this author sets forth a strategy to privily bring in ideas and practices.

Obviously, worship looks different than it did in the first century, so change has happened. Change is inevitable as many say, so how is the Christian to know the difference between the good changes and the bad changes? People do not always reveal their true motivations for change and Christians cannot judge the hearts of others based solely on the outward appearance of the action.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Ephesians stating by inspiration, “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:14-15). What do you think Paul would say about the suggestions to “weave” in order to effectuate change? The way people present the change and teach the reason for the change can be the biggest determination of right and wrong. Change can happen very slightly over a long time, so Christians must always keep themselves alert and ready to ask questions and study (1 John 4:1).  

Some changes may be considered matters of expediency (1 Cor. 6:12). Paul writes, “To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). Paul adjusts his interests and methods to accommodate different people to help further the teachings of the truth. However, Paul never changes the doctrine or worship to accommodate people. Matters of expediency entail liberties that God allows for Christians to get creative and use the tools and skills of the time. Christ told His apostles to “go” in Matthew 28:19, but He never specified how to go, so the apostles were given liberties to get creative and use the tools available at that time. Christians today can “go” by car, plane, or virtually online. The four gospel accounts differ from each other, but don’t contradict, because the writers focus on different aspects of the gospel for their different audiences who had different mindsets and needed to be taught in different ways. The writers don’t change the gospel, they just teach it in different ways. If the change furthers the will and teachings of God, then it should NOT be considered a “sleight of men.”

Many who advocate for instrumental music with spiritual songs criticize the church for using song books, song projectors, or microphones because they were obviously not used in the first century, so they are changes made to the worship service. However, the aforementioned items do not change what is sang, it does not change the sound, there is no melody added to the instrument that God gave to man (the heart – Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16), they do not distract from the purpose of worship, and using the items do not violate any passage of scripture. Just because something is new, or not explicitly mentioned in scripture, does not mean that Christians cannot use it.

Responsible Christians must always ask, do the changes add or take away from the five authorized practices of worship? Do the changes distract people from the original purpose of the worship? Do the changes violate any passages of scripture? Do the changes offend a brother’s or sister’s scruple (Rom. 14)? Finally, one must be honest in asking if the change does in fact further the will and teachings of God, or is change wanted just for the sake of change (selfish reasons)? If people want change just for change, it is not a matter of expediency. Unless the change expedites a command that God gave, then it should not be made!

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