Danger Signs in Churches of Christ: Stabilizing in Turbulent Times

A sign announcing danger

Danger Signs in Churches of Christ: Stabilizing in Turbulent Times

Churches of Christ stand at a crossroads and must choose between culture and Christ. In an effort to be more “contemporary,” some congregations have added instrumental music, and, in so doing, have chosen to entertain the crowds instead of worshipping the Christ. To advocate “gender equality,” some brethren have started using women in leadership roles in clear violation of Scripture; honoring Christ has taken a backseat to honoring culture. Granted, some of these churches have grown numerically, but adding bodies to sit in pews has trumped making disciples to follow Jesus.

This phenomenon is nothing new; culture has often infiltrated the people of God. In the wilderness, after being around idolatry for 400 years, the Israelites decided they needed a golden calf. After they were in the Promised Land, the people told Samuel that they wanted “a king to judge [them] like all the nations” (1 Sam 8:5). Because they could not culturally envision uncircumcised believers, Judaizers demanded circumcision of Gentile converts. In keeping with their former cultural practices, some Corinthian disciples continued to eat meat offered to idols and led weaker believers into sin.

Cultural practices shift over time. In my younger days, I remember being “cool” when I wore my knit tie or pegged my jeans. Women do not use nearly as much hair spray today as they did in the 1980s. Today, no one must sit in the back of the bus because he has darker skin than I. Advances in technology allow the Gospel to spread more easily to all the world.

Modernity, however, has been easily spread throughout our culture. Many couples live together without any thought of marriage; homosexual couples can marry with a fair amount of ease. Profanity and fornication fill primetime television. In higher education Christianity is often discarded on the ash heap of history with failed philosophies such as slavery or Communism.

As we listen to the siren song of our culture, some are be tempted to fuse cultural practice with eternal precept. When culture sways us, we become “children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph 4:14). Culture changes; God doesn’t. Culture shifts; Scripture doesn’t. Culture transforms; the church seeks to be transformed into the image of Jesus.

Why Does It Matter?

A denominational body meets less than a mile from where I preach. Their crowds have grown such that they are in a building project to double their square footage. What contributes to their growth? Their worship leader, a friend of mine, presides over their contemporary worship, and he says God is drawing people to them because their worship is “fun.”

If being highly sensitive to culture draws a crowd, should we consider making worship more contemporary?

Advocating mixing cultural trends with God’s truth ignores the history of God’s people. The Lord commanded His people not to serve the idols left by the Canaanites (Ex 32:23-24); because the Israelites failed to head God’s warning, their history became a sad tale of idolatry. The Israelites gathered to Samuel and demanded a king “like all the nations” (1 Sam 8:5). The Israelites paid a high price for having a king like the surrounding countries: civil war, being led into sin by their kings, and facing divine retribution.

People of God have a long history of standing with God instead of culture. “Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his generation. Noah walked with God” (Gen 6:9); Noah stood against his culture and saved himself and his family from the Flood. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego went to a fiery furnace because they refused to bow down to an idol their culture worshiped.

Jesus refused to bow to culture. After He gave the Sermon on the Mount, the people realize that Jesus had taught “as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt 7:29). That sermon, itself, challenged the culture of Jesus’ day; forget the long lengthy prayers on the street corner and pray to God in secret; if you’re angry with a brother, get things right before you worship; men can commit adultery, not only through a physical act, but by gazing at women in order to lust after them. Jesus reached out to tax collectors and sinners in violation of the Pharisees’ culture (Matt 9:9-13).

Jesus prevented His disciples from blindly following culture. His disciples ignored cultural precedent and did not wash their hands before they ate (Matt 15:1-9). Jesus made clear that He expected His disciples to live differently than the culture around them; “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (Jn 15:19). Jesus speaks of the disciples’ nonconformity as a given fact.

Jesus’ disciples cannot conform to this world, for His kingdom is not of this world. Jesus lived (and died) as a King. In response to Pilate’s inquiry about Jesus’ kingship, Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (Jn 18:36). Jesus reigns over another kingdom, a kingdom that runs against culture, a kingdom that comes from above, not down below.

In the kingdom of God, His people chose persecution over following culture. The Apostles chose imprisonment when the Sanhedrin warned them to speak no more in Jesus’ name (Acts 4-5). The gospel Paul proclaimed caused the one-time persecutor to suffer persecution himself (2 Cor 11:16-29). The church in Pergamum refused to deny their faith even in the days of Antipas (Rev 2:13). We do not know what the issues contributing to Antipas’ death, but Jesus said Satan lived there. Since the people of God live differently than Satan, the church at Pergamum chose persecution over conformity.

We can never forget that God has called upon us to live differently from the culture around us. We must live differently from the world at large, for God says, “I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy” (Lev 11:44). New Testament Christians are called to holy living, too (1 Pet 1:16). God’s character has not changed (Heb 13:8); therefore, Christians must be holy, for He is holy.

Christians must “be transformed by the renewal of [their] mind” (Rom 12:2). As Christians “set [their] minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col 3:2), culture becomes far less relevant. Culture becomes irrelevant to the Christian, for he knows the things of this world are passing away (1 Jn 2:17).

In a world of change, how can Christians set their minds on things above instead of things on this earth? How can congregations and individual Christians stabilize in turbulent waters?

One: You Start with Jesus

Because Jesus “is before all things” (Col 1:17), we are always wise when we start with Him. We must make it our aim to please Him (2 Cor 5:9). “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb 13:8). In a world of shifting sands, Jesus is the bedrock upon which we may stand. Instead of looking at culture we look “to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb 12:2).

Why do we need to start with Jesus?

First, the Father says we are to listen to Him. As Jesus was transfigured before His inner circle, a voice declared, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (Matt 17:5). “In these last days [God] has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb 1:2). Before we listen to the winds of change, we must make absolutely certain that we are hearing the Son.

Second, Jesus knew His purpose. Because He knew His purpose, Jesus did not get caught up in the culture of His day. He came to serve (Matt 20:28). He came to teach (Mk 1:38). He came to fulfill the Law (Matt 5:17). He came to call sinners (Matt 9:13). He came so that the world might be saved (Jn 3:17). Jesus had more important business than being entangled in the things of this world.

Third, Jesus is the eternal God. Jesus, being divine, has neither beginning nor end. He said of Himself “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am” (Jn 8:58; cf. Ex 3:14). His hearers clearly understood the implications of Jesus’ statement, for they considered Him worthy of death for blasphemy (Jn 8:59). Jesus never blasphemed; He, the eternal God, remains constant in an ever-changing world.

Four, Jesus taught us to honor God above culture. Blindly following a social custom can put us at odds with God (Matt 15:1-9). Following the majority will lead us straight “to destruction” (Matt 7:13). Instead of fitting in, Jesus calls us to be salt and light leading others to the Father through Him (Matt 5:13-16).

How do we practically start with Jesus?

First, Look to Jesus’ example. Jesus left “you an example, so that you might follow in his steps” (1 Pet 2:21). Granted, Peter writes in a context of persecution and suffering, but if we claim to follow Jesus, we must walk as He did (1 Jn 2:6). Take the time to read through the Gospels to see how Jesus rose above the culture of His day: He spoke with a Samaritan woman at the well, He touched a leper, He healed on the Sabbath, and He taught as one with authority. See your Lord as One who refused to be bound my culture to serve His Father, and make the commitment to walk in His steps.

Second, Know your purpose. Jesus refused to follow the culture of His day, for He knew He had come to point souls to His Father. Our lives have purpose: “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Eccl 12:13). We are not here to follow culture, we are not here to make a name for ourselves, we are not here to make the world a better place. We are here to serve and honor God.

Two: Know where you stand.

“In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Pet 3:15). Peter’s context is standing firm in the midst of persecution. However, self-examination is always healthy. Search your heart. Why do you not follow culture? How are you following culture in a way you must change?

Three: Pray for the brotherhood.

We all know congregation where modernity has won out over truth. We become deeply grieved when we see brethren whom we dearly love move from the faith “that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3). Yet, we must never feel like Elijah and feel that only we remain of God’s faithful remnant. The Lord promised that His kingdom would last forever (Dan 2:44); therefore, I believe with all my heart God has had a faithful remnant since Pentecost and He shall have a faithful remnant until His Son returns.

Let us commit ourselves to be in constant prayer for the church. We pray because we “love the brotherhood” (1 Pet 2:17). We pray because Jesus Himself prayed for the church (Jn 17:20-26). Paul prayed for his Hebrew kinsmen that they might be saved (Rom 10:1). Should we not pray that our kinsmen in Christ abandon error and embrace the Christ?

Four: Be Careful with Modernity.

We have been separated from the world (Jn 17:16). We no longer walk as those in darkness walk (Eph 4:17-24). The things of this world are passing away (1 Jn 2:17). All that is in the world will be burned up (2 Pet 3:10). Therefore, we have no need to be caught up in the culture of our day.

We need to make sure that we are not allowing modernity to influence are lives and hearts. Does what we watch on television influence our thinking for evil? Do we have so many conveniences that we want nothing but a life of ease? Do we find that we cannot worship the Lord as faithfully during NFL season? While there is nothing wrong with modernity, in and of itself, we must always be seeking to honor God in what we do.

Five: Be encouraged by saints of old.

Remember Abraham who left his cultural norms in Ur to go where God would lead him. Remember Moses who left life as a royal to lead God’s people from Egypt. Remember Daniel and his three companions who refused to eat the king’s food. Remember John the Baptizer who stood up to Herod’s adulterous marriage. Remember Paul who gave up all he had worked for to follow Jesus.

No, their paths were not easy. Yes, some died because they refused to sacrifice themselves on the altar of culture. However, God blessed them. “Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city” (Heb 11:16). A faithful, unchanging God will surely bless His people today as they walk against their culture.


No, churches cannot embrace modernity when culture conflicts with biblical truth. We seek that city which is still to come. However, wise churches will stay attuned to culture and adapt to that culture in a way that pleases God. As Paul scolds the Corinthians for their arrogant use of spiritual gifts, he urges the church not to exercise tongue speaking in a way that would alienate outsiders. Instead the church should interpret tongue speaking so that an outsider “falling on his face . . . will worship God and declare that God” was truly with them (1 Cor 14:25). What if we used culture, in a way which violates new word of the New Testament, to bridge a gap in our community? What if, for example, we chose not to do the traditional gospel meeting, but we had a “Divorce Proof Your Marriage Seminar”? What if we tailor our outreach ministries to take into account modern stresses, modern life, and modern faith, and take the unchanging gospel into our neighborhoods?

Cultural shifts are not necessarily evil. In fact, the Apostle Paul was willing to adapt to culture. He says, “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” (1 Cor 9:22). How do we distinguish between faithfulness to God and adapting to culture in violation of His will? We must examine Scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17) and pray for wisdom (Js 1:5) in navigating the seas of change.

May God bless us as we keep our eyes on His Son and navigate change!

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