Sermons by Marlin Harless

HOUSEHOLD OF FAITH

THIS IS THE THIRD IN A SERIES OF SERMONS:
"ASSESSING CHANGE IN THE CHURCHES OF CHRIST"
THE THEME OF THIS STUDY:
THE ROOTS OF CHANGE
By Marlin L. Harless

INTRODUCTION: Brother Dave Miller, in the forward of his book: "Piloting The Strait," which should be in every Christian's library on this planet, since it is a Masterpiece: A Superb Resource of Material, which explains the how, what, where, when, and why, of the many spiritual problems confronting the Lord's church in the 21st. century; he said, "churches of Christ are experiencing shock and heartache all over America as they are being torn asunder by those who wish to restructure the Lord's church. The church is under siege from within." In 1897, James Orr, professor of apologetics and systematic theology in the United Free Church College in Glasgow, Scotland, suggested that every period of church history has been preoccupied with one major doctrine that occupied center stage for that period.

I. THEOLOGICAL CURRENTS: During the early centuries (100-500 A.D.), the key issue was how to conceive of Deity as one God in three persons (i.e., the trinity) and especially the nature of Jesus' person. Hence Gnosticism, Docetism, etc. constituted the primary focal points of Christian concern. During the middle ages, (500-1500 A.D.), the attention shifted to the meaning of Christ's atonement.

With the Reformation (1500-1800 A.D.) came a sorting out of the role humans play in their salvation. The period spawned Luther's over-reaction to his Catholicism in the form of sola fide (faith only) and Calvin's equally extreme advocacy of sola gratia (grace only) displayed in his articulation of total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace and perseverance of the saints. While a corrective to Catholic dogma was certainly warranted, the views of these two men have irreparably altered the complexion of Christian theology in a correspondingly adverse direction! 1

We are well advised to think very seriously about the last sentence in the above paragraph! It strikingly informs us that these two men pitched their tents toward Sodom," as did Lot: Abram dwelled in the land of Canaan, and Lot in the cities of the plain, and pitched his tent "toward Sodom" (Genesis 13:12). Lot, like Adam, walked into his worldly habitat with his eyes wide open, needless to say, they have many first cousins, today!! Beloved, good, faithful, obedient men, would not have attempted to change the word of God, and, thus, alter God's Plan of Salvation, as many are doing today!!! Man has no business interfering with God's Business. Salvation has never been by "faith only," neither by "grace only." even the Jews knew that!!

God has taken great care to provide the proper security for His Plan of Salvation to all mankind. "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you. Add not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar. For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book. And if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Deuteronomy 4:2; Proverbs 30:6; Revelation 22:18,19).

II. THE SIGNIFICIENCE OF THE RESTORATION MOVEMENT: Out of this theological climate arose men who attempted to call people back to the bible. They sought to avoid the excesses of both Catholocism and Protestantism, by reestablishing and reaffirming the biblical interplay between grace, faith and obedience! The Restoration Movement in America (1800-1900 A. D.) was an attempt to "speak where the Bible speaks," and "be silent where the Bible is silent," restore the New Testament church and simply be undenominational Christians!

But what of our day? What single key concern do we face? Montgomery insightfully asserts that the great doctrinal issue of our era is of the authority of the Bible. Indeed from Christology in the Patristic period, to Soteriology in the Mediaeval, Reformation and Restoration periods, since the turn of the century, the pressing question of our day has been the epistemological issue of religious authority: Can we understand and know God's truth as revealed on the pages of Scripture? Is the bible the literal, inerrant, plenary, verbally inspired word of God? Are the Scriptures to be taken seriously as the supreme regulator of our behavior? 2yes!! "And bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians10: 5 c).

THOSE WHO WOULD UNDERMINE THE AUTHORITY 0F THE BIBLE are doing so primarily through their compromise of integrity of the biblical text. "Mainline" denominationalism faced this erosion first at the turn of this century. Classic Liberal theology from Europe cut a wide swath through the Protestant denominations, resulting in division among the Presbyterians, Lutherans and Methodists primarily over the inspiration of the bible. Simultaneously, American culture itself was being reshaped by the scientific and educational community's acceptance of the theory of Evolution (e.g., the 1925 Scope's trial). The Ecumenical Movement and the Social Gospel were further refinements directly resulting from the diffusion of biblical authority.

Churches of Christ have not been immune from the currents swirling across the religious landscape. Because of our adamant insistence upon strict Bible authority for all belief and practice, we have weathered these storms and prolonged the inevitable in fair fashion. The latter half of the nineteenth century saw a significant challenge to Bible authority through the surface issues of instrumental music and the Missionary Society. Ultimately, eighty-fife percent of the brotherhood slid into digression along with thirty-five of forty-two Bible colleges (including Drake University, Butler College, Bethany College, Transylvania University and what later became Texas Christian University). The remaining minority forged ahead and flourished to the extent that churches of Christ currently number more than ten thousand churches and between one and two million members in America alone:3 "For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you. "Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves…" (1 Corinthians 11:19; 2 Corinthians13: 5a).

Since the 1960s, however, churches of Christ have been under gradual change. We have been experiencing a foundational shifting that has escalated in the 1990s to a high pitch. The surface issues are legion and include far more items than the disruption a century ago. Now the clamor for change is cloaked in a medley of matters: the role of women; "special music" (i.e., solos & choirs); lifting up hands in worship; handclapping/applause; dramatic performance; dedicating babies, the authority of the elders; the role of the Holy Spirit; the religious observance of Christmas and Easter; the status of the denominations as it relates to grace, unity, fellowship and the purpose of baptism!!! These surface issues are woven into a multifaceted fabric that has blanketed the brotherhood. The needle that has orchestrated and directed the change is the same item that has impacted religion in America for the last one hundred years: the authority of the Scriptures!4 "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them" (Isaiah 8:20).

A FEW YEARS AGO A MAJOR CONTROVERSY ERRUPTED AT ONE OF OUR CHRISTIAN UNIVERSITIES(?) The creation account of Genesis chapter one was being compromised in the science classroom by promotion of Theistic Evolution and Liberal Theology's higher critical theory that Genesis chapter one is "myth" and "hymn." Some in the Bible department had capitulated to the same assessment of the biblical text!5 And, now, friends, lets carefully examine another great text: "And with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:10-12). Beloved, the preceding constitutes Spiritual Suicide!!! Man's pride causes him to think that he is wiser than God!!!

HOW CAN SUCH SIGNIFICENT DRIFTING OCCUR? Why is it so often that doctrinal renovation seems to originate in our Christian schools? With the advent of remarkable scientific and technological progress have come a misguided vulnerability to intellectual pseudo-sophistication and a capitulation to the carnal gratification afforded by such social achievement. Not only are ironclad bible doctrines diluted, but a pervasive sense of flexibility, relaxed conviction, and tolerance permeates such environments.

III. THE (FAIRLY) RECENT ATTACK UPON TRADITIONAL METHODS OF INTERPRETING SCRIPTURE and the talk of a "new hermeneutic" provides further evidence of the shift that is occurring (see book, TOC, Part III). The "scholars" who stand behind these discussions have been schooled in denominational and secular institutions of higher learning that long ago sold out to the liberal humanistic compromise of the Bible's authority and integrity. These men have returned from their indoctrination and are now exerting a tremendous impact upon our Christian universities, having imbibed the tenets of Liberal and Neo-orthodox theology and inhaled the renegade spirit of an age in rebellion against authority. They ridicule and demean the past generations of preachers as "book, chapter, and verse men." They scoff at the approach to preaching that incorporates a great deal of scripture and stresses obedience!

This same abandonment of strict reliance upon scriptural authority is evident in the attempt to jettison Bible teaching on the role of women in worship. The effort to forge expanded roles for women in the assembly is a direct reflection of the upsurge of feminism in American culture. The attack comes in the form of compromising the biblical text by attributing the limitations on women to the peculiar cultural circumstances Paul was addressing. Under the banner of "fresh, responsible exegesis" by "our scholars," the explicit pronouncements of scripture are being effectively neutralized and dismissed.6 At this point, let us consider brother Miller's (endnote # 7, in 'Piloting The strait," chapter 2, page # 28).

He says, "Consider Abilene Christian University professor Carroll Osburn's treatment of (1 Timothy 2) in his book Women in the Church Abilene, TX: Restoration Perspectives, 1994), p. 115---(To be more specific, the following comments are likely reflections upon Paul's teaching in (1 Timothy 2:11-14,) emphasis, mine: MLH). "It is not necessary nor advisable to take it as a general directive to all women everywhere. The letter was directed to a specific group of troublesome women in a particular place in the early church." Then, Brother Miller's critique: Consequently, Osburn concludes that "any female who has sufficient and accurate information may teach that information in a gentle spirit to whomever in whatever situation they may be." Osburn's view naturally means that churches of Christ ought to be using female preachers in our pulpits and have misused Scripture to keep them out.7

It is my considered judgment, that brother miller has made an accurate and authentic assessment of the professor's comments on (1Timothy 2:11-14). Question: why do these men never seem to be content (or humble enough), to simply accept God's judgment, and swallow their pride, realizing that God is truly God, who never appreciates man's attempt to correct him!!! Indeed, have these professors ever considered the authority and Sovereignty of Almighty God who is the Author of the Scriptures? Let's tune into (Romans 1:21,22) "Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful: but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools!" Puny man often thinks he is wiser and greater than God!! Beloved, God will deal with all of those who are hell bent, and determined to kick, pick, punch, and gouge at his word, and walk rough shod over the Blood of his Son, Jesus Christ!!!

Surely we can see that the "change agents" among us are allowing themselves to be used. They are functioning as partners in a cultural and theological revolution that has gripped our nation by the throat. These conspirators are bent on dismantling our foundational principles and sweeping away the elementary doctrines which characterize New Testament Christianity! In both our society and in the church the common thread among those who clamor for change is the fact that they reject the Authority of the Bible. They may still pay lip service and claim allegiance to the Bible. But, in reality, the objective standard of the bible is no longer a meaningful Conceptualization to them!!

The time has come for those who wish to save their souls to take seriously the warnings of Jesus and his Inspired Spokesmen: "Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. 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" (Matthew 7:15; Acts 20: 29, 30)

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of. (See also verse 3). Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (2 pet. 2:1,2; 1 John 4:1). While some among us are vigorously attempting to engineer change in the church, may God help us: "That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the slight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love…" (Ephesians 4:14,15a).8

CONCLUSION: Brethren and friends, we are, indeed, living in perilous times, when sin and Satan's broad way: the "lust of the flesh," the "lust of the eyes," and the "pride of life," are at a premium; and the Almighty God and his Quintessential Word…as Authoritative and Glorious as they truly are, are at a great discount!!! Beloved, the evidence is mounting daily, that some men are determined to destroy themselves, even, in spite of Christ, and his Cross!!! There are two things that clinch a devil's hell for people: (1) many precious souls are swiftly propelling themselves into a situation---that is, circumstances or conditions, in which, they steadfastly refuse to believe anything God says!! (2) And they steadfastly refuse to do anything God says!! This is a one-way street, a trap or snare that the devil sets himself, from which man can not extricate or free himself, as long as he persists in his Believe Nothing---Do Nothing Mindset!!!

Moreover, if the preceding paragraph describes your spiritual status, beloved, you can escape the trap, but, only with God's help!! You can't do it by yourself. Why not just yield yourself to Jesus, come to him, and let him help you clean up the mess you have made of your life? "Let Him have His way with thee…" "And the spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Revelation 22:17). The divine formula for salvation, is as follows: (1) Hear: (Romans 10:14), (2) Believe: (Hebrews 11:6), (3) Repent: (Acts 17:30), (4) Confess Jesus Christ: (Matthew 10:32,33), (5) Be immersed: (Colossians 2:12), (6) Be faithful until death: (Revelation 2:10). Do it Today, Today, Today!

With notes from the Book: "Piloting The Strait," by Brother Dave Miller, excerpted from pages 23-28, by permission of the author. MLH. (Email Address: mlharless@kvinet.com) Dear reader, in the event you should find mistakes or errors in this sermon, please inform me at your earliest convenience! Telephone: (304) 247-6895) MLH

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

1. King James Version of the Bible, Thompson Chain-Reference Bible, Fifth Improved Edition

2. The American College Dictionary

3. The American Heritage Dictionary

4. The Expanded Vines Expository Dictionary of The New Testament

5. Theological Dictionary of The New Testament

6. The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology

7. Thayer's Greek English-English Lexicon of The New Testament

8. The New Interlinear Greek-English New Testament

ENDNOTES:

1 Piloting The Strait, by brother Dave Miller, Theological Currents, page # 23

2 Piloting The Strait, by brother Dave Miller, Theological Currents, page # 24

3 Piloting The Strait, by brother Dave Miller, Theological Currents, pages 24 & 25

4 Piloting The Strait, by brother Dave Miller, Theological Currents, pages 25 & 26

5 Piloting The Strait, by brother Dave Miller, Theological Currents, page # 26

6 Piloting The Strait, by brother Dave Miller, Theological Currents, pages 26 & 27

7 Piloting The Strait, by brother Dave Miller, Theological Currents, page # 28

8 Piloting The Strait, by brother Dave Miller, Theological Currents, page # 27



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