Vol.II No.X Pg.5
November 1965

How Does The Church Change?

Robert F. Turner

The Lord's church consists of two basic elements -- people, and truth. In the absence of people the church can have only a potential existence. God's plan, the proposed characteristics, are inherent in the seed, the word of God; but these truths await application in the lives of people. They were given originally with people in mind -- humble, submissive, obedient people -- God's people.

Now God's people are such by their own choice -- i.e., although God desires theire allegiance, and has done everything necessary to make their salvation possible, each individual must will to come to God. Further, no one is forced to remain faithful. The people of God choose to continue in His paths. They may, and some do deny the Lord that bought them (2 Pet.2: 1) and depart from the faith. (1 Tim. 4:I)

God the Father, and our Lord and King Jesus Christ change not -- their truth lives and abides forever -- so the Divine element of the church is fixed and constant. But the human element of the church is not so stable. The people may be "off again, on again, gone again," Here is reason, if indeed reason is needed, for Paul's warning that we must not measure the church by the rule of human action. (2 Cor.10: 12)

The above principles are true -- almost to the point of being axiomatic in the thinking of Bible scholars. Yet, it is the ignoring of these very principles that makes sectarianism -- and its fruit, partyism -- so common. We come to know the people who are, let us assume, walking in truth. We identify the church -- equate the church -- with these people, their place of assembly, their practices. Somehow the fact that they are the Lord's church only if they walk according to His truth gets pushed into the background. The people change. The changes are made over a long period of time, perhaps beginning with concepts and practices wrong in principle but not easily discernible. The power of tradition asserts itself, and we justify (?) further wrongs on the basis of things done in the past. Since these people are regarded as the church, we soon regard their practices as those of the church of Christ; and all who differ are heretics. It is this party spirit that causes many to think that those who differ have "left the Lord" or "left the church."

The remedy is obvious -- to all who look for it. We must constantly check our principles and practices against the unchanging standard, the word of God. Of course such checking demands objective, prejudice-free study. We must compare our practices with those things authorized in God's truth. And this remedy, (the medicine) may be bitter -- in fact, it will be bitter to those steeped in the party, spirit. We question their sacred cows and dampen their pride.

Here we discover who love the Lord's church, and who love a human party that has been called the Lord's church; who are converted to the human element, and who are converted to the Divine element of the church. The answer is embarrassing at times.