Trends, Traditions, & Motives
The New Testament reveals limited information regarding the work of the local church. From this information, we understand the work of the local church, the purpose of the local church, how the local church uses the funds collected as well as how and when the local church is to worship the Lord. However, there are plenty of decisions left up to the local congregation. Consider the following short list:
- When to assemble on the first day of the week.
- Number of songs sung during the assembly.
- The style of vocal music used in singing praises to the Lord.
- Number of prayers during the assembly.
- How to distribute the Lord’s Supper, such as trays, basket, plates, glass cups, plastic cups, one cup, multi-cup, etc.
- Whether to assemble during the week.
There is an inherit challenge to local congregations having to make these decisions. I call this challenge the traditions, trends, and motive challenge.
Many of the decisions left up to the local churches have slowly moved from changeable decisions to “written in stone” decisions. If a person has spent the last 50 years of his or her life attending a congregation which has always done one thing one way, then anything different may seem wrong and unthinkable. With proper Bible teaching, such binding where the Bible does not bind does not take place. The members understand which decisions can be changed by the leadership and which decisions cannot be changed. (For instance, we can change how we distribute the Lord’s supper, but we cannot change the elements of the Lord’s Supper.) We can change what time of the day we worship as long as we worship on the first day of the week. Traditions are fine as long as we do not develop a binding (and therefore divisive) attitude regarding those decisions.
Another challenge faced by the local congregation is trends. (Please keep in mind, we are still talking about those decisions which the Lord has left up to the local congregation.) Quite often, a trend will begin within a denomination and slowly move from one denomination to another. For instance, there is a trend among some churches to say, “Experience Times” instead of “Worship Times.” If you will watch the trends within the denominational churches, you will see those trends also being picked up by local churches of Christ. History has seen several trends which have violated God’s commands and designs for the local church, e.g. use of instrumental music during worship services, children’s church, social and societal outreach programs which exceed the work of the local church, etc. With that said, trends are not always unscriptural. Just because a denominational church does such-and-such does not make such-and-such wrong. Consider the example of meeting twice on Sunday. Back as early as 1910, denominational churches were meeting twice on Sunday. Consider a few examples from the July 3, 1910 edition of The Oklahoman in the “At the Churches” listings:
- The “Pilgrim Congregational” met twice, “at 11 and 3 o’clock; Sunday school at 9:30.”
- The “Immanuel Baptist Church” met “Sunday at 11 a.m.” (sermon topic: Pocket Felt Religion), “Sunday night” the topic was “Following a Vision.”
- The “First Christian Church” met at “11 a.m. and 8 p.m.; Sunday School at 9:30”.
- The “St. John’s M.E. Church, South” had “Sunday School at 9:45” and the morning sermon “at eleven o’clock.” They also met “in the evening at eight o’clock.”
- The church of Christ meeting in the basement of the Advent building met for “Bible reading at 10” and preaching “at 11 o’clock by J.T. Scott.” (This congregation is very likely the one which moved to the court house in 1912 and then to the corner of Tenth and Francis in 1918.)
Eight years after the 1910 church listings seen above, we see the following regarding the church of Christ meeting at the 10th and Francis location in Oklahoma City. From The Oklahoman, August 25, 1918, “CHURCH OF CHRIST – Tenth and Francis streets” . . . “Rev. B. U. Baldwin, minister. Lord’s day services, morning theme, ‘Covetousness’; evening theme, ‘The Work of the Holy Spirit in Conversion.’ Bible school, 10 a.m., preaching, 11:00 a.m. and 8 p.m., communion 11:45 a.m. Young people’s meeting, 7:30 p.m. Prayer meeting, Wednesday 8 p.m. Song drill, Friday 8 p.m. Come Worship with us.” As we can see, not all decisions made by local churches of Christ were unique to the churches of Christ.
Assuming the trend in question is scriptural, the challenge becomes whether or not to adopt said trend. Some brethren will bow their back against anything new, especially if someone teaching error does the same thing. Trends can bring division when the members of the congregation are not of the same mind. Trends, if scriptural, should be weighed carefully and with wisdom before being used or adopted by a local congregation.
Motives is the next aspect of the challenge which comes with making decisions for the local church. If someone seeks to change a “traditional” practice, or if someone is opposed to changing a “traditional” practice, then motives should be considered. The leadership of the congregation should seek to understand the motive behind the request to change the “tradition” and to follow the “trend.” Is it one person wanting to change the whole? Could the desire for change be shared by other members? Will the congregation be of the same mind and the same judgment regarding this change? If the change is scriptural, and it will not cause a division within the local body, then with wisdom and discernment, the leadership could consider the request.
A Current Application
There is a current “trend” among local churches of Christ which directly challenges a certain “tradition” of many local congregations. The “trend” to which I am referring is the removing or moving the Sunday evening services. Some congregations have moved the Sunday evening services to Sunday morning while others have done away with the Sunday evening service.
What about this “trend” and our “tradition” of meeting Sunday morning as well as Sunday evening? The decision of when to meet on Sunday is left up to the leadership of the local congregation. However, if a congregation is going to consider following this “trend” and leave behind the “tradition,” then here is what the leadership should consider:
- What are the motives behind the request? Not all requests to move to one service is a sign of spiritual weakness and disinterest. The leadership, as well as the congregation, should try to understand the reasons presented by the one who is making the request or suggestion.
- Will the congregation be of the same mind and same understanding regarding this change?
- Will it create a hindrance for some members, such as the members who have come to rely upon the evening service because of their work schedule?
A local congregation, as well as the leadership, should not be afraid of new practices, if the practices are not outside the realm of Bible authority. Members of the local church should also be flexible and considerate of one another’s situations and needs. Let every decision be considered within the realm of what is authorized to determine what is most expedient for the local congregation, whether it be that which has been done by tradition or that which is newly adopted.