Everyone probably understands the need to change methods or ways of carrying out scriptural obligations, especially when new and improved methods become available. But this is far different from changing matters directly or implicitly stated in Scripture, or authorized by approved example.
For example, the command to teach and preach the gospel can never be changed, but there are a host of methods for doing this which God has made available to us. Jesus said, “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you,” (Mt. 28:19-20). The requirement to go and teach the gospel will never change. But the method is not specified, or limited to walking, boating, going by train, automobile, radio, television, etc. Such commands always involve questions of expediency. The obligation to “go” creates the need to determine what is the most expedient method by which to carry out the obligation. The answer to that question may change over time. As new and improved methods are made available to us, surely we should take advantage of the most expedient means of obeying the Lord’s commands. Changing our method, in favor of something more expedient, is not wrong, but required.
Sometimes brethren have difficulty understanding the difference between obligations and expedients. When we begin to bind expedients as though they were obligations, we are setting ourselves up for trouble. The elders have authority to select the most expedient method, but they also have the authority to revise that decision if circumstances change.
For example, we have an obligation to teach and admonish “one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in” our hearts unto God, (Col. 3:16). In order to discharge this obligation, the elders may decide to use songbooks, so that everyone may see the music and sing the words of the song together. But if new technology comes along which makes it possible to display the songs on a screen, or screens before the entire congregation, the elders may decide to change methods. They may decide to use the screen(s) instead of the song books. They may decide to use both. This is a question of expediency.
Elders must make decisions in matters of expediency all the time. Questions will arise from time to time about what is the most expedient method of carrying out some obligation, and elders must be familiar with the Scriptures, qualified to make wise and sound judgments, and they must not shirk from making such changes when needed. They must also be able to distinguish between matters of expediency and matters of faith, which do not change. The gospel does not change, but methods for promoting it often do.
Following Christ requires that we do not change the gospel. Paul rebuked the Galatians for “so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel,” (Gal. 1:6). Attempting to change matters of faith is departing from Him who called us. Changing worship and other matters which have been clearly specified by God amounts to “perverting” the gospel of Christ, (Gal. 1:7). Such changes must be adamantly rejected.
Many congregations these days are plagued by “change agents” who have watched and admired denominational or other man-made practices, and cannot see why these should not be brought into the church. They are constantly longing for changes to the pure, primitive gospel of Jesus Christ. But such changes, inspired by the works of men and not God, are more than merely a change in methods. They amount to an alteration of the specific practice authorized by God. They are attempts to change the gospel itself, to convert God into our image. They are divisive efforts to please men rather than God, and should be recognized for what they are. May we lovingly “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints,” (Jude 3). May we resist the temptation to “change for change’s sake” or simply to keep up with the world. May we humbly acknowledge that the primitive gospel, as revealed in God’s word, is superior to modern innovations and philosophies of men. When it comes to the practice of our faith, may we say with Samuel, “Speak Lord, thy servant heareth,” (1 Sam. 3:9-10).
-by Robert C. Veil, Jr.