EDITORIAL: Change Agents
By Mark Mayberry
(November, 2023 | No. 11 Vol. 67)
Synopsis: Christians must avoid the wrong kind of change, while embracing the right kind of change. God does not change and neither does His word (Mal. 3:1-7; Ps. 19:7-11). In contrast, men need to change their sinful conduct in order to conform to God’s perfect pattern (Ps. 19:12-14).
Let us examine the concept of “change agents”—good and bad, ancient and modern. Simply stated, “A change agent, or agent of change, is someone who promotes and enables change to happen within any group or organization”—TechTarget.com.
In the business realm, when corporations experience declining sales and/or diminished growth, the board will often hire a consulting firm, or install a new Chief Executive Officer (CEO) in order to promote needed changes. Consider the changes that Steve Jobs brought to the world of personal technology, or that Elon Musk has brought to social media.
The same is true in the athletic arena. Consider the significant impact that Dusty Baker has had as the coach of the Astros. Reflect on the amazing changes Andy Reid has brought to the Kansas City Chiefs.
What does it mean to change? When used as a verb, “change” means “(1) to make (someone or something) different; alter or modify; or (2) replace (something) with something else, especially something of the same kind that is newer or better; substitute one thing for (another).”
When is change needed? It depends. What sort of change is being contemplated? Who is expected to change? When should it occur? Why is it necessary? Who decides? Obviously, sometimes change is needed in our lives. The same is true in business, politics and sports. However, what about in the realm of religion? Does God change? Does truth change? Should sinful humanity change? Should the church change?
In the Old Testament, God graciously established His covenant with the nation of Israel at Mount Sinai. Sadly, the people repeatedly departed from the divine pattern, eventually resulting in the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Although men often vacillate, the Lord remains constant: “I, the LORD, do not change.” Still, God wants His wayward people to change: “Return to Me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD of hosts" (Mal. 3:1-7a).
What about times when God’s message no longer resonates among the masses? In the days of Noah, the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Gen. 6:5). Who was at fault: God or man? Who bore the blame for the ensuing deluge? Man chose violence, carnality, and wickedness—sinking deeper and deeper into the morass of moral depravity. In contrast, God remained true to His character, judging unrepentant sinners while graciously preserving Noah.
[God] did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a preacher of righteousness, with seven others, when He brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly (2 Pet. 2:5).
Consider Christ’s counsel on the narrow and wide gates: “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14). We live in a time when the majority walk the broad way, and few are seeking the narrow way. Do we need to change the truth to broaden its appeal? Do we need to hire a team from “Change Agents, Inc.” to demolish the old, creaky edifice of the church and rebuild a bright, shiny denomination in its place? Some among us seem to think so, judging from their constant criticism of the Lord’s church.
While Moses remained on Mt. Sinai, receiving the Law, the people demanded that Aaron construct a graven image: “Come, make us a god who will go before us; as for this Moses, the man who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what has become of him” (Exod. 32:1). Thus, Israel disobeyed the first of the Ten Commandments, which they had received only weeks earlier (Exod. 20:3-6).
During the days of Samuel, the people lost faith in God’s pattern of raising up judges: “No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (1 Sam. 8:4-20, esp. vv. 19-20). While Israel complained about Samuel’s evil sons, in reality, they were rebelling against God’s established order:
The LORD said to Samuel, "Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being king over them (1 Sam. 8:7).
After the division of the kingdom (when the northern ten tribes rebelled against the house of David), Jeroboam instituted wholesale changes in the worship of Israel (1 Kings 12:26-33). Therefore, it is no surprise that Old Testament writers refer to Jeroboam as “the one who made Israel to sin” (1 Kings 14:16).
(1)Jeroboam changed the symbols of worship. Obviously influenced by the idolatrous practices of Egypt, he erected two golden calves. To God’s great displeasure, Jeroboam mixed idolatry with the prescribed pattern. As a result of this change, Israel’s worship became much more culturally accommodative.
(2)Jeroboam changed the place of worship. The Israelites were required by the Law to assemble in Jerusalem three times a year. However, in an effort to weaken their sense of national unity, Jeroboam set up altars at Dan and Bethel. As a result of this change, Israel’s worship became more convenient.
(3)Jeroboam changed the priesthood. The Mosaic law specified that only the Levites were to serve as priests, but Jeroboam opened the priesthood to all the tribes. As a result of this change, Israel’s worship became more democratic and less restrictive than the older Mosaic order.
(4)Jeroboam altered the religious calendar. The Feast of Tabernacles was supposed to be held in the seventh month, but Jeroboam changed the observance to the eighth month. As a result of this change, Israel’s worship became more flexible. Surely, Jeroboam could argue, “What difference does one month make?”
Eventually, the nation of Israel (i.e., the northern ten tribes) were carried into Assyrian captivity (2 Kings 17:6). Why did Israel fall? The reasons were manifold: They sinned against the Lord and feared other gods. They walked according to the customs of the surrounding nations. They secretly did things that were wrong, such as building high places, sacred pillars and Asherim, burning incense, and serving idols. They rejected God’s commandments and His covenant and refused to heed prophetic warnings. They made molten images, even two calves, and bowed before Baal and Asherah, and worshipped the host of heaven. They made their sons pass through the fire, and practiced divination and enchantment, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the Lord—provoking Him to wrath (2 Kings 17:7-23).
Sadly, this pattern of apostasy continued during the Assyrian captivity, as reflected by the Samaritans—inhabitants of the region of Samaria who came into existence during Israel’s Assyrian captivity, and continued as a distinctive people into the New Testament era. The tense relationship between Jews and Samaritans, which had existed for centuries, is reflected in the opening dialogue between Jesus and the woman of Samaria that He encountered at the well:
There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, “Give Me a drink.” For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Therefore, the Samaritan woman said to Him, “How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?” (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans.) (John 4:7-9).
Who were the Samaritans? When the northern ten tribes of Israel were deported to Assyria in 722 BC, a few Israelites were permitted to remain in the land. Over time, they intermarried with assorted foreigners who had been removed from their homelands by their Assyrian overlords, and relocated to the land of Israel. As a result, the Samaritans were a people of mixed blood and blended religious traditions (2 Kings 17:24-41).
Initially, their belief system was a mixture of corrupted Judaism combined with various pagan practices. With the passing of time, their practices became less idolatrous and more orthodox, but many of their customs, ceremonies, and convictions differed from the Law given at Sinai. The Samaritans considered Mt. Gerizim, not the Temple mount in Jerusalem, to be the proper place where God should be worshipped. Like the first century Sadducees, they only accepted the Torah, i.e., the five Books of Moses, as authoritative. Yet, their holy book, the Samaritan Pentateuch, had been altered in various places to reflect their conviction that their temple on Mt. Gerizim was the proper place for worship to be offered. Despite the multiple ways in which they changed the Law of the Lord to suit their personal preferences, they considered their faith to be the true religion of the ancient Israelites while regarding Judaism as a related but distorted religion.
What lessons can we learn from the Samaritans? First and foremost, a synergistic approach to religion is displeasing to God. Oxford’s English Dictionary defines “synergistic” as an adjective “relating to the interaction of two or more things to produce a combined effect.” In physiology (i.e., the branch of biology that deals with the functioning of living organisms), it relates to “the interaction or cooperation of two or more organizations, substances, or other agents to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their separate effects.” For example, it may describe the interaction of the mind and the body: physical exercise helps our cognitive ability. Alternatively, it may describe the positive effects of combining separate drugs in the treatment of specific illnesses. However, a synergistic approach to religion never has a positive effect on our relationship with God. We have no right to set aside the plan and pattern that God has revealed in Sacred Scripture, and substitute our preferred forms of worship and service.
In 2006, the Richland Hills church of Christ in Fort Worth, Texas, made “history” by incorporating the use of instrumental music in their worship. In a sermon delivered on December 10, 2006, preacher Rick Atchley made the following statement regarding one of his reasons for making this departure from the New Testament pattern. Pointing behind himself on the stage, he announced,
Right there at that spot about 1994, the Holy Spirit said to me in the middle of my sermon, “and that’s what you and all the preachers like you were doing, who haven’t for years believed that the worship of God with instruments is wrong. But you continue by your silence to let people think it’s wrong, to allow the body to be disrupted, and you do so under the plea, ‘Well, we’re just maintaining peace.’ But that’s not peace; that’s cowardice.” I knew then the day would come [when] I’d have to teach this lesson, Atchley concluded (Richland Hills & Instrumental Music—A Plea to Reconsider, 5).
Atchley claims the Holy Spirit spoke directly to him as he was preaching a sermon in 1994. Despite being slow on the uptake—It took him a dozen years to respond!—he pompously presented himself as a courageous agent of change:
“My e-mail is flooded with messages from elders and preachers across the country encouraging this church and praising us for the decisions we’ve made,” Atchley told the church. “I know this: If our fellowship stays on the course we’re on, our future looks bleak. Someone has got to be a leader.”
It is amazing to me that the alleged prompting of the Holy Spirit today is always in a culturally accommodative direction! From this perspective, Paul had it backwards in Romans 12:1-2, and should have said:
Instead of being doctrinally distinctive, be conformed to this world, so you may reflect that which is currently popular in the broader religious community and contemporary culture.
In the seventeen years that have passed since Atchley’s infamous declaration, many others who formerly stood for the truth have adopted the same rationale for adding to, subtracting from, and otherwise altering the biblical pattern for the work, worship, and organization of the church.
Atchley’s spiritual digression has continued unabated. Consider how the Hills church (which is how the congregation, formerly known as the Richland Hills church of Christ, is currently identified) promotes itself on its website. Instead of following the New Testament pattern, where local congregations are independent and autonomous—operating under the leadership of local elders, the Hills church is now composed of three congregations operating under one executive committee. They have expanded their roster to include a woman who serves as “Next Gen Minister.” Their belief system has become so watered down that it reflects contemporary evangelical theology more than the doctrine of Christ.
Could this happen to us? Yes, if we quit preaching on first-principles. Yes, if we stop stressing the importance of Bible authority. Yes, if we cease speaking as the Bible speaks, and remaining silent where the Bible is silent. Yes, if we cease emphasizing the whole counsel of God.
Earlier this year, a relatively young preacher in a neighboring state presented a lesson at his home congregation entitled, “It’s a Lot Deeper Than That,” in which he dismissed preaching on Bible authority as irrelevant and unnecessary. Remember, he labors for a non-institutional church of Christ that exists because faithful brethren in past generations courageously stood against error and fought the battle for truth. Reflecting on his experience of growing up in the Lord’s church, he said,
When I was growing up, a lot of the teaching that was being done, at that time was more about what we can’t do or shouldn’t do as far as the worship assemblies, than it was about reaching for something that we should be doing. . .
If you have been paying attention very long at all, you know that I have not done lessons like that. I have not done lessons where I used gopher wood as an example of God’s authority and what He has spoken. You’ve never heard me do a lesson on specific or generic authority. We’ve not had any lessons on instrumental music, or how the church should spend its money.
In contrast with such spiritual negligence, Paul declared, “I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:26-27). He exhorted Timothy, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).
A young evangelist once asked an aged preacher, who had faithfully fought many spiritual battles, “Where’s the next apostasy coming from?” The older brother responded by asking, “What are you not addressing in your sermons? What applications are you not making? What truths are you not emphasizing? What part of the whole counsel of God are you neglecting?”
More recently, another gospel preacher among us, who has quite a following in some circles, made these comments while preaching a lesson on “Spirit and Truth” adapted from John 4.
Let’s talk about collective worship for a minute, what we’re doing here this morning. Let’s say you are someone who believes that authorized collective worship and song is only singing. You do not believe that the instrument is authorized. Let’s play a little game of “Would you rather?” if that’s what you believe.
Would you rather worship at a location where the instrument was present, even though you don’t believe it’s the truth, but where even you would readily acknowledge that it is a worship filled with heart and devotion and praise and where you’re hanging on every word that is in every verse and they resonate with you throughout the whole week?
Would you rather worship with that kind of intensity and the instrument or would you rather worship at a place that gets the truth as far as you believe it right? Only singing. But by your own admission, while there is only singing there, it is very flat, very mundane. There is a repetition, there is an emotionlessness to it. [Placing himself in this position, he added:] I rarely even think about the words that I am singing anymore. They certainly don’t affect me during the week, and we’re actually a little bit, like, “low-key judgmental” of any kind of emotional showings.
Question, which one do you choose?
I still haven’t bought you in. You’re like, “I ain’t choosing. They both need to make changes. There needs to be readdressing on both ends.” I get it, but if you had to pick one, where you thought you’d be at least safer, which would you choose?
The speaker, having already acknowledged that many of his hearers would wisely respond by saying, “I ain’t choosing,” still pressured his audience to make a choice between one side or the other—neither of which is an acceptable solution. He concluded by focusing on those who (against their better judgment and in response to his pressure) might hypothetically choose truth over attitude, and then criticized them for the choice they refused to make, but he arbitrarily imposed upon them:
I want you to understand that when we end up kind of making these choices, it puts us in a world of danger that we won’t address the other thing because the other thing becomes less important.
Did you notice that, in the aforementioned challenge, the speaker never shares his convictions on what kind of music God authorizes, commands, and prefers in the Christian age? Does he believe that instrumental music is scriptural or unscriptural? Is it acceptable or not? Hearers are left to wonder.
Brethren, this is not gospel preaching. It is confusing. It lacks clarity. It is self-contradictory. He presented a false dichotomy. His foolish attempts to force his audience to choose either “spirit” or “truth” fall flat. Instead of approaching the issue from the standpoint of “EITHER/OR,” he should embrace the power of “AND.” Jesus said, “God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). It is not a matter of choosing one or the other, but embracing both.
My question is simple: How can we praise those who worship God in an unauthorized manner? Would it be appropriate to reframe Elijah’s contest with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel in a way that criticized the former and commended the latter (cf. 1 Kings 18:20-40)?
Yes, the prophets of Baal worship a non-existent God, but look at their enthusiasm; Elijah merely prayed while they danced upon the altar, and cut themselves with knives!
Since when do gospel preachers hold up those who engage in unscriptural forms of worship in such a glowing manner—praising them for “worship filled with heart and devotion and praise and where you’re hanging on every word that is in every verse and they resonate with you throughout the whole week?”
This same individual, in an earlier lesson entitled “What is a ‘Sound’ Church?” suggested that we should not connect the soundness of a local church with how brethren conduct their worship, or use their funds, or perform their collective work.
In his earlier days as a preacher, he was shocked to hear gospel preachers refer to certain congregations as “unsound.” He said, “I was confused. So I started asking preachers, like, ‘What are we talking about here? Can you break it down for me?’” Through such discussions, he said, “I learned that it had to do with the way a church conducted worship. With the way a church used their funds. With the way a church engaged in their collective work. It was a lot about churches and their work and their organization and their money.”
So, he decided to study the issue. “I’m just going to look for soundness. I’m going to find out everywhere the Bible talks about what is sound and unsound.” Here is the conclusion he reached: “Jesus never said those words. Peter never said those words. Those words are not in the book of Acts. . . And so the first surprise I learned is the only time that term is used is when the Apostle Paul wrote a letter to a preacher named Timothy and a preacher named Titus about preaching and teaching. My second surprise is that. . . none of these verses [is] about the stuff that the preachers told me they were about.”
In the middle of his lesson, he said, “Let me back up a minute. . . Talking about restrictions in worship is a needful discussion. Talking about following the pattern of Scripture for how we live. . . is a needful discussion. And there are brethren who believe different things on some of those things and that’s all needful discussion. I’m going to be a lot more wary in the future of just deciding that you’re not sound if you’re a baptized believer focused on Christ and the truth, living in sincerity and reading the word of God, but there’s some ilk of it that you hold that’s different from me. ‘Well, you’re unsound and I’m sound.’ I’m not doing that. I would be taking, kidnapping, the word from its text and assigning a value to someone that I have no right to assign.”
In a separate article, cited in the Sources below, I examine the biblical concept of soundness. I encourage you to read it as an antidote to the aforementioned quotations. Brethren, such statements are unworthy of one who claims to be a gospel preacher. They provide cover for sharing fellowship with all baptized believers, regardless of how they might conduct worship, employ the collective treasury, engage in their collective work, or be organized. Brethren, this kind of faulty reasoning will open the door to apostasy.
Interestingly, over the last thirty years in the business world, seventy percent of transformation programs fail. More than half of the businesses that implemented such policies experienced lower productivity. The same is often true in the church, especially when most brethren are still committed to walking in the old paths set forth in the pages of Scripture.
Change agents rarely survive in the organizations that they seek to alter. Why is this so? Why do others who manifest a steady style of leadership often endure?
Change agents often face resistance from those who occupy positions of power within an organization. They often fail because of character deficiencies and self-destructive behavior. In the spiritual arena, “change agents” are often narcissistic and self-willed—trusting in their supposed superiority. Inevitably, they pursue a path that leads away from “the faith” that was once delivered to the saints. In other words, they drift into denominationalism, liberalism, progressivism, and sometimes, outright unbelief.
A substitute religion, rather than no religion at all, has always been Satan’s most effective weapon. The devil is a great supporter of man-made religion. He knows that God will not accept unauthorized worship. If men want a form of religion, fine! If Satan can get us committed to a false system, he has won the battle (Isa. 29:13-14; Matt. 15:7-9; Mark 7:5-9).
What is the solution? (1) Let us hold fast to things that do not change: God does not change. The truth does not change. His pattern for the work, worship, and organization of the church is not subject to alteration, addition, or subtraction; (2) Yet, we must also be flexible enough to change our hearts, lives, words, deeds, etc. in conformity to the image of Christ. In both the Old and New Testaments, faithful servants of the Lord called sinners to repentance—urging them to undergo a change of heart followed by a change of life.
This is reflected in Joel’s challenge. Warning God’s wayward people of impending calamity, the prophet Joel depicted a devastating plague of locusts descending upon the land and devouring everything in its path. Despite this terrible visitation, their relationship with God could be restored:
“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “Return to Me with all your heart, and with fasting, weeping and mourning; and rend your heart and not your garments. Now return to the LORD your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in lovingkindness and relenting of evil. Who knows whether He will not turn and relent and leave a blessing behind Him, even a grain offering and a drink offering for the LORD your God?” (Joel 2:12-14).
Hope remained if the people of Israel would blow a trumpet in Zion, consecrate a fast, proclaim a solemn assembly, and sanctify the entire congregation. . . If they would gather the people and the priests, assemble the elders and the children, even summoning newlyweds from their honeymoon chamber. . . If they would assemble in God’s house, penitently weep, and say, “Spare Your people, O LORD, and do not make Your inheritance a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they among the peoples say, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:12-17).
This is reflected in Simon’s sermon on Pentecost. Peter exhorted his hearers, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Hearing and believing are not enough. Crying out, “Brethren, what shall we do?” is a good start, but conviction must be followed by conversion. Repentance and baptism are also required.
The Greek word metanoeō, here rendered “repent,” means “to change one’s mind or purpose” (Thomas, 3340). Bauer defines it as “(1) change one’s mind; (2) feel remorse, repent, be converted (in a variety of relationships and in connection with varied responsibilities, moral, political, social or religious)” (BDAG, 640). Louw and Nida say it means “to change one’s way of life as the result of a complete change of thought and attitude with regard to sin and righteousness,” and recommend that it be rendered “to repent, to change one’s way, repentance” (41.52, 509).
It is also reflected in Jesus’s encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-26). In response to her leading statement: “Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship,” Jesus sidestepped the implication that one’s geographic location in worship was of central importance, and focused her attention (and ours) upon non-negotiable essentials:
Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people, the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth (vv. 21-24).
Note the following points:
(1)In contrast with the Mosaic dispensation, when Israel was to worship in the place where the Lord chose to establish His name (Deut. 12:5; 11, 14, 18, 26, 15:20; 16:1-2), in the present Christian dispensation, saints in every place may call upon His name (Mal. 1:11; 1 Cor. 1:2; 1 Tim. 2:8; etc.).
(2)The Samaritans acted in ignorance, while the Jews were blessed with statutes and judgements received by divine revelation (Deut. 4:7-8).
(3)Anticipating the establishing of the New Covenant and the Messianic kingdom, Jesus said, “An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” In other words, Christians must manifest the right attitude and worship according to the directives set forth in the gospel.
Therefore, let us renew our commitment to walk in the paths that God has prescribed. Recognizing that God’s word does not change, may we faithfully follow the pattern set forth therein for our individual lives and our collective work. Understanding the need for growth, let us press on to maturity.
Thus says the LORD, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls. . .” (Jer. 6:16).
Aaron, Elijah. 2023. “It’s a Lot Deeper Than That!” Northside Church of Christ in Conway, AR. March 19, 2023. https://www.northsidecofc.com/sermons/its-a-lot-d... Link
Arndt, William, et al. 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG). Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Emerson, Kris. 2022. “What Is a ‘Sound’ Church?” Lindale Church of Christ in Lindale, TX. August 21, 2022. https://www.lindalechurchofchrist.com/player/2696... Link
———. 2023. “In Spirit and Truth.” Lindale Church of Christ in Lindale, TX. June 25, 2023. https://www.lindalechurchofchrist.com/sermons2222... Link
Louw, Johannes P. and Eugene Albert Nida. 1996. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. New York: United Bible Societies.
Lutkevich, Ben. “What Is a Change Agent or Agent of Change?” TechTarget.com. https://www.techtarget.com/searchcio/definition/c... Link
Miller, Dave. 2007. Richland Hills & Instrumental Music—A Plea to Reconsider. Montgomery, AL: Apologetics Press, Inc. Link
Ross, Jr, Bobby. 2007. “Nation’s Largest Church of Christ Adding Instrumental Service.” The Christian Chronicle (blog). January 1, 2007. https://christianchronicle.org/nations-largest-ch... Link
Thomas, Robert L. 1998. New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition. Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, Inc.
Mark Mayberry has labored with the Adoue Street church
of Christ in Alvin, TX, since 1998, where he serves as the evangelist and an
elder. The church website is here. His website
is here. He can be reached here. Feedback on this article
should be sent to the author.