The Shape Of Things To Come — Prognosis For The Future
When Adam pulled his wits together after that hasty exit from the Garden, he might well have turned to his wife with a sad shake of the head and remarked, "Well, Eve, dear, we live in a changing world." It has been such a world from that day to this. And never more so than in this eighth decade of the twentieth century after Christ. The changes now are coming faster, with less and less time for adjustment. Scarcely has one way of life become familiar before it is reversed, restructured, re-worked, and an entire new pattern is thrust upon us.
All of which is simply a way of saying that the 1970's are coming up with some "changes" in the Church of Christ that will almost literally leave thousands of Christians gasping in disbelief. Those changes are already well under way, having been preceded and prepared for by two decades of preaching and promotion based on an ignoring of (or ignorance of — they aren't the same) some fundamental Bible teachings. As we try to guess what major changes are in prospect, we come up with four general areas of concern:
This Special Issue of the Gospel Guardian is devoted to the general subject of "fellowship," and well may it be; for right here is where one of the most fundamental and "stickiest" of all decisions will be made in the 1970's. Briefly put, there is the axiomatic statement that "Every Christian on earth is 'in fellowship' with every other human being on earth who is 'in fellowship' with God." But, upon analysis, that isn't quite as simple as it seems. This still requires a judgment, an assessment, of who is, and who is not 'in fellowship with God.' Are all 'baptized believers,' regardless of the perversions and heresies that may prevail in their worship, church organization, general work and activities to be considered 'in fellowship with God' because of their being 'baptized believers'? This, we believe, is the position now being advocated by such men as Carl Ketcherside, Leroy Garrett, Robert Meyers, and an appreciable number of others.
We anticipate that this sentiment will continue to grow and develop among the majority of Churches of Christ. Beyond all question, there is now taking place a polarization of thinking, a widening of the gulf between 'conservative' and 'liberalistic' elements. The latter group will eventually be considerably in the majority, and will dominate the policies and practices of most congregations in the future. Before the decade of the 1970's has drawn to a close we believe this basic division will be generally recognized. Some brethren share the opinion of Brother B. C. Goodpasture (editor of the Gospel Advocate) that perhaps only about ten percent of the churches that now exist will be "lost to modernism;" others, far more realistic in our judgment, place the "probable loss to modernism" at 80 to 90 percent. Liberal elements will control the schools, the publishing houses, the various institutions, and all the larger congregations. Their influence will eventually predominate.
The Social Gospel
As the breach widens, there will be increasing involvement in "the social gospel" by the more liberal churches. They will put more and more emphasis on 'health, education, and welfare,' establishing medical clinics and hospitals, homes for the aged, the deprived children, and unwed mothers. Birth control clinics may well become a routine part of the work of such churches. A wide variety of counseling services, employment agencies, inner city missions, summer camps and recreation centers — all the varied activities of general social welfare agencies will increasingly occupy the thought and effort of these churches. Emphasis on heaven and hell, on salvation and eternal damnation on the cross of Christ, the forgiveness of sins, reconciliation with God, and all the traditional themes of the past will gradually subside. This will not take place, of course, in any big way in the 1970's; but we doubt not that the beginnings of such trends will be clearly discernible. Indeed, they are so already. Church supported schools, from kindergarten through college level will almost certainly proliferate.
Missionary organizations and arrangements will progress from the relatively simple "sponsoring church" plan to far more elaborate and more highly organized endeavors. The Herald of Truth program and its support and control gives a fair preview of what may be expected in other such works. There will be regional directors, state directors, annual "workshops" or conferences at which policies and practices will be discussed and decisions made. This is already in progress with such projects as various Bible School workshops, elders' workshops, cooperative orphan home executive councils, church related school administrators meetings, etc.
The long history of all such gatherings is that they do NOT gradually dissolve and go out of existence, but that they continue to take over more and more control of the various component units, until finally there comes to be one recognized authoritative controlling agency, eldership, or centralized arrangement. Control is most usually exercised through moral persuasion rather than legal reality; but in either case, whether by legal provisions or through moral coercion, the ultimate control is rigid and firm.
As has almost invariably been the case in apostasies, there will be a `remnant' who will remain relatively faithful to their original stance. Whether or not there will be the possibility of any closer and more effective working fellowship between this `remnant' from the forthcoming explosion and those who constituted the 'remnant' from the division of the 1950's remains to be seen. Hopefully (and probably) there can emerge a happier and healthier relationship. In both divisions, that of the 1950's and that now forthcoming in the 1970's, the point at issue was, and is, the question as to the ultimate and final authority of Bible teaching. Minor differences will probably always exist over questions of interpretation, but the major differences have always come not over interpretation but over authority. It will be so again.
At any rate, many scores of thousands of sincere and dedicated Christians will continue on the even tenor or their way, serving God with all fidelity, humbly seeking each day to discharge that day's obligation to the Creator, and looking forward with confidence "to his appearing."
Being neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet, this editor as an ordinary work-a-day scribe has here set down his educated guess (it can not really be anything more than that) as to 'the shape of things to come.'