Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 5, 1961
NUMBER 22, PAGE 5,13c

Changes Are Gradual

Richard R. Poplin

In my early school days I was told there was a time when ice covered much of the North American continent. Then, when this ice began to melt, glaciers moved down the mountains, carrying before them rocks and dirt and forming rivers and valleys. I pictured that time (whenever it was) as extremely cold. I wondered if plants and animals could have lived in such low temperatures. But more than twenty years ago, at Yosemite National Park, a ranger gave an explanation of the glaciers that not only cleared up my thinking on that subject but also gave me an illustration which is applicable in many other areas as well.

He said that years ago there were winter and summer just as now, but the winters were a little colder with a little more accumulation of snow in the mountains. The summers were not quite as long or as warm as now. Every year there was a little more snow left over which did not melt. This packed down and caused the glaciers. When the cycle changed, there was a little less snow in the winter and more melting in the summer. Then the glaciers began to move.

This explanation taught me that changes usually do not come suddenly. Often they are so gradual that they are hardly noticeable. If a person had been living in that time he probably could have seen little difference in the winters and summers then and now. But a little change every day for a long period of time can amount to a great difference.

Because changes are gradual, they are the more dangerous. Some of the most dreadful diseases that attack the human body are not easily detected until they are in the final stages.

The same is true of the church. Attitudes toward the word of God and concepts of the church change long before these things are detected in the practices. The symptoms that first appear are seemingly so innocent that they are hardly noticed by the majority.

When we look at the Christian church today with its organs, choirs, institutions, Lord's supper on Thursday night, dedication of babies, open membership and such like (and all of these things are practiced by that church in Shelbyville, Tennessee), it is hard to see how such a change could have taken place in less than fifty years. Did it turn, all at once, from soundness to the present apostasy? No, the change was gradual; but when Bible principles were left behind, the departure began to pick up speed.

I have talked to a few people still living today who were members of the church in Shelbyville in 1913. They have told me how the piano was first brought in. It was used first for the opening songs of the Sunday School. (I believe I am correct in stating that it happened to be in the building in the first place for use in a wedding.) Before the hour of worship it was pushed behind curtains.

Later, a meeting was to be held and some thought more people could be attracted if the piano was used in the night services through the week. It still wasn't used during the worship on Sunday morning. But needless to say, it wasn't long before it was used in that service also.

That opened the flood gates and now anything goes in that congregation. If the instrument had been brought in all at once for use in the worship, there would have been many who would have objected. But it was brought in gradually. When it was finally used in the worship, there were just a few who left and began meeting in the courthouse. Brother Gus Dunn was one of the early preachers for them after beginning to meet in the courthouse.

The same pattern is seen in the churches of Christ today. People who would oppose the whole institutional, college-in-the-budget, recreation hall, kitchen-in-the-church-building package are given one thing at a time and hardly know what is happening. They are finally conditioned to accept it all.

Yes, the thinking is changed gradually before the practices are changed.

When the elders of Israel came to Samuel and said, "Behold, thou art old, and thy sons walk not in thy ways: now make us a king to judge us like all the nations," (1 Sam. 8:5) the thought of a king was not new to them. If they had only been concerned with Samuel's age and his sons' unfaithfulness, they could have requested him to give them judges that were faithful. They were using an excuse to ask for something that they wanted already. They wanted to be like the nations around them. The Lord said to Samuel, "They have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them." (I Sam. 8:7) Samuel and his sons were not the real reason; the trouble was the attitude of the Israelites toward God.

Churches of the Lord today do not change from sound practices to unscriptural ones in a matter of days or weeks; but where there has been a change of attitude toward God's word and in the concept of the church, there will be a change in practice and that more rapidly as time goes on.

Often there is a restraining influence in a church, but it is noticeable to those who know what is going on that the drift is accelerated when that restraining influence — be it the preacher, an elder or whatever — is removed. But the sad thing is that so many of the members in the church are not able to detect the drift. They cannot see from whence they have come or where they are going. When they finally arrive at apostasy, they do not realize what has happened.

Recently a preacher friend, with whom I was well acquainted a few years ago, told a mutual friend while they were discussing the parallel between the benevolent societies and the missionary society, "Why, the only thing wrong with the missionary society is its domination of the churches." With an attitude such as that in the church we can expect anything.

Yes, changes are gradual, but one wonders how far liberal churches which believe "there is no pattern" will go in a few short years.