Recently, I read an interesting article published in Christianity Today with this headline: New Research: Churchgoers Stick Around for Theology not Music or Preachers. This new research was conducted by Lifeway Research, a part of the publishing ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention. The article’s claim is that churchgoers will put up with a change in music styles or with different preachers, but you had better not mess with the theology of the church.
I found this quite surprising since in my experience visitors to the church rarely ask about theology. It seems that very little of what I would call “theology” is taught in most churches. Music is their only theology and if there is not trend-setting music that is mostly a knock-off of worldly music styles, there is not much interest in the church. It is always refreshing to speak to someone who wants to know first and foremost what the church teaches, and not necessarily our philosophy of music.
Sometimes music philosophy will tell you what is being taught in the church. The songs are mindless and so is the preaching. But it is refreshing when someone wants to know what the church teaches on repentance and faith, and what is taught about justification, and about Christian living, and our stand on the important cultural changes happening in our country. As I said, these questions, in my experience, are rarely asked. They are welcome questions and are an indication the person has depth of understanding deeper than most Christians who know more about the worship leader’s skills at guitar riffs than of the need of personal righteousness.
Twenty years ago, when I came to Berean, these doctrinal questions were on my mind and needed to be answered before I would consider becoming a member. Quite frankly, I did not find all answers satisfying because they were much more detailed and in depth than the questions mentioned. But, I did find enough gospel harmony that persuaded me to believe Berean was an appropriate choice for me and my family. The years and the providence of God have proved this to be true and the questions worthy to be asked. If you have been in the church for all those years, you have discovered my disagreements and have seen the changes since I became pastor.
Without being specific, there were doctrinal changes made. Should church members leave when there is a change in doctrine? Well, it depends on whether the change is from bad doctrine to good doctrine. I remember years ago our church in Kentucky hired a young man as youth leader. He was approached by one of our old deacons who wanted to help him correct some errors in this thinking. He handed him a book entitled, Rethinking Baptist Doctrine. The young man refused to read it. He said, “I do not need to rethink doctrine. I believe what I believe.” You see, he believed he already knew what Baptists believe and teach. The problem was he had been taught a perversion, and the book he was handed showed the historical, biblical position of Baptists through the centuries. Should he have changed his position? If those doctrines can be proved from scriptures, yes, he should have. There is no virtue in being uncompromising and strongly committed to wrong interpretations of scripture.
I believe the church should know what it believes and be able to defend it with the Bible. If a change is necessary, change it. Don’t leave the church unless the church walks away from the truth. A good question to ask yourself is this: “Am I sufficiently grounded in doctrine to know my positions are correct?” How will you know if church doctrine is correct if you are unable to evaluate it by scripture? Verify you are right or be ready to leave the error not the church.
Pastor V. Mark Smith