To change, or not to change: that isn’t the question

I’ve been asked what I think about Pastor Arrowood’s open letter, but I really don’t have any interest or desire in spending much time on it. He’s shared his concerns and let us know that a lot of people agree with him. You’ll not hear me complain that a pastor has voiced his opinion or that others have hopped on board with him about it. It would be extremely hypocritical of me to complain about people expressing their beliefs on these matters since I’ve been quite open and vocal about my views. I think the light of day is a great thing because it allows people to practice discernment. It also ends up producing more actual unity because the people who agree with one another are drawn together on the basis of agreement, not some artificial clustering.

So, I have absolutely no problem with Pastor Arrowood (or anybody) making the case that certain actions being taken and arguments being made might be detriment to the health of biblical Christianity. I do wish, however, that he had made his case more carefully and biblically. In the main I agree with him—we must be vigilant in our defense of the faith and never waver on our commitment to God’s Word regarding doctrinal and moral compromise. The problem, though, is that Pastor Arrowood and I seem to disagree strongly about the basis for identifying doctrinal and moral compromise. I believe the standard is God’s Word and Pastor Arrowood writes as if it is fundamentalist tradition and history (or, more specifically, his version of both of those). Couching his whole letter in terms of changing versus not changing is, at the least, a distraction or, at the worst, a deadly mistake. The fact is that nobody avoids change—you can’t live without changing and everybody knows this. The specific issues that confronted us twenty years ago have been replaced by newer versions which introduce new wrinkles that require new responses. The goal is obedience and the pursuit of holiness today, not the preservation of yesterday’s applications.

The “no changes” mantra can be worse than a distraction in that it can represent a lack of submission to God’s Word. The one who declares that he will never change presupposes that he has never been wrong and that what he has done up to this point in his life has been without error. It also gives an authority to our forefathers which they do not have and probably never wanted—we are under no obligation to do what they did simply because they did it.

The fact is that the separatist position has always been ready to change depending on what it was believed the Bible required. The separatists within the Northern Baptist Convention fought from within to remove apostasy. Eventually they recognized that they weren’t going to win that fight, so they changed their response to apostasy and withdrew from fellowship with it. Yet, even that simple observation isn’t completely accurate because the decision to withdraw was not made by all men at the same time—some left in the early 1930s and formed the GARBC, while others stayed in to fight until the late 1940s before leaving to form the CBA. So, for about fifteen years two groups of separatists took two different paths toward separation. And among that second group were hard-core and soft-core fundamentalists, and the hard-core men (the separatists with whom I agree, btw) took another decade plus to finally break free from the soft core.

I wonder if Pastor Arrowood has reflected much on the fact that the FBF, of which he is part and for which his church will host an annual meeting, has its roots in the CBA group that stayed in the convention well past the early separatists and remained tied to the soft core for quite a while? To be clear, I don’t have a beef with how these men responded to the challenges of their day. My sympathies lie with the early GARBC men, but that reflects my personal heritage. My point is that the challenges of the day constantly forced people with biblical commitments to update their response to those challenges. The principles never changed, but as the context changed, the implications of those principles were seen more clearly and a change of response was necessary.

Acting as if there have been no changes in the ecclesiastical landscape over the past 60 years is simply ridiculous. To argue that we keep doing the same thing simply because that is what we’ve always done is unbiblical. It elevates the traditions of men over the Word of God. I genuinely doubt that this is what Pastor Arrowood wants to do, but the core of his argument amounts to that. In one sense, he has served us all well by showing exactly what is at stake—will our ecclesiastical relationships be controlled by man-made traditions (Matt 15:3), or we will apply the word of righteousness to the issues of our day so that we can discern between good and evil (Heb 5:13-14)?


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