Is the Church to be a Chameleon?

There is much being written today concerning church growth, and we
would be wise to heed to some of it. For example, we cannot expect poor
preaching, poor singing and an unfriendly atmosphere to produce either
spiritual or numerical growth. Common sense should tell us this.

There are those however, who would urge us to take extreme measures to
reach the lost. They would treat the Gospel Meeting like a presidential
campaign. In such campaigns producing an “image” of the candidate by
showing him kissing babies, waving a flag, or having a picnic with his
family is more important than discussing the issues of the day. This is
because people vote on “images,” not on issues. The “Selling of a
President” requires the best publicity and advertising professionals
and techniques that money can buy. Christians are now using these
techniques in the “Selling of the Church.” Avoid the issues, but create
an “image” of the church which the unsaved world can freely identify
with. A clear example of this would be Robert Schuler’s “Crystal

In order to create this image we are told that we must be willing to
“become all things to all men.” This includes giving them the music
they like, or a program that “excites” them. If they do not like to
sing, then we don’t sing. If they are used to watching TV and being
amused, then we amuse them. If they are offended by Biblical words
like, sin, Hell, repentance, and judgment, then we avoid these terms.
If they are offended by head coverings, then we don’t wear them. Keep
everything “upbeat” and “positive” in order to produce an “image” that
the unsaved world will buy. In other words the church must be a
chameleon. (A chameleon is a small lizard that changes its color to
match its surroundings.)

In order to have people stay and for the church to grow numerically we
are told that we must provide a place where they are comfortable. We
must be willing to “adapt to them.” I can’t help but wonder if we are
deceiving ourselves with this “philosophy of ministry.” Is it the
unsaved that we want to be comfortable, or is it ourselves? If they are
comfortable, then we are comfortable as well! If the world is happy in
the church then the church avoids the offense of the cross. We avoid
all uncomfortable confrontation, and thus we are comfortable.

Brother Caldwell wrote concerning 1 Cor. 1:26
(“not many wise…”), “Satan’s aim has been to get ‘Christianity,’ as it
is called, allied with wisdom, philosophy, and science of the world;
allied with the state and the crown; thus to strip it of its
Christ-like garb of lowliness, and give it a standing and a
respectability among men. In short, to lift off the reproach of the
cross from the followers of Christ. But it cannot be. It is Satan’s
plan to remove the cross from the disciple by beguiling the disciple
from Christ.”

I wonder if this is why Christianity has turned to promoting itself
through “superstars” from either the world of sports or Hollywood. The
world isn’t going to belittle us for standing next to a “superstar” who
they themselves idolize, but when we identify ourselves with Christ
that’s a different story.

The basis for thinking that the church should be a chameleon and take
on the characteristics of the surrounding world is based on Paul’s
comments in 1 Cor. 9: 22
where he states, “I am made all things to all men, that I might by all
means save some.” Let’s look at this portion of Scripture more closely.

First, let’s consider the surrounding text. In chapter eight Paul spoke of the misuse of liberty. (1 Cor. 8:9)
If a weaker brother has a conscience against eating meat which was
offered to idols, it would be a misuse of one’s liberty to eat such
meat in front of him, and thereby cause him to eat and to sin against
his conscience. One should restrict or forgo the use of his liberty so
as not to cause another to stumble. The lesson for us is that we too
should be alert enough and wise enough to restrict or forego the use of
our liberty if we knew it would cause another to sin against his

Paul did not flaunt his authority, or abuse his liberty as an Apostle
of Jesus Christ. Mistaking this for a lack of authority, false teachers
at Corinth raised a question regarding his apostleship. Paul begins
chapter 9 by defending the fact that he was an Apostle, and as such he
too had rights. (9:1-6) One of these rights was that he had a right to live from the Gospel (9:14).
However, he goes on to say that he did not exercise this right because
he wanted to be free of any obligation to them. He wanted to be able to
declare the Gospel freely and without restrictions, and thus in his
wisdom he took nothing from those to whom he was preaching it. (3 John 7) Paul received support from the Lord’s people (Phil. 1:5), but he had no desire to “charge” the unsaved world (9:18), although in principle he had the right to receive material things for having sown that which was spiritual. (9:11) 
Paul did not exercise his rights. He wisely did not exercise the
freedom that was rightly his. By so doing he was free of any obligation
to the world, and could preach the Gospel without restraint.

However, being free from any obligation to men, he did not live to
himself. He had made himself a servant to all that he might win them to
Christ. (9:19) He chose to give up his rights due to his love for his Master and for others. (Ex. 21:1-6)

As a servant to all men Paul states, “to the Jews I became a Jew,” and
“to those who are without the law, as without the law.” As a missionary
taking the Gospel to different types of people he was wise enough to,
in the words of one brother, “adapt himself to the religious capacity
and to the modes of thought belonging to the one and to the other, in
order to gain access for the truth into their minds; and he did the
same in his manner of conduct among them.” However, this same writer
adds, “Observe this was in his service; it was not accommodating
himself to the world.” We see this principle applied today when a
missionary eats the food of a native, or dresses in clothing like that
of the people among whom he is laboring.

However, at no time does the missionary become “worldly” to reach the
world! Being “all things to all men” can not be interpreted as, “when
in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Reaching the minds of the lost with the
Gospel is certainly not the same as satisfying the desires of their
flesh. Wisely Paul did forgo the exercise of his liberty and did adapt
his message to different audiences in order to reach them with Gospel,
but he never “entertained” them! Paul is certainly not telling us he
acted like the world in order to win them. He did not survey the
unsaved world to see what they would like the church to produce for
them.  Nor is he instructing the church that in its collective
meetings it must adapt to the world’s standards to win them.  

The context is one in which Paul, as an individual, restricted his
liberty, not one in which he simply conformed to his surroundings. To
take this text and apply it to the local church, and suggest that the
church must be a chameleon and adapt its services to the world around
it is a gross misapplication. For if this were true the local church
would be like a yoyo trying to satisfy the great variety of tastes of
those who come through its doors.

The point of the passage is that we, as individuals, need to be wise in
the exercise of our liberties, both with the saints, and with the lost.
There are times when we will need to restrict or forgo the use of our
liberties. On one hand so as not to cause a weaker brother to sin
against his conscience, and on the other hand to give us an opportunity
to win the lost. At no time is it teaching us that we must make the
world comfortable in the church, and to produce a program that is
appealing to the unsaved world.

 If the method used to reach the lost would stumble or starve them
after they are saved, then that method is worldly and ought to be
abandoned. Remember too, “what you win them with, is what you will keep
them with.” If you win the lost by music then you must give them more
music to keep them. If you win them with drama, then most likely you
will need to give them more drama to keep them. If you win them through
preaching Christ, then they will want more of Him.

Assemblies that are producing programs that satisfy the desires of the
unsaved world are no different than the advertising world when it
surveys the market to see what people like, and then produces it for
them. The meeting of the assembly is not a production, like the local
theater. Neither is it a product that we promote. It is a place where
we should enthusiastically preach Christ.

Can you envision the early church trying to promote an assembly that
was comfortable for those around it? Can you see the saints in the
catacombs laying out a strategy for promoting the assembly? Can you see
them polling the citizens of Rome as to what they would like to see in
the church? Of course not, because there was a definite distinction
between the church and the world, and yet the church grew! (Acts 5:13-14)

Applying this world’s promotion techniques to the local assembly only
makes it more like the world. When we format the assembly’s meetings
around the world’s desires, it won’t be long before the church is
conformed to the world. (Rom. 12:2) The Bible and history should have taught us this!

The local church is not a place where we “bate” the world with one
product, and then “switch” to another product once they have come in.
It is a family where there is loving concern, healthy food, wise
guidance, and a clear presentation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

 The church is not to be a chameleon!