According to legend, the Greek armies were frustrated by the defenses of Troy. They built a large, hollow, wooden horse and secreted soldiers within it. This was pushed in front of the city gates, left there, and the Greek armies pretended to sail away. The Trojans were intrigued and pulled the horse into the city. Later at night the Greek soldiers came out, opened the gates to the city, and let their own army in. Troy fell to the Greeks and was utterly destroyed.
Flowing from this legendary account the term has come to mean “any person, group, or thing that seeks to subvert a nation, organization, etc. from within” (Webster’s New World Dictionary). Communist parties worldwide are seeking to do this. They may be sincere in their motives, believing the changes they advocate are for the good of the people; but they would change the basic structure of a country. Churches can also be changed from within. For example, liberalism has spread throughout many churches, undermining the Gospel.
Many churches today are feeling pressure from within to change and to conform to current attitudes in the world. The role of women in the churches is being reexamined along with the attitude toward homosexuality. Assemblies along simple New Testament lines are also knowing pressures from within to change. If these suggested changes are implemented, the character of these fellowships will be radically changed. The question must be asked: Were early brethren wrong in their understanding of Scripture? Has new light come on these passages which has somehow eluded Bible students for centuries? Or are some of these suggestions simply the result of churches bowing to the pressures of the world without?
What are some of these areas where change is being advocated? An area of vital importance is the concept of the ministry of God’s Word. The preacher has tremendous influence and his role is critical.
Traditionally assemblies have emphasized the truth that all are gifted by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 12:7) and the assembly should encourage such gift to be developed. In their meetings various brothers have been encouraged to speak and a professional ministry has been avoided. Opportunity has been afforded for such gift exercise (1 Cor. 14:26).
Men who felt called to full-time Christian work were free to serve the Lord as He directed them. Some might engage in an itinerant evangelistic or teaching ministry (2 Cor. 11:26). Some might stay for several years in a church planting ministry (Acts 20:31) until elders and gifts are raised up. Their goal was not to dominate or do all the speaking but to see the body develop.
These men, whether missionaries abroad or at home, lived a life of faith, being supported by gifts. There were no salaries, no pledges. They trusted God to supply their needs through individuals, such as Lydia (Acts 16:15), or through various churches (Phil. 4:15). The worker was free and so were the churches.
Today there is a push on to change this. Any itinerant ministry is belittled and a permanent resident worker is viewed as vital to the progress of a work. Big, independent churches with a strong, charismatic preacher are held up as models. This man should be given a respectable salary and made the leader of the church. Local elders are simply not gifted enough to draw large crowds. And numbers are the bottom line of church growth. This worker may be called a pastor-teacher, pastor, or resident worker, but it is hard to distinguish his role from that of a good Baptist minister.
Another area that flows from this concept is the attitude toward finances. In times past, assemblies stressed that the worker went out in faith, trusting the Lord to supply his needs. Solicitation of funds, salaries, and pledges were considered incompatible with such a stand. George Mueller even refused to publish a financial statement for his orphanages when finances were slim. He would spread his need before God and not man.
Paul and the other workers of the first century saw their needs met through individuals and churches. Many times they would work with their hands to meet their needs (Acts 20:34). Their ministry was above reproach as far as money was concerned. The example of men such as Groves, Mueller, Chapman, and others in the last century encouraged Hudson Taylor and other groups to follow faith principles.
Today the faith principle for workers is being abandoned by some and the computer is being embraced. Salaries are now being advocated. (Why should preachers have the uncertainty of a life of faith?) Computerized mailing lists are being used increasingly to solicit funds by some who should know better. Begging is blatant; specific funds are mentioned as needed. The reader is made to feel a weight of guilt if he does not contribute. Missionaries may come home; a building project will not be completed. And you will be guilty of having hindered God’s work by not giving! These tactics are absolutely foreign to the spirit of the New Testament. They degrade the character of God and shame His servants. To inform people of the work you are doing is one thing; to solicit funds is quite another.
Another area where change is advocated is the role of women in the church. Assemblies used to take the instruction of Scripture in 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 quite literally. In the meetings of the whole church for worship and instruction women were encouraged to be silent as far as leading the group in prayer or speaking. Their sphere of leadership was with women and children.
Today these Scriptures are being reinterpreted by some to allow more active participation in church meetings. Some go as far as to say that there should be no difference in the roles in the churches. Others may limit the participation by restricting the teaching to men; but this is difficult to enforce. When does exhortation cease to be exhortation and become teaching? The end result is that women will be leading the whole church in prayer and worship, occupying a role of leadership.
Another area that is seeing change is that of the Lord’s Supper, the Breaking of Bread. In the past the Lord’s Supper was viewed as a very important meeting of the church. At least every Sunday there was a time of corporate worship as the assembly remembered the Lord’s death (Acts 20:7; 2:42). This was characteristic of the first century churches.
Today there is a tendency in some quarters to view this time as a second-class meeting. The preaching service on Sunday morning is viewed as the most important meeting. The Lord’s Supper is treated less important and fewer people come. In some cases too it is now being conducted more as a testimony meeting, and the worship aspect is rather thin. Is it a healthy sign if we belittle worship?
Assemblies need to be aware of the changes taking place in the churches around them and of the desire of some to make radical changes within. There are many areas where we can be flexible and innovative. But men in leadership need to restudy Scripture and come to some resolute convictions about the principles mentioned above. What do we believe about the role of the full-time worker and his support? What do we believe about the faith principle for the maintenance of God’s work? With all the pressure of women’s lib in the world we need to know what we believe about the role of women in the church. Also, is the Lord’s Supper still a vital, precious time of worship in your fellowship?
We do not call for a return to man’s traditions but to a careful study of God’s Word and to convictions that will stand against the currents of the world rather than being swept along with them. Let us suggest to our brethren whose convictions have changed that they leave and start a new work. There is plenty of room for evangelism and church planting, but leave assemblies alone that wish to follow a more simple path. Do not be a Trojan horse in the midst of God’s people.