Friday, August 06, 2004

The Transition of Max Lucado and the Oak Hills Church of Christ

I first heard Max Lucado at an author's breakfast in Boise, Idaho. I think it was his first book tour. A Christian bookstore in Boise invited community ministers to hear him. As a minister in the non-instrumental Church of Christ, Max did not join in the singing at that occasion.

Over the years, Max's writing was widely accepted and acknowledged. I have always appreciated his work and have read several of his books and approved others as study material for various Bible classes. I've often cited him in messages and quoted him in material I've written.

A bit better than two years ago, a controversy arose in the church about the nature and purpose of baptism. Several families objected to the explanation of how to become a Christian posted on the church's web site. On that section of the web site, I had indicated that an individual is saved by grace, through faith, at baptism, for good works. It is my conviction that the Bible clearly teaches this and that it is the historic position of the Restoration Movement. Those who objected insisted they were saved before baptism and that baptism was for membership in a local congregation.

This controversy led to some research to see how other Restoration congregations stated the place of baptism. One of the places searched was that of the Oak Hills Church of Christ in San Antonio. At that time, the web site carried a full explanation of the place of baptism as far as they were concerned. (A search today reveals that this material is no longer easily accessed.) At that time, individuals could become members of the Oak Hills Church of Christ without being immersed. Such members, however, could not be leaders or teachers without being immersed. This struck me as a bit strange because independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ had endured substantial tension and division early in the 20th century over "open membership" -- the receiving of the "pious unimmersed" into fellowship. The Oak Hills statement seemed to indicate that a church among the non-instrumental wing of the movement had adopted an open membership policy. Lucado's message was fairly typical, but he had softened the traditional position that insists that baptism is for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38). His message sounded very much like that heard in most evangelical churches today.

About six months later, a couple from the church returned from a visit to San Antonio where they visited the Oak Hills Church of Christ. They brought with them printed material indicating that the church was making some dramatic changes. First, the church was changing its name from the Oak Hills Church of Christ to Oak Hills Church. Second, they were adding two worship services that would be accompanied by instrumental music. Those who visited were excited about the changes because they saw in those changes a growing acceptance of the segments of the Restoration Movement from which the Oak Hills Church had long been separated due to differences over the use of instrumental music.

The next step in the transition of the Oak Hills Church and Max Lucado came when he was quoted in Christianity Today and other religious news periodicals as no longer believing that baptism was essential for salvation.

A trip to the current Oak Hills Church web site at reveals that the congregation has taken additional steps away from traditional Restoration Movement positions per se let alone the traditional positions of the non-instrumental wing of the movement. The current statement of beliefs is written carefully so as to avoid taking a strong stand on the importance of the place of baptism. In one sense that is good, because many in the movement have made baptism the "end all, be all" of salvation leading to the charge of "water regenerationists." However, it seems to be a statement that can be interpreted any number of ways. Those holding the traditional view will not find it offensive (I just demonstrated that above), but those who come from a "faith only" background will not find it difficult to accept either!

There is one other statement in the Oak Hills "creed" that I find a bit disturbing. The last sentence in the section on salvation says, "Those who truly believe are secure and safe in God’s grace and cannot lose their salvation" (John 10:27-29). This statement, when carelessly read, can mislead. The statement seems to support the view of those who hold to "perseverance of the saints," the old "once saved always saved" view. Those who have heard all their lives that "once you're saved you're always saved" would have no difficulty with this statement, but I do not think the statement is saying what they believe. There is a very fine line between assurance of salvation and "once saved, always saved." The former is biblical, the latter grows out of Calvinism.

In my view, I wonder if the changes in practice and wording grow out of a renewed understanding of biblical authority or if it is simply doing what is practical (pragmatic) in appealing to a wider audience. I would be euphoric if those who once ostracized me because I worshiped with instruments now recognized the fallacy of their logic in interpreting Scripture and no longer believed use of musical instruments was a sin. I am less than ecstatic because it seems like the abandonment of principles once held dear results from pragmatism rather than biblical authority.

How do you see it?


Carla said...

Sounds the same to me. Pragmatism seems to be today's number one factor rather than "What does God teach in his word, the Bible."

Anonymous said...

I would say that Max Lucado is a hero and a model for us in the RM movement.

The people in your old church were right for being excited and right for challenging your dogmatic, legalistic theological assertions. Yeah Max!!