The Oak Hills Church, a Model


     Historians and sociologists have a number of tools that they employ in establishing trends and being able to predict future happenings. One way of engaging in such studies is by establishing what constitutes a model and then observing the model. The apostle Paul constituted a model, if you will, as far as faithful Christians are concerned. It was he was wrote, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (I Cor. 11: 1). Hence, one can predict based on Paul's life and model what Christians who emulate Paul will do and will become. Relative to "churches of Christ," there are a number of influences at work. One influence that continues is the influence of liberalism and progression. John warns of becoming progressive when he wrote: "Whosoever transgresseth, and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God…" (2 Jn. 9). According to some of the better manuscripts, the verb translated transgresseth is proago. W. E. Vine simply comments on proago as follows: "…To lead forth…In 2 John 9…(marg., 'taketh the lead') the R. V. renders it 'goeth onward…of not abiding in the doctrine of Christ" (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Many consider the Oak Hills Church as the model for digression within churches of Christ.

     There was an article that appeared in the San Antonio Express-News (September 06, 2003) that is of historic interest and importance relative to the Oak Hills Church. I submit that in this article we see the current status of the Oak Hills Church. We also see where many churches of Christ are moving, since the Oak Hills Church is considered a model by many churches of Christ that are already espousing progressive thinking and are not content to simply "abide in the doctrine of Christ."

     Oak Hills drops "Church of Christ." This is the title or caption of the article written by Lisa Rivas, staff writer for the San Antonio Express-News. A number have been watching the direction of the Oak Hills Church of Christ, including your author, to see what would happen next. Max Lucado, a popular preacher and author, has preached for the church for about fifteen years and has steadily exerted leadership that has been progressive and against biblical teaching. There have been many introductions into the work and worship of the Oak Hills Church of Christ that have been disturbing to conservatively minded Christians. Regarding the dropping of "Church of Christ," the author of the article quotes Max Lucado as saying, "When it comes to strategy, when it comes to approach, we want to do whatever seems most effective at the time." Lucado continued, "Some find the Church of Christ name to be an insurmountable barrier."

     The New Testament does not present an official name for the church that Jesus established. However, we do clearly find the designating phrase "churches of Christ" (Rom. 16: 16). I believe it is significant that the expression "churches of Christ" is not usually capitalized in the translation. One reason is that the translators realized that "churches of Christ" is not an official name but rather a descriptive designation. Still, what is wrong with collectively designating God's people as "churches of Christ"? Christ established the church, he is married to the church, and he is the head over the church (Matt. 16: 18, 19; Eph. 5: 22ff.; Eph. 1: 22, 23).

     Total emphasis on numbers. It is apparent from the news paper article that the Oak Hills Church has become so interested in increasing the attendance that is already in the thousands that they have no real concern about doctrinal purity. One member who was interviewed said in regards to the changes, "We are going to receive people who will visit here who might not have (before)." Christians are to be interested in the lost, but when such interest blurs doctrinal loyalty, the interest is not biblical.

     The addition of musical instruments to the worship service. Max Lucado is quoted as saying, "We hope that renaming the church, opening new campuses and adding musical instruments to the worship service will help bring more people to Christ."

     The music of the First Century church was vocal or singing only (Eph. 5: 19, Col. 3: 16). Mechanical music was introduced centuries later and was then the result of the desire to entertain and make the worship more pleasing to man. Lucado, though, believes that they can attract more people by adding mechanical music. How far does one carry such thinking. For instance, shacking up is becoming more common today. Therefore, should the church cease to recommend marriage and start sanctioning fornication? (Heb. 13: 4, I Cor. 7: 2ff., some religions are now openly endorsing premarital sex, believing they can attract more young people to their churches).

     Churches of Christ, as set forth in the New Testament, are distinctly singular and different. They do not function on the criterion of electing to practice and believe certain matters because of popularity (Gal. 1: 10). As mentioned, a number have been watching the movements of Max Lucado for years and have noticed many alarming practices. Lucado has openly advocated fellowshipping that which is contrary to the teaching of the New Testament and has traded pulpits with many denominational preachers in his area. Lucado has not only practiced doctrinal softness but he has insisted that others follow his example.

     According to the news paper article, Vic King, minister of missions and outreach at Oak Hills, is not concerned about their direction. "Vic King said that the staff doesn't expect a lot of members to leave over the changes," said editor Rivas. Regarding the name change, King said the following:

     "It's the sign that we are changing. We are changing to a sign that more accurately reflects who we are."

     Others and I are glad that Oak Hills has dropped "church of Christ." Alas, many apostates have sought to retain "church of Christ" and such only causes confusion and false identity. It is good that King, Lucado, and the Oak Hills Church has severed all association with churches of Christ.

     Vic King is quoted as also offering the following explanation for the introduction of musical instruments, as quoted by Rivas:

     "Most Churches of Christ feature only a cappella singing, a tradition King said is based on the absence of the use of instruments in the New Testament churches. But for the first time, Oak Hills will add instruments to a new Sunday evening service, which will be geared toward young adults and will begin early next year."

     Through the years, I have observed the strong impetus for change being to "…attract more people" and "…we must please the young people." It seems Oak Hills has reversed the order: Instead of the mature leading the young in the way of truth, compromise is made to placate the young. The young then become the ones to decide what is the present course of the church. "If we do not placate the young, we will loose them to the world and denominationalism," I have been told. Therefore, some prostitute the Lord's church.

     Salvation experienced before salvation. Amidst the change taking place at Oak Hills, there has also been a change in the perceived role baptism plays in salvation. The scriptures clearly present water baptism that follows belief, repentance, and confession of Jesus' deity as being necessary, for the remission of sins, and the means of gaining entry into Jesus Christ, where salvation is obtained (Acts 10: 48; Acts 2: 38, 22: 16; Gal. 3: 26, 27, 2 Tim. 2: 10). Rivas wrote based on her interviews with Oak Hills representatives:

     "Oak Hills' core values are similar to those of other evangelical churches, emphasizing the need for faith in Jesus' sacrificial death and resurrection for salvation. Oak Hills also believes salvation doesn't come through baptism, but that baptism is the initial step of obedience after salvation."

     The teaching of Oak Hills stands in sharp contrast to the teaching of the New Testament. When people asked what to do to be saved, they were instructed concerning baptism, as well as other pertinent matters (Acts 2: 37-47). Oak Hills, though, believes baptism follows salvation.

     The Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, stands before all churches that seek to become progressive. Change the worship service, put in place a new government and structure for the local church, and change the plan of salvation to attract the masses is the statement resonating from the example of Oak Hills. Alas, many churches of Christ are following in the steps of Oak Hills. In view of the warnings in the New Testament and statements that apostasy will be ongoing, it should be no surprise when such happens (cp. Acts 20: 28ff., I Cor. 11: 19). We must remember, though, that to become progressive means, "…hath not God" (2 Jn. 9). If others must follow the lead of the Oak Hills Church, I would that they also drop "church of Christ." As Vic King said, "We are changing to a sign that more accurately reflects who we are."