Circumstantial Evidence

How Much Is Enough?

There are those who would quickly dismiss circumstantial evidence as worthless and of no consequence, but there are others in the world of jurisprudence who have made the case for the power of accumulated circumstantial evidence. The reasoning goes something like this: The weight of one piece of circumstantial evidence would never be enough to convict anyone; but circumstantial evidence is much like one slender thread that, while insufficient of itself, when woven together with other pieces of circumstantial evidence can form a rope strong enough to hang a man. Before the turn of this century, churches, schools and other religious institutions have already found themselves at the end of such a rope, because they did not recognize the threads of compromise all so subtly collecting around their necks over a length of time. Much like the struggle against Neo-Evangelicalism over 60 years ago, it has been difficult to recognize all the errors introduced, because, separately, they seemed to have no significant impact on Fundamentalism at the time. With the advantage of hindsight now, however, we realize the truth of how it is "the little foxes that spoil the vine." We would do well to learn from such history, lest we repeat its mistakes. To that end, therefore, provided below is a checklist of sorts listing some of the issues and changes that have been introduced over the last 30 years around us. It is by no means inclusive, and you may wish to contribute other marks of change which you have witnessed, but it is a place to begin measuring a pattern that collectively spells serious changes afoot in too many ministries. Again, like circumstantial evidence, no single mark may define compromise by itself; but the combined impact of multiple individual weaknesses and seeming innocuous changes can be like so many individual dots that altogether form a picture more easily recognized for the dangers they represent. Check the list for yourself: Changes in the Local Church:

A. Worship:
1. Changes in Preaching:
[ ] Preaching time in a service has been reduced in comparison to other elements
[ ] Preaching has been reduced in substance and character:
[ ] There is less Scriptural exposition:
[ ] A poor or foreign (i.e. Reformed) homiletic is employed
[ ] Subject matter has become more psychological counseling than Scriptural exposition
[ ] Subject matter has become more formulary: 10 steps to... 5 steps to...
[ ] Subject matter more frequently focuses on Social/Political issues
[ ] Significant increased use/quotation of other resources than the Bible in the pulpit, such as books written by authors known to be outside our camp, which are offered positively and/or endorsed from the pulpit

2. Changes in Teaching in other local Church ministries: Such as Sunday School, children's clubs, teen ministries
[ ] Reduced time spent in actual teaching of Bible lessons
[ ] Obvious changes in published material used, marked by weaker or absent instruction regarding: Salvation, Baptism, the Lord's Table, living in obedience to God's Word and personal separation
[ ] Setting aside or revision of a Church Covenant: particularly the use of alcohol

3. Changes in Music:
[ ] Either a blend of Traditional and Contemporary, modified Contemporary (Getty Music, Sovereign Grace Music)or wholesale change to Contemporary music
[ ] A separate, Church endorsed, music program for Teens and children's ministries, where they do not learn any traditional hymns of the Church
[ ] Lack of sound doctrine in lyrics; Songs that could be sung almost anywhere, or songs that are repetitive (7-11songs)like a mantra
[ ] Musical presentations that mimic styles and performance characteristics, commonly found in worldly entertainment settings and more glorifying of men than the Lord

4. Changes in Services:
[ ] Steps towards catering to the convenience of people, such as Saturday evening services
[ ] Changes in normal attire commended for worship, to a more casual appearance in both dress and grooming, both in the pulpit and among the congregation
[ ] Increased concern for what people want or are "seeking" in worship and a willingness to make changes to appease people

7. Alternate Bible versions:
[ ] Gravitation away from verbal translations towards greater aceptance of broader dynamic equivalency

B. Changes in Church Polity and Leadership:
[ ] Adoption of, or de facto practice, of Elder Rule, by whatever terms used
[ ] Failure of a Church to uphold congregational polity and participation
[ ] Adoption of a "Member Covenant" of loyalty to a Church Oligarchy of leaders or the pastor

C. Change in Mission Objectives:
[ ] Less evangelistic fervor and more social ministries and activities
[ ] Counseling defined and practiced as a separate ministry from preaching, teaching

D. Changes in Testimony:
[ ] The removal of the term "Baptist" from the Church name
[ ] Tacit acceptance of social drinking, dancing, movies (at home or in theater)
[ ] Encouragement to Church members to "fit in" better with unbelievers in order to be a witness to them
[ ] Recommendation of ministry resources from outside our camp, for needs perceived to be outside the work or expertise of the local Church
[ ] Participation in community activities that have an ecumenical character

Other Changes across a broader range of issues that are also potential warning signs:
[ ] Clear evidence of abandonment of doctrinal statements, positional papers, even though they are still published as current and active; as revealed in actual practice, preaching, teaching and even openly contradicted by other more recent official communications
[ ] The credentials and degrees earned or being sought by pastors, missionaries, school faculty, agency executives, etcetera, from schools, institutions and organizations that are clearly outside the camps of Fundamentalism, Separatism and/or Baptist doctrine
[ ] Awards, Commendations bestowed, venues shared by pastors, missionaries, evangelists, school faculty, agency executives, etcetera, from institutions and organizations that are clearly outside the camps of Fundamentalism, Separatism and/or Baptist doctrine
[ ] Missionary ministries that have become more materially and socially oriented than evangelistic, as reflected in their budget allocations, personnel assignments and activities
[ ] The use of acronyms in place of the full or historic name of organizations, that obscure their Fundamentalist-Separatist-Baptist past and/or mask what they have now become

Obviously, there could be more checkpoints but the real question is how many of those listed above did you recognize? Are they just a few threads or have you found the makings of a rope?

Inquiring minds of Baptists should want to know how their money is being spent and how their names are being used to endorse ministries and institutions. To be careless about such things would be poor stewardship on our part, not to mention the lack of a clear testimony of what we believe from the Word of God. While accountability is ultimately unto God, among Baptists, leadership, in whatever venue, there is also accountability to the people of the Churches. Willfully blind faith in leaders will always tempt some to abuse the authority lent to them and to seek more power to be gathered into their own hands. Neither belongs in anything called Baptist. The remedy rests with the members of the Church and supporters of institutions, so that an open and honest declaration is made of everything being done in their name.

Perhaps this checklist can be of use as a beginning point for a conversation between pastors and people, school executives and parents of students and their pastors, about the direction and future of our churches and institutions.

Dr. Charles L. Dear
January 2009