Motives and Misnomers (Image Vol 9, No 1 – Jan/Feb 1993)

By Matt Dabbs

By Mike Root

I was very uncomfortable in the white dinner jacket and black bow tie, but it was the Junior-Senior Banquet, and as a high school senior I was one of the honored guests. As we made our formal appearance in the banquet room with our dates, each one of the graduating seniors was given a gift (actually a gag gift), which was directly connected to the juniors’ predictions for us. As we walked in I was handed a protest sign that had several preacher protests on it, like “Fewer Funerals = Fewer Weddings – Higher Pay,” and such like. The prediction was that I would lead a preacher’s protest in an effort to change the things I saw as wrong. In other words, twenty-two years ago my peers predicted that I’d be a radical preacher. Boy, were they ever wrong!

If you told my three on-the-go-never-a-dull-moment kids that their dad was a radical, in three-part harmony they’d say, “Not!” If you listened to tapes of the series of sermon I did this past summer titled “Fundamentals of New Testament Christianity,” you’d probably say, “Wow, this guy’s really conservative.” Then again, if you talked to the few folks who are still reeling from the sermon I preached during “the formal Sunday morning worship” in my bare feet (you guessed it – “how beautiful are the feet of those…”), you’d probably hear words like “liberal,” “wild,” and “non-traditional.”

It’s kind of fun to collect titles, because there’s a new one every day. “He’s that preacher who thinks you don’t have to wear a tie to church,” I heard someone say about me once. So I’m the “No Tie Preacher,” although I wear one every Sunday. I’m one of the “change for the sake of change” preachers, though I have never advocated any change without good reason for it; and I have been called an “anti-tradition preacher,” though I have never been against any tradition unless it was made law.

Then there is the implied label of “radical” that is attached to a growing group of preachers and teachers. You know who they are don’t you? The ones calling for change, transition, or rethinking. The radicals who call for balance, relevancy, and culutral adaptation. Those new interpreters of the Bible who believe that relationships are more important than rituals, that love is superior to laws, and that grace really works. To them, “Old Time Religion” is nineteen-hundred-plus years old, not half a century. They like new ideas, meaningful assemblies, and appealing programs. They love the Word of God and demand that it be accurately interpreted and its spirit meticulously obeyed.

I guess I am part of that group, but “radical”? No. Compared to the Apostle “I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some” Paul, this group of radicals are puppies. When compared to that sunburned carpenter from Nazareth, that radical rabbi, who had the nerve to suggest that “the Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath,” well, we’re just “dyed in the wool conservatives.”

Why do we keep our religious labeling gun loaded and cocked? Is that not the result of a judgmental spirit? Can we not disagree with someone without categorizing them, generalizing them, and criticizing them? Why do we assume the worse about a brother or sister in Christ? Are they really undermining the church, being disloyal to the truth, and threatening the very foundation of our beliefs? Isn’t is possible for someone with new ideas, challenging questions, and fresh approaches to have pure motives? Is it possible that what appears to be radical may actually be extremely fundamental?

What if the motivation is love?

Since “there is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18), there is motivation to relook, rethink, and renew. When love is the dominating force, there is no fear o change, tough questions, or even doubt. Love causes people to wonder what works best or is the most effective; it’s concerned with relevance, needs, and pleasing God; and “what will this lead to” is a statement of excitement rather than a voiced paranoia. Love causes folks to demand honesty and consistency when interpreting Scripture, and believe it or not, love causes preachers to point out that traditions are not doctrine. They may be wonderful and appropriate traditions, but sometime they’ve been put in concrete when they need to be put on the shelf. Love must always be patient, kind, humble, and unselfish; but it also “rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:4-6).

What if the motivation is the Lord?

Is “What would Jesus do? simply a cliche or is it a legitimate guideline for living? If someone is truly committed to developing the mind of Christ by having a deep heart-level relationship with him, wouldn’t you expect them to emphasize lordship over law? Can a radically changed life be expected to conform? Is it possible that some of the “agents of change” simply want “Christ and him crucified” to be the center of all we do? Maybe they are not so sinister after all. Maybe there is no Satanic conspiracy, but rather people who live by Paul’s admonition: “Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:2-3). Sure, there are folks who preach and teach for all the wrong reasons, but there are plenty who minister out of a sincere devotion to Jesus and seek only to please him.

What if the motivation is loyalty?

Obviously, there must be loyalty to love and to the Lord but I am referring to another level of loyalty that is of particular interest to the churches of Christ – loyalty to the Restoration Plea. There have been several pleas recently to humbly and compassionately consider the needs of those who are seriously threatened by any change in the church. To these articles and personal statements I have and will offer a hearty amen! No child of God can read 1 Corinthians 8-14 and Romans 13-15 and not recognize the responsibility we have to be considerate, kind, loving and willing to restrict our liberty for the sake of others. But is it wrong to call for consistency in applying the Restoration Plea? Is it no longer important to be simply and only New Testament Christians and to do Bible things in Bible ways? Is the Restoration over? Have we made it back? If we are not consistent in speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent, we destroy not only our own credibility, but also our plea.

Personally, I believe the time has never been better for a resurgence of the Restoration Movement. People are returning to churches by the droves, and we need to challenge them with the call to restore New Testament Christianity. That’s what makes us unique – not our traditions, methods, or structures. We’ve spent so much time and energy making noise about silence that we’ve forgotten the loud message that the world needs to hear: “Let’s do what they did in the New Testament times.” Hopefully, there is really nothing radical about going back to the Bible and checking to  make sure that we are “handling accurately the word of truth.”

The tradition of labeling will probably never die, but maybe labels would be assigned less frequently if folks would take the time to discover the motivation of the one to be labeled. If they were motivated by love for the Lord and a loyalty to his Word the only name they should be called is brother (or sister – I wouldn’t want to be labeled a “sexist”)

Mike Root – Ft. Worth, TX

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This author published 1598 posts in this site.
Matt is the preaching minister at the Auburn Church of Christ in Auburn, Alabama. He and Missy have been married 12 years and are raising two wonderful boys, Jonah and Elijah. Matt is passionate about reaching and discipling young adults, small groups, and teaching. Matt is currently the editor and co-owner of


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