One of the staple teachings I had growing up in the Stanton Church of Christ was the idea that truth never changes. Therefore, if any church had ever changed their doctrines, you could be assured it was not the True Church, because 1 Tim 3:15 says the True Church is the pillar and the ground of the unchanging truth.
The only problem is that the church has most definitely changed its doctrines over the years. That’s the purpose of the May Meetings, in fact…to discuss doctrine and reach conclusions for the sake of “unity.” Invariably, each May Meeting creates a flurry of excitement around all the “new understandings” of scripture “brought back” from the meeting.
These “church councils,” which are nothing more than the equivalent of the Baptist convention, where the Baptists get together to decide their doctrinal updates for the year, have produced some remarkable changes in doctrine. However, it’s been my experience that members will not admit that doctrines have changed–ever. To admit this is to admit that The Church doesn’t have a lock on truth, and that other people might just have a better grasp of what is true than they do. This cannot be admitted at any cost, so it’s better in their minds to deny that doctrines have changed at all.
Nevertheless, here is an abbreviated list of doctrines that clearly HAVE changed over the years. I apologize in advance for some sexual references, but these teachings are very embedded into the culture of the church, so they have to be addressed. I’ve tried to do so tactfully. 🙂
- Women didn’t used to be able to wear jeans with a zippered fly because they interpreted a verse in the Old Testament about a woman wearing “that which pertaineth to a man” to prohibit it. Eventually, they reached a “new understanding,” and somehow, without ever changing their doctrine, they could suddenly wear jeans with a zippered fly. My wife and I questioned this doctrine when we first started visiting as adults, and we were counseled that we couldn’t understand this teaching because we didn’t yet have the Holy Spirit. I’ve often wondered, since they now agree with my opinion at the time, who in that room actually did have the Holy Spirit?
- Families couldn’t go on vacations under Merie Weiss, or at best, it was severely looked down upon as very worldly. Now, family vacations are apparently acceptable, but the rules are that you have to ask permission (aka “seek counsel”) from your Teacher, and it can’t interfere with any church function, such as Bible classes, knocking on doors, non-member classes, fellowships, etc.
- It never used to be okay for members to visit another congregation over a Sunday. Now they seem to be okay with it if they get permission (“seek counsel”) from their Teacher.
- They used to actively question people about their private sexual lives (for which they use the euphemism of “uncleanness”) and withdraw fellowship from them based on their responses. They apparently no longer withdraw for this.
- They used to teach that married sex had to be face to face, 6 to 12 inches apart, and a scripture was misquoted from the Old Testament to support this. I called them out on the misquoted verse when we were still questioning the church doctrines in Ontario, and eventually, my wife and I got an apology about the misquoted verse. In time, I believe the “face to face” rule went away (although I’m not positive), but I’m not sure about the 6 to 12 inch rule (or where in the world they got that rule in the first place).
- Married couples were taught not have sex too often, and in a ludicrous use of the English language, they pulled out the archaic King James era word “chambering” for this. Unfortunately, the word really means illicit sex; generally a male wantonly bedding females. [Note: I’ve recently been made aware that this doctrine hasn’t changed, so I may be moving it to another page listing the church’s rules for marital sex at a later date.]
- Married couples were taught not to have sex on Saturday night, because it’s too close to Sunday. I am not positive if this has changed.
- Going into another church’s place of worship used to be completely forbidden. There appears to be some leeway on this doctrine now. Perhaps it requires “special permission” from a teacher? I don’t want to get anyone in trouble here, so I won’t publish details of incidents I’m aware of. 😉
- It used to be taught that an elder had to have a “good reputation within and without” both before and after his baptism. I called them out on this in an email discussion with my mom (years after I’d left, by the way), and she took this back to her Teachers for discussion. Amazingly, they changed their “understanding” and it is now taught as applying to a man’s reputation after baptism. (Of course, this hasn’t changed the fact that, in over 40 years of existence, their churches have not one single eldership in place. The first century church had congregations with elders within the first few years of existence.)
- Marriages used to be broken up under the guise of an “unscriptural marriage,” and they still are, but the criteria have changed. I clearly remember the excitement in the air when, after one May Meeting, it was decided that one man we knew and his ex-wife (whom the church had separated) were able to get back together after something like 10 years of separation. All we could think about was how evil the first teaching had been, and that now they were trying to go back and say “whoops, we’ve come to a ‘better understanding’ now.” The family had been devastated, kids separated from their parents, and faith in God rocked to its core.
- Women couldn’t wear loud nail polish in the old days. This changed sometime in the 90’s.