Thursday, September 25, 2008

Authority and the Church P. I

Alright, kids. I'm going to be posting a debate over the next while I had with a couple of well-meaning house-churchers. You can make up your own minds about the validity/invalidity of the participants' comments. Suneal, feel free to throw in your part in the debate if you want. If not, that's cool, too.

My comments will be in black, and TJG's will be in red. Let's play!

lets look at the way the body of Christ is controled by men and women who somehow think they have authority over the body by some kind of decree, ordination, position. Lets look at this and find out what the truth is.

I like Truth!! John 8:31,32; 17:17

I'm not sure I quite agree with the implication of your wording, TJG. In particular, I disagree with the implications that follow from "men and women who somehow think they have authority over the body by decree, ordination, position."

First, the implication here is that those who are taking up a place of leadership within the church are somehow strong-arming the rest of the body; or at least attempting to. I think it would be disingenuous to assume this of people in leadership simply because they're in a place of leadership in a model of church that may, or may not be representative of Christ's intentions for His people.

Many leaders are where they are at simply because they have been approved by local congregations to teach, preach, and counsel. I could fire off at least a dozen names of men who love serving others, and don't see their positions in leadership as a way to manipulate control over the fold. And further, assuming this of leadership is an abrogation of our responsibilities under the 8th commandment, to "not bear false witness against our neighbours." As Martin Luther explained regarding the 8th commandment, we should strive to "put the best construction on everyone." Or, in other words, assume the best of them until they have proven the worst of themselves.

Second, as you once explained to me, ordination simply means 'appointment'. You're exactly right! By implication then, the local congregations (who are part of the Body of Christ) that elect, or appoint someone to lead them are doing so as a God-given right. And, as Paul says, "all things are permissable, but not everything is beneficial" (1 Cor. 10:23). So if they want someone to lead them, they are free in Christ to seek that out.

This is not the same thing as desiring a king, just to look into that for a second. In the Old Testament, the King did not fulfill a priestly role, and was barred access from the Holy of Holies. With Christ, we are all given access to the Holy of Holies -- the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9). With Christ we have our Lord and King. We also have our Prophet and Priest. So to elect, or appoint a person to lead us is roughly on the same level as seeking out a tutor for math, or English, or what have you. The intention for a leader within the local church is not to have a king, but a guide and teacher. I think that's perfectly well and fine, to be honest, since not all of us should presume to be teachers (James 3:1), and not all of us have been given the same gifts (1 Cor. 12:28-30). We should all work together with what God has given each of us. For some, that includes teaching. And since God has marked their lives out with such an appointment, or gift, why would we deny that simply to be different from a model of church we have a hard time appreciating?

Can we say that there has been and presently is a departing from the scriptural basis that leaders are functioning in?

Has been: All through Christian history one communion has kicked at the goads of another, yes. And to that end, they've claimed that the 'other' is being unbiblical. The nascent Catholic Church, for example, ram-rodded the Donatists for their rigorism, and pleasantly off-base understanding of purity and the eucharist. Wycliffe was brushed under the carpet for his pre-Lutheran attempt to rain Scripture down on the masses with an English version. Huss was burned at the stake while his supporters rallied scriptural bullets to riddle the philistine Catholics. Then there's Luther: he was given a shake for tacking thoughts to a door, and following through on their logical conclusion; the chagrin ran high on both sides of the electorates.

In the end, the past has seen a good deal of abuse in the leadership of the Church; there's been a good deal of abuse of the leadership of the Church, too. A swarthy distinction, but pertinent.

Present: No different than the past except that word gets 'round a little faster these days. The political stakes are just as high, and the same bodies of believers are still doing the pee-pee dance while denying the right to the 'other' to use the facilities, you know what I mean? In other words, it's all just b.s., and part of what people do when they organise with a common cause. Doesn't make it okay, but until we're perfected in Christ, it won't go away.

Having said that, I have to ask a few questions in return: what makes you think that doing Church as a House Church will avoid any of the partitioning, and pandering that accompanies conventional churches? And just to keep in focus with your question a little more, why do you think a house church model will avoid the pitfalls and downswings of churches as they've been through the centuries? The leadership is still there and just as easily compromised, so what really changes apart from location and liturgy?

Just because a body of believers allows themselves to depart from what the bible gives us as acceptable leadership, is that body, then free of correction or even rebuke?

No, but are they forbidden to do what best suits their needs, if by doing so they're not sinning?

When I wrote about the body of Christ that is controlled by men or women my intent was to bring out the biblical model that we find in the scripture that would promote and define what authority if any a leader has and in what capacity is that person to function.

By comparison of what is the biblical norm concerning leadership, with what is common today we can contrast the differences between the two and filter out what is true with what is false. We can see the difference between those who follow the Lord’s ways and those who function contrary to the Lord’s ways.

Okay. I can accept a compare and contrast method, but it does have a fatal flaw: it is based on a static view of the object being studied. In this case, it's the Church and Church leadership. By comparing and contrasting the Church and its leaders as we see them in Scripture (a purely historical endeavour, it seems) with the Church as it is today (minus the house church for our purposes) we only see the black of what was, and the white of what it has become; there's no understanding of the grey shift that happened through history when the black morphed to white. It's just an examination of the early church versus an examination of the church of today.

The Church is more dynamic than that; it is a growing entity, a body of believers through history. It isn't simply two end-points on a timeline, as the compare and contrast method would accidentally promote. What are the reasons for the way Church has become? Why are those reasons right or wrong? What happened that Church leadership became what it is commonly understood to be? There are so many questions that need answering before we can simply state, 'the biblical church was right, and the modern church is wrong, therefore we'll be a house church because that seems biblical.'

But on a more reflective note, not everything is demarcated between what is 'right' and what is 'wrong'. I think God made that abundantly clear when He inspired St. Paul to pen the words (and I pointed this out earlier) "All things are permissable but not everything is beneficial." Clearly, some things require a moral judgement. At those junctures it behooves us to keep a clear, biblical stance on an issue. But I do have to question though, is the format that people choose to fellowship by morally wrong simply because we can establish this-and-that claim about another format evident in Scripture, namely, meeting in homes? I'd hesitate to answer 'yes'.

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