Thinking Out Loud

December 15, 2018

Denominational Hierarchies: Some Warning Signs

In the Catholic Church, the buck stops at The Vatican. In Evangelical churches, the buck stops with what the Bible says. But many find themselves in a middle ground where great authority is given to the head of the denominational body.

With most Evangelicals, current discussions prompted by Andy Stanley notwithstanding, the final authority for all things doctrinal is what “the Bible says.” The matter of where “the buck stops” is one of two things which separate us from our Roman Catholic friends, the other being the veneration of Mary.

In the Catholic Church, authority rests with the magisterium, ie. The Vatican or The Pope. But Evangelicals can easily fall into a similar mindset by vesting too much authority in what goes on at the denominational head office.

Consider these as warning signs:

  • A photograph of the head of the denomination appears in the church lobby, or perhaps even past heads.
  • Ecclesiastic terms for the denominational leader are used, such as ‘Bishop.’
  • You find the pastor frequently quoting the denominational head in sermons, or re-blogging their material on their own blog.
  • The denomination’s leader has written a book, and that book is available for purchase at all local churches. 
  • The denomination will on occasion produce a short video address by the head of the church, which must be shown in all churches.
  • The national head of your denomination is inaccessible to the common parishioner; unavailable for discussion or forums.
  • Frequently you hear terms like, “We received word from head office;” or “We’ve put in a request to head office;” or “We’re awaiting a decision by our President/Moderator/Bishop.”
  • The church is frequently visited by national and regional leaders who ‘bring greetings’ on behalf of the denomination.
  • There are frequent shifts in denominational policy, organizational structure, or even doctrinal interpretation on secondary beliefs and tenets.
  • Access to information about head office programs, initiatives and decisions is difficult to obtain.
  • You just ‘sense’ things aren’t right, but when you try to speak to your local church pastor or staff, your questions are dismissed.
  • The perceived attitude of invincibility at the national level is reflected at the local church level. Your pastor is never questioned or cannot be challenged.

Those are a few. If these are foreign to your experience, then you’ve been blessed. But if you’ve experienced this, perhaps you can comment, without being too specific, if I’ve omitted anything.

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January 27, 2012

Close Up: How Church Discipline Happens at Mars Hill Seattle

This is an article about how Mark Driscoll’s church — Mars Hill in Seattle, WA — handles church discipline issues and excommunication, presented anecdotally and in painstaking detail.

I have no hesitation in importing large amounts of text from other blogs if I think it means that people will actually read the subject matter in question, but in this case, you are indeed going to have to click, because the narrative is lengthy; but also because you need to reward all the work that went into making this story available.

In a two-part blog post,  Mark Driscoll’s Church Discipline Contract: Looking For True Repentance at Mars Hill Church? Sign on the Dotted Line and Mark Driscoll’s ‘Gospel Shame’: The Truth About Discipline, Excommunication, and Cult-like Control at Mars Hill author Matthew Paul Turner introduces us to a young man named Andrew.

Shortly after graduating from high school (he was homeschooled), Andrew wanted a change in scenery. The then Tennessee resident says he needed a change in scenery. He needed to get away. He needed to grow up. He needed to figure out what he was going to do with the rest of his life.

So when he turned 20, Andrew moved away from his quaint life in America’s Bible belt, and he moved to Seattle, and yes, in hopes of finding himself.

Once he was settled into life in the great Northwest, Andrew took the advice of an older sibling and visited Mars Hill Church, the congregational home of Mark Driscoll.

Andrew was born and raised Independent Fundamental Baptist, so not only was Andrew accustomed to Mark’s anger-laced fiery style of sermon, he had a deep appreciation for it. In the beginning, some of Mars Hill’s reformed theologies rubbed against Andrew’s Baptist roots, but Mark’s enthrallment for preaching “Jesus Christ crucified” eventually was what relieved Andrew’s doctrinal concerns, and it wasn’t long before he became a member. Soon thereafter, he was wading heart deep amid the friendly, committed Mars Hill community, becoming more and more comfortable in his born again reformed skin, guzzling the Driscollized water.

According to Andrew, joining Mars Hill was a good move for him. While he didn’t agree with every theological declaration that came out Mark Driscoll’s mouth, he loved his community, a devoted group of believers who seemed to love, support, and value him the way Jesus commanded. Over the next couple of years, Andrew became well connected. He volunteered. He became active in a community group. He even volunteered on Sundays as church security.

Toward the beginning of 2011, Andrew met and eventually began dating the daughter of a church elder at Mars Hill. The two fell in love quickly. Last fall, they were engaged to be married.

But shortly after becoming engaged, Andrew made a costly choice…

Again, here are the links:

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