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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