Sunday, November 04, 2007

"Utter Failures" of Christ

Many American Christians are embracing independent churches without denominational affiliations on the seeming assumption that such churches promote a greater level of authentic Christianity than denominational churches. Many of these believers will differentiate the "spirituality" promoted by nonaffiliated churches and the "religion" offered by the denominations. Be that as it may, there can be little doubt that this article in The Tennessean is sadly correct in its assertion that the growth of independent churches will result in more congregations becoming embroiled in lawsuits.

The article emphasizes that this will occur (and is already occurring) for at least two reasons. First, churches that are a part of historic denominations tend to have structures for resolving disputes over finances and church governance. Unaffiliated congregations frequently lack these structures. Second, independent churches tend to be built around charismatic personalities who are permitted extraordinary discretion and little accountability with regard to church finances and authority. Both laymen and Christian leaders might be more circumspect about that tendency if they took the time to consider the implications of the Christian doctrine of original sin and the susceptibility of the very best of us to succumb to temptation, but doctrinal teaching tends not to be a strong point of these megachurches, and charismatic leadership and pragmatism, not thoughtful Christian reasoning, tend to rule the day. The result has sometimes been poor judgement: sometimes, scandalously poor judgement.

Another tendency in modern churches that is important in this regard, but not discussed in the article, is the modern tendency of American Christians to "church shop." Rather than invest themselves in churches with which their families will form deep relationships, American Christians increasingly tend to be consumers seeking out churches that will meet their perceived needs. People deeply invested in a community are less likely to sue their neighbors than those who move around frequently and never become so deeply involved.

The results of all of this are thoroughly unbiblical. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul told the Corinthians that their inability to resolve conflicts internally and their resorting to the civil courts represented an "utter failure" of the body of Christ (I Cor. 6:7). Paul asked the Corinthians why they could not manage to agree on one wise person to arbitrate the conflict and then suggested that it would be better to give in on an issue than to resort to suing fellow Christians. That is no less true today.


Blogger gavin richardson said...

i think some attribute has to go to the rising use of our court system to solve almost all our disputes. no one is able to be accountable and admit a fault and then try to find a suitable place to rebuild, so we need someone else to tell who is in the wrong doing.

what i found interesting in the article is the mention of independent churches, but isn't two rivers part of the southern baptist convention, and wouldn't the two missionary baptist churches be considered connected? or is anything labeled baptist a solely congregation on its own?

12:49 PM  
Blogger gavin richardson said...

to add.. this article really does just focus one local angle. there has been many denominational disputes over land ownership in the last few years with churches that find doctrinal disagreement with the greater church they are a part of that have taken to the court system. generally the greater church is the owner of the property where the congregation is the purveyor of the property. which causes a big problem when the congregation wants to leave but keep the building. the episcopal church & methodist churches have encountered this.

12:51 PM  
Blogger MCO said...

Gavin, per your second comment, you are correct that in the particular circumstance you describe, denominational affiliation and ownership of property are the cause of lawsuits.

Regarding your first comment, while those Baptist churches are part of denominations, the Baptist denomination is so loosely affiliated that the denomination exercises no real control and rarely exercises discipline of any sort. The Baptists lack the structures in that regard that most of the historic Protestant denominations have, and they are fiercely independent historically.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Thomas+ said...

The Episcopalians seems to be having a jolly old time suing each other. And, this trend is only going to increase over the next decade as that denomination unravels. It would be lovely to see some of the leaders in that group decide to let each other go, rather than going to the courts, but we will see. Of course, this might just prove your point. They are disconnected, so they sue. Not sure.

11:04 PM  
Blogger MCO said...

Thomas, while those lawsuits are also unfortunate and embarrassing for the church, they are somewhat different in that they are typically between the church and the denomination and concern the ownership of property. The new trend involves lawsuits between members of congregations, or between laypeople and their congregational leadership, and often include claims of impropriety.

8:02 AM  

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