When the 'licentiate' is 'ordained' we'll stay away. I don't recognize the authority of the presbytery. It, like all denominations are para-church organizations. This 'service' is nothing more than homage, a ceremony to clericalism. We'll stay away, but we'll return the following Sunday and try to keep encouraging others and hopefully be encouraged.
Assuming the model
For years I have listened to and read everything I can get my hands on when it comes to Church Membership and any kind of defense of Presbyterianism or Denominationalism. Not only have I not been convinced but I have moved ever further from the position. Time after time I watch men exercise flimsy arguments based off wild exegesis in their attempts to justify their practice.
They take verses that deal with true Church Membership...being a Christian and then make a massive leap assuming the validity of their Form-Bureaucratic system, mindset, and practice.
I watch for this very carefully. Often I'll hear a programme on Church Membership...45 minutes or an hour long and they never really even deal with any of the foundational issues. It's just a pragmatic attempt to deal with the individualism of our culture. Again, I'm against church shopping and non-commitment, but that doesn't justify this alternative model they've tried to impose on the Church.
I've been charged with exhibiting American Individualism in how I approach this issue. I sincerely ask...is that what I'm doing? Is that the basis of the argument I'm making against this system? Are my arguments just an expression of anti-authoritarian American culture?
They'll go on about our life in Christ, being part of the body, commitment, submission to authority, accountability, fellowship and all the rest. I agree with it, but it doesn't mean this Faction-system is justified.
Ironically it's all supposedly to promote unity. It's promoting schism. When a Christian family with nowhere to go can't be fully part of the Church by communing because they won't submit to a man-made system...the elders of that Church are in error and promoting schism.
I've met with many elders over the years and when I ask the simple question...where can I find this in Scripture?....the response is always the same...a blank look. Everyone just assumes the validity of the whole framework.
Sufficiency and simplicity
The Scriptures are sufficient for the life of the Church. Biblical Church government pictures congregations interacting and helping one another. The unity and bond is Spiritual it doesn't function like a government or corporate bureaucracy. I realize this isn't very helpful if trying to promote a national or societal vision, nor if you think the unity rests in some kind of clerical aristocracy or denomination. The Church doesn't need offices with file cabinets, secretaries typing at computers, it doesn't Roberts Rules of Order. It doesn't need to function using parliamentary procedure with committees and budgetary plans. It doesn't need tax identification numbers and corporate non-taxable bank accounts. It doesn't need the IRS to tell it how to structure itself and create trustees and by-laws.
The Scriptures present a very simple model, very modest and it's more than sufficient. Local congregations led by local elders who don't live in isolation. Big visions for society, desire for power, attempts to plug the Church into a large Sacral vision do not justify innovation and perhaps the better way to answer some of these questions is to re-assess the way they're being asked.
The 'stewardship' trap
Appealing to 'stewardship' or 'order' and using them as a blanket justification for creating endless new levels of bureaucracy has also been terribly abused. If a church in a neighbouring town is trying to help some orphans or battered women or something and you want to help, give them some money. Well without a bureaucracy we can't account for it, they might waste it. That's true. If you don't trust them then don't give it to them. In the end people seem to forget you're giving the money to the Lord. If they steal the money and run off to Mexico, it doesn't lessen what you did. That's focusing on the wrong thing. Sure, if you think they're misusing the money or wasting it, don't give them any more or perhaps give them less. This micro-managing money efficiency model at work in the Church and in how the Church relates to helping individuals is rooted more in our culture's attitudes and doctrines about money than it is Scripture. Often it is used as an excuse to disregard what the Bible says about money and giving.
The Biblical vision of the Church is much simpler and frankly appealing. The Presbyterian vision which is no different than many other factions is oppressive and in one sense dangerous in that professes to represent Biblical Christianity.
Signs of the times
We'll attend as long as we can...until they essentially drive us out for refusing to conform. I strongly dislike their system but I dislike staying at home even more. I pray that others will wrestle with these questions and eventually Remnant churches will begin to appear. I know of course of the House Church movement and in some senses I find it encouraging. I don't want to launch it all of that right now, but from what I've seen many of them are indeed rooted in cultural attitudes about individualism rejecting authority, an anti-intellectualism which is hostile to doctrine and an attempt to interact with historic Christianity, or in mistaken Charismatic notions. It is chaotic, but I don't think the answer is to create another organization. I would say we work where we are at, and work on the congregation we're a part of. Beyond that, I think we're to be patient and trust the Spirit to hold the Church together. I could say much more related to those issues, but that's all for another time.
Why this series?
I decided to write this because I know shortly I will be asked to give an account for why we didn't attend the ordination service and why we're refusing to 'join' even though our presence, our multi-month presence has shown we're already an integral part of the group. If you asked anyone there who are the families that are part of your church...ours would be named. When the 'pastor' talks about the families in the Church, he means ours as well.
But suddenly in a few months when they start incorporating 'membership' then lines will be drawn, and suddenly we'll be outside the camp. I will share this article with them or at least part of it.
Actions louder than words
In closing I'm reminded of a Reformed Congregation which decided to join with the Presbyterian system. They already had ordained their pastor and had 'membership' as it is commonly understood. Upon joining the Presbyterian denomination the pastor had to be 're-ordained' and 'installed' and each 'member' had to 're-join' or 'join' under the forms used by the Presbyterian denomination. That's not about any kind of Biblical order. That's about faction and power, and nothing more. The people went along with it, but a few were miffed. Even that was a bit too much for them and seemed an unwarranted exercise of authority.
Everyone says the Scriptures are sufficient, but then they treat them as not so when it comes to the Christian life, Church government, and worship.
The Bible tells Christians how to live with the world but it doesn't tell the world, or the Church in the world how to build society, government, the arts, politics, economics and the rest.
And yet these are the areas modern Christians insist the Bible is sufficient. They build elaborate systems...only loosely related to the Bible and often taken terribly out of context and insist these man-made constructs are Biblical.
But then the Scriptures aren't sufficient when it comes to the Church? They would deny that's what they're doing. I hope if anything I've shown (at least in part) that's exactly what they're doing.
What's driving all this? What's driving men to create all these man-made structures and claim them to be Biblical?
It's always the same problem...men want power. And power needs an argument of authority in order to be legitimate. For Christians, appealing to the Bible makes for a strong argument. I'm afraid too many are keen to argue whatever they do represents the 'Biblical' way. The claims need to be examined and in many cases challenged.