05 March 2012

Ecclesia Part 7: Pragmatics and Conclusion

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.


Jim C. said...

Hey Proto,

Perhaps you've already touched on this in your series and read the post too quickly to take note of it but I'm curious as to what your position is regarding the function of the pastor or "teaching elder" in the church.

You've made it clear that you believe the biblical ecclesiastical model is a local congregation with an elected group of elders. You've also said that the preaching/exposition of the Word is an essential part of the church service. I'm assuming at least one elder is assigned this task and not just anyone on a whim like it is in Quaker churches.

So who does it? Is it a full-time pastor with the necessary qualifications for the job? Is it an elder with another full-time job who volunteers his services for the task?

Tangential to this, I suppose I should also ask what your take is on seminaries - whether you think they do a service or a disservice to the church and why you think your position is Biblical.


Jim C.

Jim C. said...

Hey Proto,

Sorry I meant to say, "Perhaps you've already touched on this in your series and I read the post too quickly to take note of it..."

Protoprotestant said...

Sorry to take so long. I’ve been swamped at work and have had little time to spend on the internet.
It’s a plurality of elders. Some may be more able to teach than others. It’s natural that one or two or three (depending on the size of the congregation) are going to better at public teaching. Others might do well one on one, but not in front of the group.
These are functions of the same office. If a congregation can pay several men to do this full time…that’s fine. It’s rare but not unheard of. I don’t really see it as a full time job. I’m afraid a lot of ‘pastors’ waste massive amounts of time.
Preferably I would see several men who might work part-time and lead the congregation. Maybe one man who does more of the teaching works part time and is supported partly, while the other men work full time. There are many options.
The OPC goes ahead and just creates 3 offices….the Teaching Elder basically being the pastor.
The PCA officially is 2 office…they consider the office of elder to have two functions….some do the Teaching and some Ruling. But like I said in the piece it’s a bit of a joke. They’re really 3 office. The Ruling elder can’t administer the sacraments, preach or even give the benediction.
As far as seminaries, they’re both helpful and unhelpful. The Church trusts in seminaries to give them qualified men…the seminaries trust the Churches to determine who is actually called vs. who isn’t.
The reality is…if you’ve got the money for the undergrad degree and seminary and unless you’re a total incompetent you can probably end up in a pulpit. Consequently there are many men who are pastors who probably have no business being in Church leadership.
The seminary can also contribute to the whole ‘professional’ approach to the pastorate…he becomes the CEO or something…often function as a hired gun, part of this being due to the way the system is set up.
I can’t say I’m entirely against seminary…I went to one. But at the same time, I don’t appreciate what’s it has been made into. It’s interesting how the Bible-believing churches in Europe largely eschew seminaries. That’s where you send your young men to get poisoned with heresy and unbelief. European Christianity of course has a different story than what we have in the United States.
I’m not sure if I’ve answered all your questions. No I’m not advocating a Quaker style service. There are leaders who teach. That said, I don’t see the NT providing us with the rigid liturgical format found in most Churches. It’s reverent and orderly, but in some ways less formal. While I don’t think the average OPC/PCA service is anti-Biblical, I don’t think it really represents the NT picture of what the gathering is supposed to be.

Jim C. said...

Hey Proto,

Thanks for your response. I figured your obligations toward your job had something to do with your brief absence. No apologies necessary.

Having read your response I have a few observations/questions:

1) You allow for the teaching position to be paid and extend it to all elders, which is interesting. Most people I've read on this subject who take issue with the role of the pastor in most churches are against the idea that he should be paid for his work and/or bi-vocational. Also, in most churches while the pastor is paid for his work the other elders are not.

2) You state that pastors "waste a lot of time." What exactly do you mean by that?

3) You mention the cost of seminary and in conjunction with this say that as long as you have the money to pay for it and are not stupid then landing a job as a pastor is relatively easy, compared to (and you can correct me if you're not implying this) another profession like a doctor, engineer, lawyer, teacher, etc. It sounds like you're also implying that being a pastor doesn't necessitate a great deal of intelligence. Again, you can correct me if I'm wrong.

4) It's interesting to hear how churches in Europe operate compared to ours. You note that evangelical/bible-believing churches over there are reticent to send their ministers to seminary, which is diametrically opposed to the thinking we have here. This will probably necessitate a series of its own but I'm curious as to how much you know about the situation of the church in Europe, especially continental Europe. It seems that the kind of churches to which we're accustomed over here either don't exist, are factions within established state churches or are few, far-between and very difficult to find.

Again, thank you for your thoughts on this subject.


Jim C.

Anonymous said...

Terrific posts, Proto. I agree with just about everything, but am probably even more radical than you.

Very interesting to read your journey because you come from a background that we never were and never wanted to be; and we end up with the same conclusions. Simple, really: just be regenerated,get a basic understanding of redemptive history revealed in the person of Christ through the Bible, read the Scriptures prayerfully, let them interpret themselves as the Holy Spirit gives understanding, and forsake your own thoughts, own sentiments, own pre-conceived ideas.

Some exposure to early church writings and practice, and to the proto-protestants helps too.

I know some will think that's pretty naive.


Anonymous said...

I am tossed somewhat on this particular issue. I would appreciate an Elder/Bishop that has total devotion timewise to ministering in the Word. It is however endearing to have a man working with the rest of us folk, thereby having empathy for our plight, but ministering too. I have sat under both.

I too believe pastors to waste a lot of time, trying to run committees, boards, fundraisers, vbs, visitation, and I could go on.

I don't find it coincidence that our ensamples from the New Testament were tentmakers, fishermen, physicians etc.

Protoprotestant said...

Jim C.
It’s hard to completely escape the idea of church leaders receiving some kind of compensation. It’s pretty plain in the NT that the idea is Biblical. What I don’t think is Biblical is the idea of bringing in a ‘hired gun’ a ‘professional’ who receives a full-time salary.
I know of a Reformed Baptist Church that has (or had, it’s been awhile) something like six elders who all were fully supported financially. Apparently the congregation was that large to warrant that level of pastoral care. Of course large congregations are another issue…but, I only use this example to show it can be done.
Like you said in most churches the pastor is paid and the ‘lay-elders’ are not. Consequently the pastor becomes the real center-piece, the focus of the congregation. People don’t want a visit from the elders, they want the pastor. Since the pastor is fully compensated he now has to be at every event, and every expects him to do all the teaching. An elder might teach a Sunday School or something, but about 97% of the overall burden falls on this one guy. I just don’t think that was the NT ideal and practically I don’t know that it’s all that healthy for the Church.
On the one hand, you have this guy who’s been supposedly trained and has these gifts. On the other hand, you effectively lost the plurality aspect when it comes to leadership and teaching. I don’t think one guy should so dominate the teaching of the congregation and all aspects of its leadership. People become attached to him…he becomes the congregational celebrity. The worst examples of this are with this growing ‘satellite’ movement…where people gather and watch live-feeds of the main service. They’re kind of a distance-church…but again it’s all based on the person of the pastor who’s holding altogether. That’s obviously an abuse and doesn’t necessarily negate the model, but it does display the unwarranted devotion and attachment to the ‘one’ man…the professional, the leader.

Protoprotestant said...

As far as wasting time…that’s something a lot of pastors when being honest will admit. For the sake of argument is you use the standard 40 hour work week as a model, there’s no way it should take a pastor 40 hours to comprise two sermons for the week…and many only do one.
I understand the necessity of needing to study and be careful in researching what one teaches. First I kind of question what’s been done with the whole idea of the sermon. I’m not sure rhetorical craftwork is what the NT has in mind. Frankly I think someone who knows their Bible can prepare a sermon in a relatively short time. I’ve heard some pastors say the use the full 40 hours but then when I listen to what they’ve produced I’m immediately led to the conclusion…that they should quit and go find a job. Because if that’s what they came up with after a whole week of work…then they lack the basic gifts to handle the Word of God. That’s harsh sounding, but I’m serious. This is all part of the problem with the seminary system and the way these men end up in these pulpits. Many of them shouldn’t be there. But there are also problems with the whole way it’s being done…this attempt to ‘craft’ a liturgy and to make the lesson or homily into some kind of piece of oratorical sculpture.
I’m a great admirer of Spurgeon but I remember taking a homiletics course and reading his book on the subject. It was awful. He even was getting into hand gestures and other nonsense. It becomes a production, an exercise in theatre.
I think of Paul at Troas….it wasn’t some kind of scripted thing…he’s just teaching, probably sitting at a table. I realize he was an apostle, but I think if a man knows his Bible the teaching almost should flow from him. Sermons could (I don’t say should) be done almost in an impromptu fashion. If you stick to the text instead of trying to develop clever acrostics or use texts as a hook on which to hang your topical sermon…you stay out of trouble, and frankly it makes the task somewhat easier. It takes away the burden of sermon-craft.
I used to easily teach for an hour and yet I spent maybe 2 hours in preparation…sometimes more, sometimes less. It wasn’t fluff and I never got the impression anyone was bored.
It’s a burden time-wise when you’re working a full time job, but no more than writing a blog. There’s obviously a whole lot more to it than that, but what I’m saying is it doesn’t require 40 hours a week.

Protoprotestant said...

What do pastors do during this time? Well the more diligent ones have a routine of visiting shut-ins and spending massive amounts of time reading, studying and hopefully praying. That’s something I wish there was more time for. But many fritter away the hours. I’ve known more than a few who end up being Mr. Mom while their wives work. Some waste many hours every day on internet chat-rooms. Oh, they’re talking theology and politics, but it ends up being a big waste of their time. I know some pastors who have fallen into this and deliberately avoid visiting those sites because they view them as a time-trap.
Yes I know many are engaged in counseling. That’s another big can of worms for another time. Some of it is legitimate, a lot of it is not. Some pastors (I hope not in Reformed circles) make a nice little side-living by counseling and charging high fees for it…which of course is pretty sick.
Smaller congregations with pluralities of elders I think leads to better shepherding and the ability of multiple men on a part-time basis to fulfill the necessary tasks of teaching and visiting. It’s when the congregations grow very large that it requires a full-time man and he consequently becomes the celebrity or congregational pope. He ends up being the only one anyone is interested in listening to or seeing.
As far as pastors and seminary…. No if you’re a total dummy you’ll probably wash out. Some seminaries are academically challenging, others are not in the least. Many of course spend more time on small-group formation and worship strategy than actual doctrine. In Reformed circles there is a definite theological push and yet in some schools they’re looking for ‘yes’ men who will basically memorize the confessional positions and adhere to them. Getting through the programme is an academic exercise but in no way does it mean the men either have the qualifications or wisdom to lead Churches. The seminary graduates them and the congregations call them. The congregations assume they’ve been vetted because they’ve graduated seminary. For the sake of argument I’m simplifying the process. And there are the good professors who hone in on bad apples at the school and there are the good men in congregations that either have a bit of wisdom or the intellectual acumen to detect a potential problem in a candidate. I think these are exceptions not the rule.
Of course I don’t like the whole system and this discussion assumes the system and the way it operates.

Protoprotestant said...

Frankly I have met some really dumb pastors, but more often I meet men who have checked their brains at the door and signed on with a faction. They’ve agreed, and tied their whole livelihood, career, healthcare, pension etc… to this agreement, to uphold the positions of the faction. The denomination likes this because they know he’s their man. And yet it erects some serious walls to thinking. And with some of these men it’s almost like brain-atrophy. They simply will not and almost cannot entertain anything beyond the circle of their faction. That’s beyond dumb…that’s not about intelligence, that’s really a moral issue at that point.
As far as Europe I’m not an expert by any means. I have my own experiences (I lived there for a couple of years) and interactions…which I have to say in all my dealings with people I try to make in some way profitable or fruitful. I ask questions…people love to talk and I learn a lot. Just the other day I was talking to a United Methodist woman and by asking certain pointed questions I learned a lot about the practical ecclesiastical functions of the denomination. We were just having a friendly conversation while I was packing away tools and sweeping up sawdust….but I was learning. I pick people’s brains and I listen. I do this everywhere. Thankfully my wife isn’t annoyed by it. I chat with people at the checkout and learn about the grocery store industry or Wal-mart. I chat with people at the hardware store and learn about the economics of lumber and tools. Since I work for a wide array of people over the years I’ve learned a lot of different fields. It’s really interesting and nowadays with the internet I can go home and learn more if I want.
I read a lot about Europe…in times past I’ve actually called churches overseas and talked with people…asked questions. I have friends who give me reports of their experiences. I have one friend who has lived overseas for a number of years and he often gives me a lot of quite helpful information.
The Church situation over there is pretty bleak if you view it in terms of numeric strength. But in terms of spiritual vitality…I’d rather be there than here to be quite honest.

Protoprotestant said...

To the other commentors...

I'll try and get to the other comments a bit later today.

Also I've got many more posts ready, I'm just exhausted by my work week and I haven't had time to go over them before they're posted.

I think a walk in the woods is calling. It's my #1 hobby. It's cheap, it helps me to decompress, think, get some fresh air and exercise...and it's beautiful. I get to spend time with my kids if one or all come along...and if they don't it's good prayer time.

Protoprotestant said...


You're right. I didn't even mention all the committees and other stuff.

I'm not opposed to people being 'full-time' servants. But again once you remove the 'pastor' office, it's a plurality.

And I'm definitely against what ends up happening with the pastor...he often turns into the quasi holy man....a cleric.

That said, if a church has say 100 people and they've got say...4 elders. Could 1 of them be supported 'full time'...one 'part-time'....and two of them work regular jobs full time? Sure. There's no formula.

But it has to be understood the full time guy isn't 'the man' so to speak. He may do most of the teaching but in terms of office, authority, function...he's the same as the other men.

What if during the meeting, one guy who does much of the teaching stands up and gives a 30min lesson and two others give a 15min, or maybe one gives a 5min?

Maybe the part-time guy spends his non-tentmaking time visiting homes. Maybe that's what he's really good at...while the full time guy really gives himself to study and teaching? The other guys fill in and help...but they're also ready to step in if someone is ill or gone. You don't need to bring in an 'interim' or a 'pulpit supply'

Just thoughts. I'm rambling.

Protoprotestant said...


That's not naive....I think you statement is rather interesting. It's true...very different paths, and yet in many ways a very similar conclusion. Not exact, but close enough we could get along and put up with the differences.

My wife and I wish you lived closer.

I was just having a discussion with a friend this weekend. We were talking about how so many people know there's something wrong with the established church, something a bit off. They read their Bibles and are troubled. If they read Church history they are troubled. But they have a hard time putting a finger on it...what is it that's wrong?

It's exciting to see this friend, people like you and others 'click' and start to see it. We may not agree on all points or the details but that's fine. It's interesting how in a general sense we all end up heading toward the same place. There has to be a reason for it.

It's either the Bible and the Holy Spirit...or we're all deranged nutjobs or something worse.