Thursday, April 22, 2010

Congregational Autonomy - and Isolation

They go together. Maybe not at the beginning of an autonomous congregation's history, but eventually. When a gathering of believers becomes so convinced of their own righteousness - and of the unrighteousness of other believers in other churches - their circle of friendly fellowship churches shrinks until its diameter becomes a noose around their own necks.

Because - sooner or later - their membership dies off and their conviction with them.

(Example? My home church, I'm told, is listed on the bulletin board in the lobby of a small rural congregation in eastern Arkansas under the heading of "scripturally unsound.")

Churches with such a spirit cannot have the Spirit of God.

They display the traits of the man described in Proverbs 18:1:
"He who separates himself seeks his own desire; he quarrels against all sound wisdom."

You can tell them by their fruits: condemnation of others, revoking of fellowship, isolation, a conviction that they are the "only true church." There are other fruits, described in the middle of Galatians 5:20-21:
"... hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy ...."

You can see it in their Web sites, when they have them. There will be pages and pages devoted to doctrinal soundness on issues like congregational autonomy, and only a few scattered acknowledgments of the saving grace of Jesus Christ revealed in the gospel story ... if any.

Compare those displays of heart to the ones in the next verse:
"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." ~ Galatians 5:22-23

These are not just characteristics of individuals anymore, but have become the culture of entire churches. They survive through the stubborn spectre of fear: each member terrified of a just but merciless God whose wrath might be called down upon them for the slightest infraction (or questioning!) of doctrine by one of their own brothers or sisters!

These churches shrink because most people do not find a life of fear to be attractive, nor something they are willing to sign up for.

Yet they persist because a culture has been established. It has been reinforced through publications and lectures and, now, the Internet.

The overwhelming irony of the "congregational autonomy" they espouse is that it does not restrict them in any way from telling other congregations exactly where they are "wrong" and why they are going to hell!

Some will not cooperate with other congregations - even of their own set of beliefs - because the established culture has declared that to violate congregational autonomy. Better that widows go un-cared for and orphans go hungry and nations go un-taught than to cooperate with other churches in bringing good news to the poor.

This is the sort of behavior that Amos (chapter 5) prophesied about in quoting the Lord as saying:
"I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assemblies ...." ~ Amos 5:21

The people had denied justice to the righteous and trampled on the poor.

Where do you draw the line on congregational autonomy? Where does your congregation draw it? Because once you invent a term like that, and weave it out of whole cloth, you have to decide how far you will go with it. Will you loom enough to cover yourself completely, a whole suit with hooded veil, so that you are completely cut off from everyone else? Or just enough to cover your butt?

I'm speaking plainly because I believe the time to dance around the subject with polite terms has long since gone.

The Bible talks about kingdom. The apostles talk about kingdom. Jesus talks about kingdom.

That means churches - as outposts of the inbreaking kingdom - need to start seizing territory forcefully, and together, and under the direct operation of the Holy Spirit as revealed in the scripture He inspired.

It cannot be a kingdom if all of the outposts refuse to talk to each other, won't cooperate with each other, won't show respect and love for each other, won't even communicate with each other. Or, worst of all, won't stop biting and devouring each other.

"If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand." ~ Mark 3:24

What Jesus said is just as true of God's inbreaking kingdom as it is of the one Satan is trying to establish - and might, if we're just willing to give him a toehold on our hearts.

So I believe it's time for more people to speak boldly and prophetically, like Amos did.

Time to weep like Jeremiah over the lost and the clueless and the rebellious and the isolated-from-God.

Time to speak like Isaiah; with authority about the Messiah who is to come again, and the unity of the Spirit and the bond of peace which must prevail until He does.

Time to proclaim the onrushing day of the Lord, like Joel did.

Time to repent of soft words and soft concepts and soft-heartedness toward the isolationistic and the exclusive and the divisive.

They do not speak softly, and they do not hear soft words over the sound of their own shouting.

Still, there might yet be a few listening who will turn away from the self-centered congregational concept which turns away so many others from Christ.

20 comments:

Adam Gonnerman said...

Very good post. Thanks for your thoughts on this. I've shared the link to the post with a Christian Churches/Churches of Christ group on Facebook.

laymond said...

(Example? My home church, I'm told, is listed on the bulletin board in the lobby of a small rural congregation in eastern Arkansas under the heading of "scripturally unsound.")

Churches with such a spirit cannot have the Spirit of God.

Keith, if the later comment is yours, and I read it that way,(correct me if I misunderstood)
who is guilty of the most egregious acts.
Someone who disagrees with the actions of another church, or one who condemns a whole congregation, on hear say. I don't see any clean hands here, I don't know of any church that is totally scriptural.

judy thomas said...

You are so right!! People are dying without hearing the name of Jesus, children are starving without seeing the hands of compassion, and yet the hatred persists.

Keith Brenton said...

Fair enough question, Laymond. I trust the source, who was visiting that church and saw it himself. I'm not into "marking" and don't feel compelled to name names.

If you feel that my judgment of this action is more egregious than theirs, please pray for me as I pray for them.

But you've got to wonder what the Holy Spirit would write to such a church if it were one of the seven churches of Asia addressed in the Revelation to John ....

laymond said...

"So I believe it's time for more people to speak boldly and prophetically, like Amos did. "

And I agree, and I hope you will not be offended when I do so.

" and only a few scattered acknowledgments of the saving grace of Jesus Christ revealed in the gospel story ... if any."

Keith, we are talking of scriptual things, I believe that is a thing that can be backed by scripture, can you point to the place in scripture where it is said Jesus saves souls as a favor "saving grace" , or even where God dispences salvation as a favor.

If you really want to discuss this "New" progressive CoC and scripture, we can.

Keith Brenton said...

How likely are we to persuade each other, Laymond?

laymond said...

I keep hoping you will see the light, but my hope is waining.
but if you show me where it says we are saved by "Jesus' saving grace" we have a starting point, and if it is not in scripture, whoever teaches that, is unscriptural.

Kenny Milligan said...

Keith, It might be from my experiences in growing up in a congregation that was under fire from many congregations in the area. I heard many distortions about what was taught in our congregation as well as out right lies told to try cause people to separate from our congregation. Thank God and to His Glory it had little if any impact in our congregation.

I find a comfort in isolation many times. We do not worry about other congregations unless there is a need or they request our attention to a matter. Our attention is to teaching Jesus Christ and Him crucified to all we can. We work with our congregation to help equip them for the walk they have on this earth and enjoy the Love that exists between brother and sister.

From my point of view there are enough watch-hounds in our fellowship that find their "perfect religion" in finding fault with others and proclaiming that they are no longer part of Christ's Church. I don't know how well that will work out in the end, but that is between them and God.

As for me I will just continue to teach Jesus and to truly love the time I spend with my Christian family.

Keith Brenton said...

Kenny, I know; I grew up in that congregation, too. But as I travel around the 'net, I keep encountering some good people of strong conscience who have simply been misled, and have had no reason to question what they've been taught - and in fact, have been taught to be afraid to question what they've been taught. (And I'm not talking about radical Islam, here.)

I can't just give up on people like that, whose minds and hearts might still be open to the Holy Spirit even while they're proclaiming His retirement.

Laymond, it appears (I use the word advisedly) that you are trying to maneuver me into a discussion about Jesus' relationship with God the Father that I've told you before I have no interest in pursuing with you.

I responded to a good many of the scriptures you brought up over the course of many comments. You have chosen not to respond to any that I've cited here or here or here and I still see no point in going into it with you if I have to play by your rules and your rules are that I have to answer all your questions, but you don't have to respond to mine.

I love you, brother, but you risk being perceived as a johnny-one-note when the vast majority of your comments lead only to that one important - but hardly singular - issue.

Keith Brenton said...

I can't believe I'm doing this.

Laymond, Acts 15:11: "No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are." ~ Peter, before the ad-hoc council at Jerusalem.

2 Timothy 1:8-10

Ephesians 2:5-8

Jesus Christ, God, grace, salvation: it's a package deal. You can't separate out any part of it and hope that it will still work. It won't.

Kenny Milligan said...

Keith, Do not for one minute think that I say I will not speak the Truth to anyone who is sincerely seeking, whether they know it or not.

But in my experience, these people that seek out false teachers as it is their only service to God, have no desire to hear anything. They have their own True Knowledge of God and can condemn you without ever even meeting or hearing you teach at any time.

By keeping the autonomy of the local congregation we can teach Christ from the scriptures, not from the vote of the church dogma association.

Anonymous said...

Keith I admit someone with your belief, can say they believe we are saved by the "grace of Jesus" although two of the scriptures you quoted say the grace of God, and one say "we believe" but when we look back at what your statement said " the saving grace of Jesus Christ revealed in the gospel"
Which of the three books you quoted from do you consider "The Gospel"?

laymond said...

I don't know how I came up anonymous

Keith Brenton said...

The gospel is the story of God's love and salvation for us through Jesus Christ. You can find it in lots of New Testament books, and prophesied or foreshadowed in lots of Old Testament books.

Should we automatically assume that grace can only come from God since I only found one verse to your satisfaction that attributes it to Jesus?

John 1:17 says that "grace and truth came through Jesus Christ;" the greeting in Romans 1:7 wishes Rome "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ;" Romans 16:20 closes with "The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you;" as does 1 Corinthians 16:23, 2 Corinthians 8:9 says "...for you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ."

See also 13:14, Galatians 1:3, 6:18, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 4:23, and 1 Thessalonians 5:28.

Brother, are we moving toward a point here?

laymond said...

None that you would accept, God bless.

laymond said...

Well Keith I will go ahead and say it anyway, You said we are saved by "The Grace of Jesus" any or all of your quotes put together did not say that, and I did not say Jesus had never shown (love, favor, and grace, toward mankind) that said grace will not save you, if it would all mankind would be saved, yes Jesus showed grace toward all, was that enough to save? no, if it were he would never have had to be on the cross, and we would never have to repent. or carry out any other comands given us, we are saved only by God,s grace, but there is no saving grace. our salvation comes at a price.

Keith Brenton said...

Laymond, I don't see how you can post with a clear conscience that Acts 15:11 doesn't say that we are saved by the grace of Jesus Christ.

Unless you're prepared to make a case that Peter and the apostles and council he was talking to - and all of the Gentiles he was talking about - were saved in a different way than you and I are saved.

Brother, I think you've got a lens (of Jesus 100% humanity and 0% divinity) and you cannot see scripture for what it actually says because it's distorting your vision.

Falantedios said...

"we are saved only by God's grace, but there is no saving grace. our salvation comes at a price."

Wow.

Saved only by grace.
There is no saving grace.

We're saved by something that cannot, does not, will not save - there is no saving grace.

a man who thinks he has bought himself out of slavery to Satan... there's a novelty.

Keith Brenton said...

I've read the words of the response several times now, but the meaning totally escapes me.

Falantedios said...

"All our righteousness is like a used pantyliner." - Isaiah 64:6

It is because of the grace of God, the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that you GET TO repent. Repentance isn't a price you pay - you think you're trading something valuable (your unrepentant life) for something equally valuable (the salvation of God)???

Salvation is free - that's the only price you or I could afford to pay.

"Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. Behold, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you shall call a nation that you do not know, and a nation that did not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, and of the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you. "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. "For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. "For you shall go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall break forth into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall make a name for the LORD, an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off." (Isaiah 55:1-13)