Typical Argument – We can do more, and do it better if we consolidate our forces.
This is the typical siren of neo-evangelicalism, let’s consolidate our forces. But here we want to look at this from a different perspective. God did not set up Christianity under the structure and form that, for example, the Roman Catholic church uses, one big over arching government and administration to “really do things well”. God set up a multiplicity of small local churches. Why? Where is the advantage in that?
Contaminate the only Source, and you contaminate all
Consider the spiritual battle that we are in as though it was a water source system spread out over a city. If the city gets all of its water from one well, which is distributed to everybody, a terrorist needs to contaminate only this single source, and eventually everybody will be contaminated.
In the biblical concept of the local church, God has established multiple local churches, that perhaps have come to be by the activity of one or more local churches, but the goal of all these “missions” is an autonomous local church, self-governed, self-propagating, and self-sustaining. Once the “birthing” period is over, the control and administration (and financial support) ends.
If in our illustration, a group of a thousand homes has one single source of water, then it is easy to contaminate everything by hitting that single source. If each home has its own well and pump, then the contamination of their water on a wide scale basis is almost impossible.
Genius and Strength of Autonomous Local Churches
God’s design of autonomous local churches is simply a smart way to protect all involved. When we add in the New Testament element that local churches challenged each other when their doctrine or practice when astray by biblical debate and discussion, this is a biblical construct that corrects what is wrong in one local church from a stronger sister church, without either losing its autonomous nature. For example the church at Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to challenge the judiazers’ teaching of Gentile converts having to keep the Old Testament law supposedly coming from the church at Jerusalem. Paul reproached Peter when he was later carried away with the same false doctrine. This element has completed disappeared in Christianity, and now pastors with impunity teach and hold all kinds of ridiculous practices and doctrines. It would behoove us to return to a friendly and brotherly love type of confrontation between churches that would debate the merits and demerits of doctrines and practices and put them out publicly for people to decide on the basis of Scriptural merit alone. (To a certain degree, the internet has allowed local churches and individual men of God to return to this debate and argument, although it is one-sided.)
All of this is very clearly a strength when each local church depends on men of God within their own local church to decide, learn, preach, and explain the gospel and doctrines of God. All of this is destroyed by the concept of a Christian University, seminary, or school where doctrine is concentrated and this place becomes the “source” or “fountain” from which everything flows.
One may object that Christianity would become a “hodgepodge” of all kinds of doctrine, beliefs, and practices, but this is actually what the Christian university concept has produced. Why? Because false doctrines and heresies (fractions within Christianity) are always born by false prophets who seek to control and enslave the brethren. This is the basic working policy of all Christian schools and denominations, to exert influence to control other Christians. They divide (are heretics) because their refusal to teach the whole counsel of God and to teach it the way the Bible presents it is what causes all this hodgepodge of doctrines and beliefs.
Consider that a typical Christian university tries to get as many students as possible, and there are few or none that has a set of contemporary churches that agree within themselves sufficient to warrant a university for just that group. Only medium to large size denominations can afford that, and we see the disaster of various doctrines on a seminary by seminary basis within the Southern Baptist Convention as a good example of things not remaining “homogenous” even in this situation.
Recruitment drives a university, and this drive forces the university to go beyond what we in a local church would be comfortable with. For example, many of the doctrines that are branded by these schools to be “denominational” like church government are dealt with in a generic form, usually one church polity class that deals with all denominations at once. Women teachers and preachers are lightly touched upon because we have to open our doors and welcome Methodists and Pentecostals. The job description of pastor is left untouched because all Baptist universities want Presbyterian teachers and students, and any strong talk of a single pastor will go over with these groups. Equally Calvinism must be taught as the only choice, and that is because supposedly the best Bible teachers are Presbyterians, and most all Presbyterians are Calvinists.
The factor here is that all Christian universities must continually reduce doctrine and standards in their school in order to recruit. At the same time there is a reaction against this, so they replace those principles of God with in-house good function rules. These are rules that they make for their own benefit, like a certain hour that lights are out, girls and guys cannot talk to each other or be with each other in certain conditions and situations, etcetera. None of these things are actually in the Bible, but they become so important that students have to interrupt their education, get expelled, and all because of some minor, non-Bible rule they broke. This is a smoke screen (and cruel at that) for the schools one size fits all mentality.
The problem is that when we strip our doctrine and norms down to only the bear minimum, we cannot accept that. The schools say you can believe what you want once you get out of here. Thank you for permission to breath! So they admit that their doctrine is restricted because they want to open the door as wide as possible so that they can make as much money as possible. Finances decides doctrine, great policy, right!?!?
Not having a man of God (supposedly the teachers) teach everything that the student needs to know to run a church, the student goes out fishing for the rest of his doctrine, and thus the hodgepodge of doctrines. In contrast to this a local church teaches a young preacher his doctrine (not a Christian University or Seminary) and it becomes a matter of confrontation when he turns from that doctrine, leaves off teaching some parts, or invents new doctrine.
These schools would object to us saying this, but they do not respect the soul liberty the Bible clearly gives us (again one of the planks of the Baptist Distinctive which is seldom taught in a Christian University except by some Presbyterian or Methodist professor), the Christian liberty we are obliged to honor, and they do not honor the local church as the sole authority of God in resolving conflict, teaching doctrine, and “educating” Christians. This is galling because these same schools reject these basic Bible building blocks, yet they want all churches to honor them and pay their bills!
So they must differentiate themselves from their competitors. They all draw from the same source, local churches. They cannot exist in a purely “local context” (living off of resources on a local level only). In contrast, local churches can exist in harmony with other local churches at a distance, and even with other local churches in their own community. There are enough unsaved people that two local churches can evangelize, disciple, and incorporate any number of unsaved in a small locality.
The point here or the focus here is that doctrine is biblically established through Bible exegesis. When local men of God cannot do that because of ignorance and lack of expertise, everything falls very easily. When they can do this expertly, then they can order their own local churches in the ways of the Lord and help other local churches to do the same. This all boils down to desire and preparation. The good thing about debate is that when you lose, it is painful. This helps those who lose to “return to the drawing board” and to reevaluate their arguments and go back to the Bible to get the truth (usually).
Cult expert Walter Martin got his feet wet in arguing with the cults in New York City on a street corner. He would stand on a box and debate with cultists. I am sure he “failed” many times at the beginning because doing this you learn their arguments and thinking. But that is how a person gets his doctrine honed to a fine edge, something few if any churches have today. Most churches have a hodgepodge of doctrines within their own local church because the pastor preaches non-provocative sermons that anybody can agree with (and that do not challenge their people). To take a strong stand on some doctrine or issue is seen as been divisive (thanks to our University well educated pastors).
Purity of doctrine and continuance of the gospel depends on each local church being able to individually discern error on their own, then extract truth from the Scriptures, and reproduce this truth within themselves especially in their own youth. The concept of a Bible college that takes all your best talent and returns nothing but a “warm fuzzy feeling” that you have done something good is what has destroyed churches today. In the biblical model of things, churches have generations of the same family defending biblical doctrine, their local church, and the financial resources they have sacrificed over the years to establish and gather. In the modern scheme of things, everybody goes off to live somewhere else and abandons their roots, their home, their family, and the church that brought them into the gospel and grew them into men and women. It is amazing how Christian Universities judge the value of a local church on the basis of how many high school graduates it has. A church that has dozens of high school graduates each year is a juicy plum to them, and one with none is a nobody and gets no attention from them.
I have a Masters degree from Bob Jones University in Educational Administration and Supervision. It was highly provocative to me years ago when a university PhD teaching a graduate level education class told us that many pastors complain that they send their young people to BJU and when they leave BJU, they are spiritual failures. (I travel widely visiting churches and in other circles of other Christian universities the same thing is seen as a constant so BJU is neither better nor worse here, just an example.) The official BJU reaction to this is “garbage in, garbage out.” They defended themselves with the argument, “If you do not put good spiritual character and principles in your young people before we get them, there is little we can do with them.” This argument is what first led me to understand that we are pinning our hopes on the wrong “peg” of Christian Universities when we should be pinning our hopes on the local church. The local church is what will train, form, and develop men and women of God. Without the local church, nothing will replace it. In the end, isn’t that exactly why we send our young people to a Christian University? We want them to make them into something better than what they were before! The Christian University simply cannot do that from a moral standpoint because it is using the wrong tool to do the job (a Christian University environment instead of a local church environment).
Let me “rage on” a little further. It is almost hilarious (if it wasn’t so sad) that in all disciplines in the typical Christian college, the university tries to get people in that actual discipline to come and teach. Doctors teach medical classes, lawyers teach law classes, and engineers teach engineering classes. If they do come, then they take residence in the school and live there off of their teaching, and the accusation is thrown against them that they are “ivory towers” (living in a world of their own devising, and they do not have a real grasp of the reality of life outside the university). For example, to train preacher boys who want to be pastors, the typical Christian university has a steady (weekly) stream of pastors of local churches come and teach or preach to them so that they “can get a good idea of how it really is out there”. In addition, most every Christian university I know of has some kind of program (or various programs working side by side) to get their students out into local churches to work in a local church and to understand it and how the ministry works “really”.
With this, we should understand that this is a concession by the Christian university that they are incapable of doing the job in house. Yet the same university throws in the face of every pastor and layman, that men who don’t have a college degree in the ministry (and some extend this to a seminary, or post graduate work, or even a PhD), well they see these men as being incapable of doing the work of the ministry, or incapable of doing it well, pleasing to the Lord. So the standard we have to push for is every pastor is to be a graduate from a Christian university, and some would want him with a seminary degree also. Yet these same schools admit in their practice that they have to go to a local church to really get real experience when it comes to the ministry and training.
The ministry is different from every other discipline out there. It speaks to the moral life of the person, and how he lives his life. God has not allowed us to separate the moral teaching into a classroom. We learn facts in a classroom, but the moral training our young people need has to be gained in life experiences to be understood well and put into practice. All of this directs us to a local church that works little by little on our people’s lives (each week on Sunday) that they go out and put into practice.
We add to this that even the Christian University will even reject students sitting under one pastor or working in one single church saying that it is better to get experience in various different situations. It is interesting that the key in all of this is to get what is inside of the head and “hands” (skill) of pastors of local churches.
If you really sit down and analyze all of this, you will come to the conclusion that the real teachers of how to pastor a church and preaching are the pastors, not professors at universities. If that is so, then why do we lightly esteem or hold in ridicule people who have trained under local church pastors? Why do we get the distinct impression that pastors are incapable of doing the job of religious or moral education from these Universities (unless they run back there every year or two, or have gotten their knowledge from the University). If the real talent is in the University professors, why do they want to “validate” these men by getting men who are local church pastors?
Let’s just tear away the smoke screen and say. Christian schools are businesses that need to steal the moral education from the local church in order to have a reason to exist for themselves. They do a poor job in moral education, making men and women of God, but they are experts at filling people’s heads with how great of a Christian they have become because of their university education. Pride is the character trait of the devil. Humility is the character trait of Christ.
By the way, most churches in a university town (Christian university) are just not valid churches anyway. Go across America and visit hundreds of churches like missionaries do and ask people like these who know if it is normal for a church to have a half dozen PhD’s in Bible, and a group of hundreds of Christian young people wanting to service in doing something in the local church. This is awkward and not the norm. Churches in these contexts are just simply abnormal. Pressing the kids and university faculty obligating them to work every week in a local church and turn in reports to make sure they do something and something valid is just making things more abnormal. Why has our motivation now become how the university perceives us in our Christian life? Summers and Christmas vacations are okay not to service the Lord because we are not in a class that is grading our Christian service. Wow! How off base can things get and we still not smell something wrong.
When we go to such pastors (university town churches) for experience, they cannot help us because their situations are abnormal, and we cannot hope to imitate their experience except if we settle down beside them. But these pastors are the ones who teach in the Christian university usually.
The norm for churches in America is that the Pastor is usually the most “educated” (by virtue of his Bible studies in Bible schools or by pure sermon preparation), and that beside him, there are usually one solid layman for every so many families. Getting these solid laymen to teach a Sunday School class is just difficult. This is the norm. Not a Ph.D. in Bible teaching every Sunday School Class.
God’s Plan in History
If we look back in church history, we find that the early church expanded greatly, went around the world and flowered and bloomed greatly in the first centuries. Trying to understand why it did this and the factors involved, we should come to a quick conclusion that God wanted it this way. Persecution also helped temper the early Christians into a mentality that they got serious with God and risks their very life for the work of God. Many died in serving God in these days.
But we can also note that there were no early Christian schools and universities. Young men learned under their pastors and carried what they learned around the global and duplicated these churches everywhere. It worked, it worked well, it worked the way God wanted it to work. Today we have a disaster, and everybody is trying to say it is great, but wanting to change the great because it doesn’t work.
Today we see thousands of Christian organizations, everything from Christian Universities and Seminaries to Mission Boards, and we are not doing the job. We are not doing it well. And sometimes we come to the conclusion that we are not doing it at all it seems. Our “Christians” don’t even walk and talk like Christians, and these places doubt that they are even really Christians.
Why this situation? Well, look to the Book, because most probably it is because you have strayed from God’s Word.
Another issue involved here whether it is even biblical to charge for the ministry. The following study will take this up.
More Posts on Critical Issues
- Consolidation versus Independence
- Why we refuse to charge for Ministry
- Adaptability is not necessarily Good
- The Non-Applying of the Scriptures
- Paul’s lack of Authority in the Corinthian Church
- Getting the right Church Focus
- Why People leave your church
- What is Ministerial Success?
Pastor David Cox is a missionary. See my ministry updates here.