Two years ago I was reflecting on the following:
This summers church general assemblies season made headlines in the secular world as well as sent shockwaves across the evangelical community. In reality, none of these were really new developments, of a scripturally sound denominations, suddenly ‘doing a 180′, but just further and more blatant departures from scripture.
Salt losing it savor and lights turning a harlot red. I know several faithful elders within the PCUSA who hold firmly to scripture who are extremely upset with their churches decisions and direction, and just positioning themselves on how to distance themselves from the denomination even further or waiting for an inevitable split between those who hold to biblical views and the liberal control of the denomination. I know of quite a few in ECUSA who are utilizing church by-laws to get around the ECUSA decisons in a way to distance themselves as well. One of their blogs I read this morning recounted a catholic friend asking them why they even bothered to hold services.
Lets just take a quick look at three different views of this. Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Property Trust Clause (G-8.0201) ,the OPC FOG XVI, 7 regarding dissuasion, and the PCA BOCO 25-9. The purpose of comparison is not for the technical legal aspects but for a broader application as it relates to this series.( The latter two documents are not directly from the BOCO, but discussed in context)
The context we are looking at this in is why when a denomination departs from it’s orignal standards and stated purpose ,do particular churches stay within the denomination? The answer many times is given that one stays within the denomination to be a defender of the faith, a voice of truth, heralding the Word of God and calling their brothers unto repentence as dictated by our Lord in the application of Matthew 18:15-18. But what do you do when they fail to repent? Can you remain under the authority of one who has departed from the teachings of scripture?
Strange how it seems we again come to the issue of secular law and the church in dealing with scriptural premises and the Christians life/the life of the church. But we must examine its implications on the body and how we can build up the body, not be mere complainers and finger pointers.
Many of the mainline denominations we see today who have departed from scriptural truth very likely could have never done it and retained their churches without the secular courts on their side. If a church dissents in changes in denomational doctrinal changes such as the Resurrection, the nature of Salvation, the Atonement , while they have the right to leave the denomination by the particular churches vote, they may lose all their property, their assets, and in some cases the pastor may endanger his pension. If a church just choses to ignore the presbytery and hire another pastor anyway, they may well find themselves being sued by the denomination, and even find their denomination going to file briefs on behalf of other denominations to hold this grip on churches.
In the OPC, for instance while each particular church has ownership rights to its property, they use a process of dissuasion. ” ..As a session is obliged to attempt to dissuade a member from leaving the church, so a presbytery is obliged to use its powers of dissuasion against a congregation’s leaving. And as long as that congregation is under the immediate oversight of its presbytery as a congregational unit, some open process must be provided. This FOG XVI #7 does. And in case there is a minority of members opposed to leaving, the OPC has the duty to make provision for their continuing in the OPC with constitutional oversight as paragraph c provides.” Much of this came from the formation of the OPC where all but one church lost their property to the PCUSA.
The PCA in 25-11 states “Particular churches need remain in association with any court of this body only so long as they themselves so desire. The relationship is voluntary, based upon mutual love and confidence, and is in no sense to be maintained by the exercise of any force or coercion whatsoever. A particular church may withdraw from any court of this body at any time for reasons which seem to it sufficient.”
Quoting again from the OPC document I linked above, “Schism is a serious sin. This is not to say that ALL separating congregations are thereby declared guilty of sin against the unity of the visible church (whose unity is disunity is very evident in the church’s present state on earth). but we take seriously John 13:34-35 and 17:20-21 as applying to the visible church as well as the body of Christ invisible.
In fairness we have viewed denominations that have oversight in the form of hierarchial governance. I am strongly in favor of presbyterian style of governance as in my humble opine, it adds to the stability of the local church and guarding against false doctrine.; as well as settling disputes of doctrine and practice by a larger body and a doctrinal standard by which teaching elders are ordained. The ability to have a group outside your own who can advise and mediate internal disagreements upon request is invaluable in maintaining order in the body of Christ.
In looking at these different forms of how much control is ceded to the hierarchial body, I believe that there is a strong case to be made scripturally that when it comes to ceding rights of our property and assets to a larger body, the larger body no longer feels constrained to a check and balance system and has led to an abuse of its authority, and has trusted in the power of the civil magistrate and lorded that civil power over the church of Jesus Christ. What say you?