Wednesday, August 30, 2006

On parachurch people who do not belong to local churches

Over the summer I had a conversation with a man who is very involved in a local parachurch mission agency. He is very passionate about supporting indigenous missionaries in other countries, and we were in a place to hear one such worker speak.

As we talked I asked him: "So, which local church do you belong to here in Charlottesville?" His reply: "Well, we mostly attend ______ (a large evangelical church in the area), but we’re not members anywhere."

Now, this man has lived in Charlottesville for years. He is passionate about supporting missions. He is a professed believer. How is it then that he thinks he can operate as a freelance Christian without a serious, covenanted connection to a local body of believers? Why is the doctrine of the local church so lacking in his practical theology?

I have found some parachurch persons to have this same attitude. They love to talk about the work of the church universal, but they have not taken the time to become connected as a body part to the church local (see I Corinthians 12). Part of the issue, I think, is a lack of accountability. If you belong to a local church, people will actually expect you to faithfully attend services (even if it might not fit your schedule), to give your money to its work (rather than your select mission causes), to inspect your doctrine (holding your personal beliefs accountable to Biblical orthodoxy), and to serve the needs of the body (in ways you may or may not particularly enjoy).

At the "Together for the Gospel" Conference this past year, the conference leaders issued a set of Affirmations and Denials. Article XIV reads:

We affirm that the shape of Christian discipleship is congregational, and that God's purpose is evident in faithful Gospel congregations, each displaying God's glory in the marks of authentic ecclesiology.

We deny that any Christian can truly be a faithful disciple apart from the teaching, discipline, fellowship, and accountability of a congregation of fellow disciples, organized as a Gospel church. We further deny that the Lord's Supper can faithfully be administered apart from the right practice of church discipline.

When I was a missionary in Hungary, I even found that some of my fellow missionaries never got connected with a local church. They talked a lot about witnessing to students and neighbors, but if they ever had one of these persons comes to Christ what would they do with them? How would they be discipled? You cannot do ministry apart from the local church! Remember, Jesus did not say, "I will build my parachurch group or my ministry or my mission organization," but "I will build my CHURCH (ecclesia-the local congregation)" (Matthew 16:18).

Grace and peace, Pastor Jeff Riddle

3 comments:

Travis Hilton said...

Jeff,

Excellent observation. I see this locally as well. There is one local "mission" that recieves government grants, but functions basically like a church, though they will not call themselves such. Over two hundred people attend their contemporary worship service every Sunday. The people who attend are from every level of economic strata. Some are members of a sponsoring church, many are not. Though some of their work is commendable, I see a serious deficiency in their concept of church. They deny they are a church, and yet, they say at times they are! This creates confusion all around. Confusion about committment, confusion about what it means to be a comunity of believers, confusion about what it means to be a church.

Oh, you're still tagged.;)

Anonymous said...

In your view of the church, and in particular the subject of giving, do you believe that a person should give 100% of his or her gifts to the church and then the church decides how those gifts are allocated?

You seem to impugn those who give to mission projects they consider worthwhile apart from the church.

Or, would you say that the church gets the tithe and allocates that portion, while any additional gifts may be directed by the individual?

This is an important question because some churches give funds to questionable organizations (e.g., via the BGAV).

What responsibility does an individual believer have to see that his or her gifts are not misdirected and what steps should he or she take in that regard?

Pastor Jeff said...

Anon friend,

Regarding giving:

First, I do not think a tithe should be legalistically enforced though it may be recommended as a general guide for essential giving. I think we do have liberty of conscience as to the amount we give based on our circumstances(a tithe may be far too little!).

Yes, I believe the first portion should be to the local church, but this does not mean it must be the exclusive recipient of my giving.

Regarding purity in giving:

How can we be sure our money given via the local church is going to good places? I love the section in Wayne Grudem's "Systematic Theology" in which he says a Christian must first find a true church (as opposed to a false one). He then says that all true churches are somewhere on a continuum between more pure and less pure. Our task is not to find a perfectly pure church (there are none!) but to find a true church in which we can work with others of good will toward greater purity.

You mention the BGAV as an example. Yes, our church is--for now at least--part of the BGAV. No, we are not in agreement with much of what the BGAV now is. Part of our ministry has been to be an evangelical conscience (gadfly?) toward the BGAV.

Given our concerns about the BGAV, we eliminated from our giving various "partners" that we did not feel we could support. So, for example, we do not give to any of the BGAV related schools and seminaries (BTSR, Leland, Bluefield, Fork Union, etc.) but we do give to the Baptist Children's Homes. Most of our mission dollars go directly to the SBC's International Mission Board. Of course, we are also not always completely satisfied with every apsect of the SBC, but--for now--this is where we are.

Most of the dollars we give to our church support the mission of our local church, and we feel quite good about how that money is spent. In our congregational church government we have an opportunity every year to pray with, discuss, and discern with our fellow church members how these collective funds will be used for kingdom service in our annual budget process. If a member has a serious concern about how funds are allocated, this is his opportunity for direct involvement.

No, the budget is never exactly what I would choose in all areas, but I am not the only one in the church and this means I must work with others (see Eph 5:21). I am still committed to working with others of good will to move it toward greater purity.

Thanks for your feedback!
JTR