Monday, October 20, 2014

Is It Denominational?

A growing number of Christian Church mega churches sponsor multiple campuses. Here in Phoenix Central Christian Church in Mesa and Christ's Church of the Valley in Peoria boast multiple sites. I can't begin to list all of the others around the country doing so. As I've thought about this trend, it strikes me that in each case a series of new denominations are formed by such actions.

Let's think about it. What are the marks of a denomination? There are several the Restoration Movement has used for generations:
  1. A fellowship of churches using a common name to identify and identify them.
  2. A common Statement of Faith (Creed) to which all agree.
  3. A central organization to which all churches look to for advice, direction, identification, and oversight.
    1. The central organization receives all the offerings and dispenses all the funds.
    2. The central organization owns all the property.
    3. The central organization governs all the activities and selects all the staff.
  4.  A person who serves as the visible leader.
In the case of the Presbyterian Church, USA those marks would work out as follows:
  1. The common name: Presbyterian Church
  2. The common Creed: The Presbyterian Church, USA recognizes the historic creeds but its basic statement is the Westminster Confession of Faith
  3. The central organization: Headquartered in Louisville, KY
  4. The staffing: Ministers of associated congregations are licensed and approved by the denomination.
  5. The visible leader: Heath Rada, Moderator
Transpose this to one of the Christian Churches with multi-site campuses:
  1. The common name: Christ's Church of the Valley 
  2. The common creed: A Statement of faith published on the CCV website.
  3. The central organization: The Elders and Leadership Team at CCV, Peoria Campus, Phoenix
    1. CCV receives all the moneys given to the church.
    2. CCV owns all the property.
    3. CCV hires/firest all the staffs associated with the various campuses.
  4. The visible leader: Dr. Don Wilson
Congregations meeting in Surprise, Peoria, Scottsdale, and Athem currently comprise the CCV denomination. With the exception of size and extent there is no discernable difference between the United Presbyterian Church denomination, the United Methodist Church denomination, or any of the other standard denominations currently existing.

If a Presbyterian Church associated with the Presbyterian Church, USA finds itself in disagreement with the denomination it may withdraw but may lose property and identification in the process. A congregation associated with CCV may withdraw and no one knows what will happen. The whole process goes far beyond the classic Restoration Movement principles surrounding the concept of locally autonomous congregation. It is doubtful that a congregation with facilities built with funds paid from the entire CCV membership would simply be turned over to rising leaders within the various campuses identifying with CCV.

I've only used Christ's Church of the Valley as an example. Exactly how the leadership there would react to these situations is unknown simply because it has not happened. In part that's the question. I have no doubt the leadership within the variety of multi-site mega churches have done so with good intentions. Their concern is outreach, growth, and convenience for attenders. However, what will happen should the Lord tarry and problems arise in 50, 100, 200 years.

In all of this history repeats itself. The early church followed  a similar path establishing satellite congregations. The "bishop" of the first church sent presbyters (elders) to the satellites with the elements of the Lord's Supper since the theology of that day said "no bishop, no baptism; no bishop, no Lord's Supper). In time the satellites grew and the presbyters became identified with a specific assembly but the "first church" maintained its oversight and control. 

In time five major churches arose with similar circumstances -- Antioch, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Carthage, and Rome. Other congregations looked to these five major churches for advice but retained their identity and autonomy. Leaders in each congregation saw themselves as equals but the more successful churches and their leadership were "more equal" than the others. In due season Constantinople replaced Carthage. For a variety of reasons Rome and Constantinople vied for recognition as having the greatest influence. Finally the two churches split and congregations identified with either Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy.

It seems far fetched now, but it is not at all impossible for numerous multi-site mega churches to grow in influence. In fact, it is already happening as evidenced by the selection of speakers and the recognition of leaders occurring at the North American Christian Convention. The only redeeming factor is the reality seen in numerous congregations of various sizes who view the "brotherhood's" mega churches as anomaly and are not caught up in the emphasis on size. 

What do we do about the current situation? Nothing! There's really nothing to do. Congregations can, because of the nature of the Restoration Movement, do whatever they think best. I simply write to express a warning, " Vigilance is the price of freedom." In my view, the action takes place in the local church and it is only when biblically qualified leadership determined to remain faithful to New Testament teaching can the nature and purpose of the church be preserved.

No comments: