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.

It's Happening Just As I Predicted

Events unfolding in Houston and Idaho fulfill a prediction I made to a Sunday school class over a month ago. I predicted the day would come when any hesitation to marry, accept into membership, or employ those openly gay would come under scrutiny and legal process.

In Houston the City Council passed a non-discrimination ordinance at the behest of a newly elected openly gay mayor. Seeking to cut down on criticism or opposition the ordinance led to charges Houston biblically-oriented ministered violated the ordinance. Subsequently the Council ordered pastors to surrender sermons opposing the lesbian mayor and preaching the biblical truth about homosexuality.The action captured the attention of Fox News reporter Todd Starnes who regularly deals with faith issues. Texas Republican Senator Ted Cruz recently spoke out on the Houston City Council's actions calling it a violation of First Amendment Rights.

Today (10/20/14) Fox News reported Donald and Evelyn Knapp are facing fines or jail time for refusing to marry same sex coupes. The Couer d'Alene couple operate a "for profit" wedding chapel but the Knapps are ordained ministers. Their refusal to marry a same sex couple brought them into conflict with recent Idaho statutes permitting gay marriage. The rationale for the lawsuit filed in Federal Court alleges the Knapps must provide marriage services to gay precisely because their chapel is incorporated as a "for profit" entity.

A couple operating a bakery in Colorado were recently sued because they refused on religious grounds to bake a wedding cake for a lesbian couple. Again the suit stipulates that since the couple operate a "for profit" business they must make their services available to all comers regardless of personal conviction. Other similar suits have been filed around the country creating a crisis in conscience for a variety of businesses.

The United States is merely following in Canada's footsteps. Canadian law prohibits "gay bashing" or speaking openly about the sin of homosexual behavior. I guess it is still okay to preach so as to oppose adultery or heterosexual misbehavior but not against gay behavior.

The potential here in the United States will undoubtedly follow the Politically Correct attitudes of Canada. American preachers will be permitted to speak in opposition of sexual sin--even homosexual sin-- but to do so may result in the message being labelled "hate speech." A church speaking out in such a matter may be labeled as a "hate organization" and openly condemned.

In my opinion the government has gone out of its way to openly abridge the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. That's been true long before the homosexual agenda reared its head. At one time restaurants and other businesses could display a sign which said, "We have the right to refuse service to anyone." That is obviously no longer true! Granted, most of us would agree it is wrong to refuse service to someone because of their race, color, religious persuasion, or whatever. Nonetheless, the only ones truly hurt from such prejudice is the business owner. I still see signs saying, "No shirt, No shoes, No service!" If someone does not have the right to refuse service to someone--regardless of who they are or what their color or sexual preference is--how can they refuse service to someone who elects not to wear shoes?

The church is facing trying times. Heresy from within and without, the rise of false religion, and the whole Politically Correct agenda is creating an atmosphere much like that in the early Roman Empire. Everything in Rome was hunky-dory as long as you were tolerant and accepted anything and everything as okay. Christians stood in the face of such goofy-ness saying, "Jesus is the only way!" Their willingness to die for their faith and their refusal to deny the Lordship of Christ eventually overcame the world. Whether it happens again depends on the willingness of Christians to stand for something!