Home > Books, Current Events, History > denominationalism as a solution for rogue preachers

denominationalism as a solution for rogue preachers

I’m an Evangelical Christian; I’m willing to admit that Evangelicalism may be a failed experiment.

A generation or so ago my family left mainstream Christianity for independent fundamentalism, then for Evangelicalism, mostly because of a liberal/modernist drift within the professional Christians (church hierarchy, church-affiliated universities, publishing houses, etc.) in our denomination. Unfortunately fundamentalism, evangelicalism, and independent churches have their problems, too, and I’m always curious to hear second-generation refugees tell their stories of how they dealt with these problems and their consequences.

Jeri Massi is a Bob Jones refugee who has found refuge in a Reformed church and has written about her experiences in her book Schizophrenic Christianity [link]. This is not a great book, but I recommend reading it anyway, mostly because I think she has identified some of the symptoms of what’s wrong with fundamentalism correctly, although I’m not sure her diagnosis of the underlying disease makes any sense. She basically says that preachers who molest children get away with it because their churches aren’t part of a denomination, and a strong denominational framework would prevent sociopaths from reaching the pulpit and/or detect and discipline them effectively when needed.

This seems to be a popular theme among people who flee dysfunctional independent churches for denominational churches. Another example surfaced recently when Terry Mattingly visited Issues Etc. [mp3] to discuss Terry Jones, the independent pastor in Gainesville, Florida who made the news recently for his church’s plan to burn copies of the Koran, etc. Mattingly has something of a complicated religious background; if I remember correctly he grew up Baptist in Texas, attended Baylor, taught at Milligan, a Church of Christ school in Tennessee, was a Lutheran of some stripe for a while, and is now Eastern Orthodox [link]. Anyway, his appearance on Issues Etc. is pretty much by-the-numbers Mattingly for a while, as he touches on his usual talking points:

  • The importance, credentials, and authority of Terry Mattingly
  • The importance of and dearth of good religion reporting
  • The relative stupidity of fundamentalists vs. mainline/mainstream Christians

And it was on this last point that his discussion with host Todd Wilken really got going, as they agreed that one of the problems with Mr Jones is that there was nobody “who could call him and tell him to stop.” The implication being, of course, that someone like Mr Jones, no matter how hot his temper, would certainly obey his denominational authority.

This sort of argument sounds pale coming from Wilken, given that when his show was canceled by his denomination [e.g. link, link] he left the LCMS umbrella and went independent, yet he continues to comment on LCMS organizational issues from outside the denominational structure. That’s my understanding, at least; if Wilken is still accountable to the LCMS for the content of his show I hope someone will point me to the appropriate evidence.

The argument sounds doubly pale given the recent NALC/ELCA split [link]. While I realize that this split was the result of many months of discussions and centered around the question of the ordination of gay clergy in the ELCA, I don’t see a qualitative difference between a bunch of pastors banding together to leave a denomination en masse and a single pastor doing something confrontational and headline-grabbing regardless of what his imagined denominational authority would have told him to do. My expectation would be that, had Mr Jones had a denomination to answer to, and they’d forbidden him to burn a bunch of Korans, he would have accused his denomination of being apostate (and universalist, or secretly Muslim, or some such), had his fifteen minutes of fame, been subject to discipline, and gone independent if he’d been defrocked by his denomination.

Perhaps I’m being cynical, but I don’t believe a denomination would have stopped Mr Jones from burning Korans any more than it stopped Mr Wilken from running a radio show. And of course I think it’s telling that Mr Jones was convinced to call off his Koran-burning not on the basis of his identity in Christ, but on the basis of his identity as an American. But that’s another topic for another day.

Advertisements
  1. Otto
    September 30, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    Sorry, but you’ve got it wrong about Todd Wilken. He never left the LCMS “umbrella.”

    He is an ordained LCMS pastor. He and Jeff Schwartz were fired by the LCMS. They had no choice. Todd is the consummate churchman.

    ‘if Wilken is still accountable to the LCMS for the content of his show I hope someone will point me to the appropriate evidence.’

    I’m not sure what that means. Again, the Synod (or more accurately, the corporation running the Synod under Gerald Kieschnick, former president) FIRED Todd and Jeff.

    The bigger picture that contradicts your comments is that the LCMS delegates recently elected a new President who’s sympathetic to the more confessional element in the LCMS. Actually, the whole process was a testament to one of the many advantages denoms. can hold over cowboy types like Jones who are accountable to no one.

    You may see Todd and Jeff back on the LCMS ‘official’ station. But maybe not. Doesn’t matter, really. It’s just a ‘symbolic’ thing, anyway.

    • October 1, 2010 at 9:25 am

      I should have made this more clear; Wilken is still an LCMS pastor, but the show is no longer an LCMS product. When he was fired, as you say, he started the show up again outside the LCMS. The fact that his authority within the Synod fired him didn’t prevent him from going independent.

      However, as I understand him he’s suggesting that if Mr Jones in Florida were duly accountable to a church structure, and his authority within that structure told him to cancel his planned Koran burning, he’d do so. I suspect that there’s a chance that like Mr Wilken if he were sufficiently convinced of the rightness of his actions he’d do what he wanted anyway.

  2. s77
    October 2, 2010 at 9:51 am

    “She basically says that preachers who molest children get away with it because their churches aren’t part of a denomination, and a strong denominational framework would prevent sociopaths from reaching the pulpit and/or detect and discipline them effectively when needed.”

    that did not stop The Florida Outpouring from happening and give us the greatest Christian embarrassment so far this century. A pastor by the name of Strader was in charge of the church where it was born. The problem, his father had so much stroke within the Assemblies of God that no one dared to speak out. And the A.O.G. straddled the fence until the revival broke down and then denounced it.

    ===

    “My expectation would be that, had Mr Jones had a denomination to answer to, and they’d forbidden him to burn a bunch of Korans, he would have accused his denomination of being apostate (and universalist, or secretly Muslim, or some such), had his fifteen minutes of fame, been subject to discipline, and gone independent if he’d been defrocked by his denomination.”

    The real truth is that many independent churches are made up of either defrocked pastors or pastors who felt ‘held back’ by the ‘buddy system’ and decide to leave and start their own thing.

    However, the new trend in the independent church scene appears to be ex-executives leaving their corporate jobs and creating a church and running the churches in the same vein they ran their businesses while calling themselves ‘Chief Executive Pastor’

    • October 4, 2010 at 8:49 am

      The real truth is that many independent churches are made up of either defrocked pastors or pastors who felt ‘held back’ by the ‘buddy system’ and decide to leave and start their own thing.

      However, the new trend in the independent church scene appears to be ex-executives leaving their corporate jobs and creating a church and running the churches in the same vein they ran their businesses while calling themselves ‘Chief Executive Pastor’

      This is not what I have seen, so I would appreciate your citing some examples here. What I have seen is that there are basically two categories of independent churches:

      1. Churches that are part of a loose affiliation (Calvary Chapel, Independent Baptist) that bands together for media ministries and doctrinal distinctives (Calvary Chapel) or for missions (Independent Baptists) but provides no real accountability, financial oversight, background checks, etc.
      2. Truly independent churches with no structure of any kind beyond the pastor and/or deacons/elders

      The Independent Baptist churches I’ve seen were typically small, and were splits off Southern Baptist churches formed for doctrinal or behavioral reasons.

      The real independent churches I’ve seen were also small, and had formed because of a split or breakup within an established church. The differences that led to the split had their origin in a disagreement between the head pastor and the assistant pastors, and were typically hard to identify definitively. There tended to be a lot of euphemistic language surrounding these disagreements (“.. decided to go in a different direction ..” or “.. budget would not support ..” or “the Spirit led so-and-so to go out on his own ..”).

      I haven’t seen what you describe above; even the large local church that dropped “Baptist” from its name kept its SBC affiliation, style, etc.

      So I would appreciate your citing examples, as I am under the impression that most independent churches are small, have small budgets, etc. and tend to see their small size as an indication that they are part of a Remnant of the True Church, rather than as an indication that they’re marginal and likely to struggle.

  1. September 30, 2010 at 1:13 pm
  2. October 2, 2010 at 10:11 am

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: