I am going to make a statement here that 10 years ago I would have argued against. No way would I have agreed with it. But hard experiences and further thought on God’s Word have turned me around completely on this. And I will show you how the subject at hand relates directly to all of us, especially to victims of those wicked abusers carrying on the Unholy Charade in a church. Here it is:
Local churches are not to band together into formal associations with other local churches. They are not to form what we call denominations. There is no biblical warrant for such practices and the result is inevitably the facilitation for the more rapid spread of evil, the furtherance of bondage to self-exalting men, and more intense oppression of the innocent.
Have you ever wondered for instance, how Rome became Rome? How the Pope became the Pope even though he puts his pants on one leg at a time like everyone else (I guess he wears pants)? I can tell you. Local churches began to meet together. Their elders and pastors had “convocations.” Pretty soon the head honcho bishop of the capital city got to thinking he should be acknowledged as top dog by the other churches and he sold them on the idea. Voila! The devil’s church is formed and everyone in all the other churches had just better do what Papa says, or else. After all, he is Christ on earth. Just ask him and he will tell you.
But I am not writing this morning primarily about Rome. That is just the classic example from the history of the church. No, I am writing to you to recommend some serious thinking about the common practice of churches forming and joining formal associations with one another. Writing up a doctrinal statement that all must adhere to. In some cases (church of England) putting together a Prayer Book that regulates worship in all the churches. Merging finances to fund denominational enterprises like missions, seminaries, and so on. The Southern Baptist Convention. The Independent Fundamental Baptists (IFCA). The Conservative Baptists. The Orthodox Presbyterians. The Presbyterian Church in America. The Association of Reformed Baptist Churches in America (ARBCA) (nearly defunct now due to their cover up of the evils of one Tom Chantry). CJ Mahaney’s Sovereign Grace group. On and on the list can go.
All of these constructs are the kind of formal associations I am writing about and asking you to think seriously and biblically through. I have pastored churches for going on 36 years now and have experienced church membership in a home missions church planting organization, in the IFCA, in the North American Baptist denomination, and in ARBCA. In every single case without exception we resigned from membership when, subsequent to joining, we discovered covert, sneaky, power-seeking men who craftily denied the plain truth of God’s Word. And guess what? These crafty, deceitful ones were inevitably the ones who had risen to power and leadership positions. Always. Every time.
Now, some people reading this will probably say, “Oh, come on Jeff. You are just too critical. Have you ever thought that the problem is you? After all, look at all the denominations you have tried and you found fault with them all.” Well, I can assure you that I could easily pick up my Bible and clearly show you the false teachings and abuse of power these organizations exercised, but that is not my purpose here. My purpose is to point you all to the fountainhead. The step where things always start to go wrong. It has something to do with this:
Gen 11:4-6 Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.” (5) And the LORD came down to see the city and the tower, which the children of man had built. (6) And the LORD said, “Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language, and this is only the beginning of what they will do. And nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.
Until the Lord comes again and ushers in the New Heavens and Earth, world globalization and borderless unity is not God’s will for man. Why? Because man is fallen. Unified into one entity, his evil is greatly facilitated. Once again, just consider that Babel called Rome.
When local churches band together into these enterprises to supposedly further the work of the Lord, they actually provide a career ladder for wickedness. Inevitably it is the wicked, the power and control lusters, who rise to power in such a structure. All while wearing that Unholy Charade disguise you know. How is this possible? Let’s count the ways:
It is impossible for the members of the member churches to truly know these “candidates for office” which they are, normally, required to vote on. “I don’t know Fred personally but I heard him preach once at the assembly and he sure seems like a good guy.” Checkbox, “Yes” for Fred.
The wicked are particularly “energized” by their evil. Just about every true man of God whom the Lord called to serve Him (think of Moses for instance) did not want the job. So they are not the ones who strive for eminence and fame in the church denominational empire. The wicked on the other hand….
The formation of a church associational structure places a great increase in all kinds of resources in the hands of those in power. Their tactics have now gone nuclear.
But I can give you the most important argument against local churches forming and joining together in these larger groups. It is simply this:
There is no place in Scripture that authorizes such a practice. Arguments by some that the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 is warrant for it just don’t hold up under scrutiny. The fact is that the organization of the Lord’s church goes no higher than the offices of elder (including pastor) and deacon in a single local church.
Think carefully now. We have our hands full just guarding Christ’s flock in our own local church, keeping an eye out for the wolf, ensuring that the leaders are true believers whom, over time, have proven Godly character. But it is absolutely impossible to keep such a guard over people who aren’t even in our own local assembly! Yet membership in an association of churches necessarily requires that we put ourselves under people we do not even know! And that we vote for them! And support them, even though for all we know they are working all year long unseen to us to entrench their evil power base even further.
Now, let me conclude with this proposition for your consideration –
When men are handed the keys to power (kind of like Frodo’s ring of power) the temptation to abuse that power inevitably is attached to the keys. And the greater the power, the greater the temptation to its abuse. Formal church associations provide a dangerous avenue to the increase of evil as a result.
I have been, as mentioned earlier, in several associations and denominations. I wanted to belong because I wanted more fellowship with believers, I wanted to see our church be able to do more for the Lord in missions, etc. I wanted to believe in the thing! I didn’t join so I could go “looking for trouble” so I could create a scene. But every single time, trouble found us! In the form of wicked, power-hungry men (and a few women) lording it over the flock.
Let me illustrate –
When I was called as pastor to my present church 25 years ago, the church had been a member of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Churches of America organization (IFCA). The term “independent” is ironic. There was no independence in the place, only legalism. About a year after I came, I realized, as did several of our church board members, that there was no reason to continue to be a member of the IFCA. We had no fellowship opportunities with them. We no longer adhered to their dispensational theology which was responsible for filling so many churches with false believers. We had nothing in common. And so we notified them that we were resigning.
One month later (we had a church secretary at the time), I arrived at the church building and found a guy I never saw before sitting in my office talking on my phone! Turns out the secretary had let him in. He was from the home office of the IFCA and he had come down to confront me about “coming in as a new pastor and leading the church out of the IFCA.” He was angry. He was mean. He was a bully and I could tell that he was used to being “obeyed” by the churches.
Well, I told him the same thing we had put in our letter of resignation and he stood up, left my office, and as he was putting on his coat to leave he said, “You have NO idea how much this church owes us!” He almost shouted the “NO”. We were maligned among the other member churches after that. We had basically committed treason.
But do you see my point in this illustration. I could give you story after story of the very same kind of bullying power and control wielders we dealt with in each of these groups we were members of. Every single time. These kind of men become are bullies. They are the wicked ones Paul warned the foolish Galatians and Corinthians about:
Gal 3:1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.
2Co 11:20 For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face.
And therefore, I say again:
There is no place in Scripture that authorizes the practice of forming formal church associations or denominations. Arguments by some that the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 is warrant for it just don’t hold up under scrutiny. The fact is that the organization of the Lord’s church goes no higher than the offices of elder (including pastor) and deacon in a single local church.
Are you the victim of a domestic abuser who hides in a church behind a facade of “holiness”? Then I can assure you that if you think these things through carefully, you will see (and you have probably already actually experienced it) that you are not going to find help from the denominational ties your church has. What you are going to find is this same kind of bullying treatment. Yes, there is always the rare exception. But the old, old, old story is that the boys down at denominational headquarters are not going to risk the cost of seeking true justice and the real exposure of evil. I ceased looking for justice in those places years ago.
Now, one final note. I realize that a local church remaining independent, self-governing, with no formal ties to an organization of churches can certainly become corrupt as well. A wolf most definitely can rise to power there. Many of you have probably experienced such a place. But what I am saying here is that such localized evil could have and should have been dealt with if not prevented entirely. It is much more difficult for a wolf to hide in a small flock than it is to be the pretender in a massive herd.
If you or your church are members of a denomination, please understand that I am not writing these things to accuse or condemn you. This is simply an account of what I have experienced regarding these associations and the conclusions to which I have come. I offer them for your consideration and for the protection of Christ’s true church, that invisible body which is so often persecuted by the counterfeit.