Some Problems with the Autonomous Church

Within some evangelical movements, specifically the Southern Baptist Convention, the idea of “church autonomy” tend to be a central aspect. The idea is that there isn’t a central board of leaders assigning pastors to different churches, holding the ability to hire or fire them. Likewise, there isn’t a real doctrinal statement of faith, merely a set of beliefs the denomination affirms, but no individual church is obligated to agree with those beliefs. The idea of the autonomous church developed after years of abuses from the higher church authorities in the Roman Catholic Church as well as the Protestant splits. In other words, it was a reaction to corrupt church authorities, not necessarily an idea garnished from Scripture.

That being said, I do think there are some problems with the autonomous church; not practical problems (though those do exist), but problems with the entire concept. None of this is said to put down the belief or lambast it, but merely to note some observations that I think proponents of the autonomous church need to deal with.

First, there really is no Scriptural backing. Many proponents will point to 1 Timothy 3:15 where Paul instructs Timothy to behave correctly in the house of God should Paul be unable to return. But this is hardly a passage in support of the autonomous church, rather it works against the idea of autonomy! Here we have Paul writing an authoritarian letter to an individual church, just as he did with other churches (some of which he didn’t help start). In other words, none of the churches were autonomous from the authority of the Apostles. In other words, there’s a distinct lack of Scripture in support of churches working independently from each other.

Second, the idea of an autonomous church was foreign to the early Christians, almost bordering on heresy. We first look to the Council of Jerusalem where the church leaders convened to determine what to do with the Gentiles. Notice that it wasn’t left up to the individual churches throughout the area, but instead it was dependent upon a Council’s Edict. For those who want to attempt to reinterpret that passage or write it off, we can easily see that Clement of Rome, who was the Bishop of Rome, wrote with authority to the church in Corinth. Both Ignatius and Polycarp, disciples of the Apostle John, wrote about the importance of following the authority of a Bishop. The Didache, a very early Christian document (so early one of the debates concerning it is whether or not some of the disciples helped write it, as it’s distinctly Jewish in character), talks about how people within a district are to elect a Bishop and the Bishop would, in turn, appoint the priests. In other words, we don’t see the idea of an autonomous church anywhere in early Christianity unless it’s accompanied by another heresy (such as denying the Divinity or humanity of Christ).

Third, we worship a Trinitarian God. Christ commands us to be one with each other as He is one with the Father and Spirit. So we must ask, which member of the Trinity is autonomous? If none of the members of the Trinity are autonomous from each other, then how is it that two churches can be autonomous? It simply doesn’t follow that in worshiping a Trinitarian God and being in His image that we would somehow be called to be autonomous.

Fourth, we are a body and no part of the body is autonomous from the other part, unless it has been cut off and is dead. Paul uses the description that we are all part of the body, but no part of the body is autonomous from another part. All parts work together and to function properly all parts are needed. If my finger were independent from my body, this would mean that my finger was cut off or had a problem and was functioning incorrectly. The same must be true of the Church; if any local church is autonomous from the body, then how is it truly a part of the body?

For those four reasons, I think proponents of the autonomous church need to rethink their position. Certainly it doesn’t mean we should all rush out and become Roman Catholics – because that’s another extreme – but instead that we should reconsider the validity of church autonomy.

How to Demonize Those Who Disagree: A Lesson from Tony Jones

The lesson isn’t so much taught by Tony Jones, but rather he acts as a good example. Jones apparently has closed shop for on the idea of having an emergent conversation and would now rather only discuss Christianity with people he agrees with. This is based on the fact that now anyone who supports the Tea Party is considered a “teabagger” to Jones. Now of course this is a very derogatory and grotesque term to use (especially considering the origin of the term), but that doesn’t prevent Jones from using it. Why? Because he’s no different than a Jerry Falwell or a Pat Robertson; he must demonize the opposition in order to defeat and silence the opposition.

Jones goes on to link to an article that accuses people who believe that America was founded upon an evangelical past – such as David Barton – for wanting an era or, “white, middle-class, pre-Civil Rights, pre-Vietnam, pre-Watergate past. An imagined day when men were men, women were women, African Americans knew their place, and Mexicans lived south of the border.” In other words, those who see vestiges of evangelicalism in the past, such as Barton, are also racists and don’t like having a black man in office. Instead, they want to go back to the days when blacks were slaves or at least knew they were lesser than the white man. What does the article offer up as proof for these allegations? Nothing, it’s simply a motive that’s ascribed to an entire movement.

I am not a part of the Tea Party movement (as I don’t place my hope in politics and I find the movement to be reactionary, wrong on many points, and uncivil) and I certainly don’t believe that evangelicals founded America (they were involved, but there were many mainline Protestants and Deists involved), but that doesn’t mean I’m going to go around calling people “teabaggers” or attempting to ascribe racist motives to an entire movement. The reason I won’t is because I try to give people the benefit of the doubt rather than demonize them.

But Jones, both in what he said and what he linked, is trying to poison the well. “Don’t listen to the Tea Party or evangelicals because they’re racist!” The sad reality is that “racist” has become the new “Nazi.” It used to be that if you could link someone to Nazi ideology, you win. That person is then ascribed as a Nazi and no one would ever listen to what the person said. Being labeled a Nazi delegitimized any point you wanted to make and stopped any hope of discourse on the issue. Now we use the term “racist” and simply try to call people racists. “Oh, they’re not against President Obama’s policies, they’re against him as a black man.” What proof is offered up to prove the biggest problem is a black man is in office? The same amount of proof offered up that a movement is akin to the Nazi Party – none. Continue reading

Christianity is ancient, not modern; may this never change

One of the biggest movements in Christianity across conservative, liberal, and even emergent lines is the desire to be culturally relevant. The conservatives tend to desire relevancy through their “worship” (music) and style of message. The liberals and emergents tend to desire relevancy in their beliefs. In fact, the only difference between a liberal and an emergent is a liberal will say, “Well the majority believes this, so…” whereas the emergent will still think his belief is in the minority (when it’s actually part of the trend).

Regardless, I see this desire for relevancy to be troubling. It betrays a desire to be accepted by the world rather than by God. What is more troubling is that it betrays a lack of knowledge concerning the early Church and what she faced. If we understood our history there is a chance we could understand how to deal with the modern age.

I’m currently reading through Justin Martyr’s First Apology (defense) and the first part of the defense is explaining that what has been said about Christianity is not true. In other words, much of the persecution against Christians was not due to their belief in Christ, but to the misconceptions about Christians. Rather than attempting to become culturally relevant and adapt to the culture so as to avoid persecution, the Christians attempted to explain the misconceptions and live in a way that pleased God. If the culture saw it and accepted it, then great. If not, then the Christians welcomed persecution.

In our modern age we attempt to be relevant to the culture rather than making the culture relevant to us. I don’t mean through violence, but through actions. When we attempt to ape the methods of the world, we water down a very potent and counter-cultural Gospel. The amazing works of the Gospel are no longer the works of the Holy Spirit that cannot be explained or copied, but rather successful business strategies that you too can copy in 7 easy steps for $19.99.  We become obsessed over mega-churches because they provide a good business model that allow for the church to function as a well-oiled machine. We prefer the best music to attract the largest crowds and ignore the lyrics or what actually aids in the worship of God. In all, Christianity, in an attempt to ape the culture, becomes less than the culture and not worthy of its former stature. The medium is changed to reach the largest number of people, but the medium overrides the message. While the medium must change, it cannot override the message.

Even worse than the above is when we begin to ape the message of the world. What was formerly a sin is now no longer a sin. Suddenly, we begin to find new ways to interpret the Bible and say, “Well, how this was meant no longer applies to today.” It’s a very sophisticated way of saying, “We know better than they did.” These interpretations have no tradition behind them. No one has ever interpreted the scriptures in this way, not even the earliest Christians, but we somehow think we have a better perspective with our modern enlightened minds than these Neanderthal ancients did. We change the importance of Christianity – it’s not important that Jesus was God, it’s important that you have a relationship with Him. It’s not important that Christ is the only way to the Father, it’s important that you find your own way. The Christianity that adopts the ways of the world ends up being nothing like Christianity.

Christianity is an ancient religion founded in ancient beliefs. When people say that I get my beliefs from a 2,000 year old book and a 2,000 year old belief, I am quick to correct them and say parts of the book are over 3,000 years old and the belief is even older.  We should take pride in the ancient beliefs because having survived for thousands of years, they have shown their resilience to change. More importantly, we should take pride in these ancient beliefs because they are founded in the Eternal and come from a timeless Source who is not subject to change. Christianity is an ancient faith and not modern, we must never forget this or attempt to change this.

Why Protestants Should Read the Church Fathers

This might seem like an odd title, especially since I’m Protestant. Not only am I a Protestant, but I come from an evangelical background. Thus, I have been raised (and currently hear) the idea that the Church fathers were, “great guys, did some good, but overall were just in it for the power.” There are multiple theories on the Church fathers, but very few respect them. If you mention the martyrdom of Polycarp, you’re met with, “Yeah, but that’s oral history, so how reliable is it?” If we talk about Peter being hung upside down on the cross, we say, “Oh that’s just Roman Catholic legend.”

But I think our purposeful ignorance of the Church fathers has cost us dearly in terms of both our theology and how we reach out to culture. In fact, I can think of quite a few reasons why Protestants should read the Church fathers: Continue reading

Is Islam a religion of peace?

Whenever we see of Islamic threats or Islamic violence in the world, it is quite fashionable to offer the retort, “Islam is a religion of peace…these are just fringe extremists.” While such a statement might have been partially true at the turn of the 20th century, such a statement doesn’t stand the test of history or proper study of Islamic history. I want to seek to show that at its root, Islam is not a religion of peace. When looking to modern attitudes and how such attitudes and actions coincide with the first 400 years of Islamic history – including that of their founder Muhammad – indicating that at its origin, Islam is not peaceful. However, I also want to add the caveat that Islam can be a peaceful religion, but the requirement would be for Muslims to drop a few of their beliefs in their religion. I will also explore Christianity to show that though violence has occurred within Christianity, such violence is inconsistent with Christianity. Christianity is truly a religion OF peace that, unfortunately, lost her way.

Let me preface everything by saying that I am not condemning all Muslims. Anecdotally speaking, I’ve never met a violent Muslim. In fact, I’ve gone to school with, worked with, and taught Muslims, all of who had knowledge that I was a Christian from a Jewish background. Not a single one of them were ever rude and, in fact, we got along extremely well. Likewise, in my study of philosophy I have a great respect and great appreciation for Islamic philosophers (specifically Ibn Sina and Al-Farabi). I’m not painting Islam with a broad brush and saying every adherent to Islam is a terrorist or a supporter of the more violent aspects of Islam. In America, I believe the vast majority of Muslims to be moderate to liberal in their Islamic practices, but it is their moderate and liberal beliefs that make them peaceful; that is to say, were they devout adherents to Islam and followed Islam to its logical end, I do not believe they could be peaceful.

As a note to the content of what is written – everything I say can be verified. I have attempted to offer links to the Qur’an and Hadith when appropriate, though it may not go to the specific passage, one can rely on these links to look up the passages I am referring to if one doubts that I am using them properly. This is a lengthy read and would probably be best split up into different posts if not for the fact that doing so would create a fragmented case. If this is too long for one read, feel free to bookmark this page and come back and read it. If you are like me, sometimes it is best to print off long articles and then read them at your own pace, marking where you last left off. However you do it, I would ask that you read this article (no matter what your current stance on Islam is) and consider what I have to say.

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A reply to a Muslim – the Deity and Death of Jesus

A while back, a Muslim (Paasurrey) posted a comment on my site addressing some of the problems He saw with the Christian belief concerning Jesus. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice the comment until yesterday. For whatever reason, it slipped through the cracks.

To make up for this, I am posting my response here and posting a link of my response on Paasurrey’s own site so he knows that I have responded to him. Though this is meant for him, I am making it public so anyone who has questions about Christ can hopefully find answers.


Assalamu alaikum. I hope this response finds you well.

I apologize for not responding sooner (over a year) as I never saw your comment until the other day. I have done my best to offer a concise reply to your objections. Please let me know what you think. I look forward to friendly dialogue with you on this issue. I have put what you said in quotes so you know what I am responding to when I write.

“I respect your religion; but I have my own free opinion. I think it to be too cruel for a father (God) to sacrifice/kill his beloved one (son) for others imaginary sins.”

If this were done against the will of Christ, then I would agree that it would be cruel. However, Jesus is part of the Godhead (we’ll get to that), thus as being God He planned on sacrificing Himself from before He even created the world, and as being a person in the Godhead, He willingly went to the cross.

Though He did ask for an alternative measure the night of His capture, He also said, “Not my will, but Your will be done.” Thus, Christ went willingly to the cross, which makes the claim of God’s “cruelty” a bit suspect.

Furthermore, sins are not imaginary. They are offenses to God. God, being infinitely good, takes our offenses against His will seriously. Any violation of His goodness is likewise infinite – how can temporal beings possibly pay off a debt that is infinite? This is why Christ died – only an eternal being can settle an eternal debt (amongst other things; this is not the only reason Christ died, but one of the biggest reasons).

The philosopher Abu Nasr al-Farabi wrote in his book al-Madinah al Fadilah (Virtuous City) that the “First Being” (God: al-Awwal) is perfect. So it is common between Christians and Muslims to agree that God is a perfect being and eternal (the “most ancient” as al-Farabi describes Him). He is likewise a person, meaning He can have offenses against Him. Any offense against Him would subsequently be eternal as God is eternal. The remedy for such a thing would also have to be eternal.

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