Saturday, November 12, 2011

Heretics in the House

One of the most cited points of resistance to the organic church is that it will give fertile ground for heresy (false teachings) to spring up.  Many say that there is no way to prevent heresy and control doctrinal integrity.  Since this is an important concern, let me address it briefly.

First, the assumption inherent in the argument is usually that it is important to have a denominational authority or church hierarchy that can provide us with guidelines, or boundaries, for our theology and doctrine.  Practically speaking, people want a board or committee or pastor/priest or bishop or superintendent or...somebody who they view as "official" enough to spell out the beliefs of the church properly.  This contention is actually one of the best signs that we've become so dependent on IC structure without realizing it.  Furthermore, what we've painfully realized over time is that even with all that structure, heresy flourishes in many ICs.  I have heard crazy things preached from pulpits over the years, and I have heard even more absurd things taught in Sunday school classes or, worse yet, children's ministry meetings.  In fact, this obsession with doctrinal correctness on what are usually secondary issues is what has led us to this point in Western Christianity where we now have more denominations, labels, and distinctions than ever before, which ultimately just means more division in the body.  (And history teaches us that in many cases this hierarchical structure actually fostered less accountability and more greed, power, and corruption!)
Of course, pastors and church leaders are usually the first to caution people about the organic churches, saying it is their "job" after all to "protect the flock."  This issue kept coming up at a conference I attended last April.  The "senior pastors" of congregations repeatedly voiced the concerns over losing the church's "identity" or having the cardinal doctrines get watered down.  In short, they wanted to know what would organic churches do about false teachers.  My response was, "That's a good and valid point.  We need a plan.  Tell me what you do in your church to prevent false teaching and preserve doctrinal integrity."  Guess how many responses I have received or found?  Nada!  Zero!  None!  This is no surprise to me because I understand how difficult it is in congregations of 50, 100, 150, 200, or so to practically oversee what is being taught at all times.  Not just difficult, but really impossible.  At some point, trust comes into play.
But more than trust, there would be some practical ways to help ensure doctrinal integrity and proper biblical teaching.  One, make sure the Bible itself is the core curriculum rather than denominational literature or another book or study guide.  Two, have smaller churches where oversight is much easier to carry out and more people can see and understand what is being taught.  Three, create an environment where teachings can actually be questioned.  In other words, allow everyone to participate in a dialogue and converse about questions, misunderstandings, clarifications, etc. rather than a "monologue" setting where one person does all the preaching or teaching with a "take my word for it" mentality while a bunch of other people passively listen.
Most importantly, though, let's remember what the New Testament teaches us.  IC structures were clearly not in place at that time.  The Holy Spirit was the main Conveyer of faith and truth.  Early churches understood their dependency upon Him.  And finally, it is worth honestly noting that the very fact that we have much of the New Testament is because of false teachings.  Paul, in most of his letters, addresses genuine believers (and some not so genuine) about issues that he thinks are causing harm to the Body of Christ.  This is a good indicator to us that there is no foolproof way of ensuring that false teachings never enter the church, but it is still worth fighting against them.  So, let me end this entry with an admission that yes, heresy can definitely enter the organic (simple, house) church movement, and even do so wildly at times.  But the simple church can also provide the best setting to avoid it, as well.

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