Leaving Fundamentalism, Day Two
Discovering Denominations

Discovering Denominations
Apologies to Lutherans, Four-Square Folk and any others not represented in this diagram.

Discovering Denominations

From non-denominational to Lutheran, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Methodist, Reformed etc. churches! What to make of it all? Where does one even begin? Second in our SFL ‘leaving Fundamentalism’ series …

2. Denominations think and act in different ways and categories.

Denominations have church polities. If lengthy, this discussion is needed. Polity is simply critical to church life. And what is church polity, you ask?

Polity refers to principles and rules adopted by a denomination to organize work and relationships — with other denominations, with churches in the denomination, with churches of your denomination in your region, with your local church, its officers, pastors and councils, and members.

Polity nurtures cooperation. It coordinates congregations, boards and church agencies for more effective ministry. This makes for a more united witness to Christ. Ideally, it makes many aspects of church life better.

Polity is required by seminary curriculum. Prospective ministers must pass polity courses to graduate and be ordained. But denominational polity [Church Order, Book of Church Order, Church Discipline, etc.] is available to members also. That is a key point. And there’s more.

Polity experts [as seminary professors who teach church polity] produce manuals explaining church order with case studies, church decisions and commentary on their biblical grounds. A church that understands and can use its polity has a powerful tool. Polity eliminates many procedural mistakes that often acerbate problems in the church. Mistakes can still happen. But polity gives you a procedure and framework to address them.

An Hypothetical, Church Polity Primer

Suppose a young woman believes that an elder, pastor or other church leader has acted indecently toward her. On her church bulletin board is displayed prominently four names [two women, two men] from her congregation to contact in such situations. She contacts one of the women.

Immediately, this woman contacts the regional response team. The offended woman is assigned a woman advocate to come along side her. She is no longer isolated. Her advocate can help her speak her story. If necessary, she can speak in her place. If the accused is a male, a man is assigned to come alongside and support the church leader at this time.

The regional response team will meet with the woman and her advocate. Another meeting is arranged with the church leader and his advocate. This committee is composed of people from churches of this denomination in the region. They have no tie to the woman, leader or their church. If this committee, a balance of women and men, believes that questions need answering, it can require the church leader to arrange a time to meet a panel of women and men trained to make inquiry into such cases.

If issues are not resolved, findings and recommendations are recorded and sent to the council of the original church. A copy is sent to the regional executive officers. The council takes such actions as it deems appropriate. The regional executive can make available someone [as a retired minister with time and wisdom] to assist this church council and to ensure that all is done properly and according to church order.

This woman’s case won’t vanish quietly. Review and oversight are woven into this process. When regional church officers meet, reports on work performed are discussed to see that matters are faithful resolved to honor Scripture and the church order. This entire process follows the procedure for resolving allegations of abuse as proscribed by the church order.

This example shows one way Fundamentalist sects could benefit greatly from such church polity. Polity matters because it can prevent and redress much church-related sorrow for the benefit of people and Jesus’ honor.

Polity differs between denominations. Some polities work more effectively in some areas than others. Yet this realistic, hypothetical example shows that a solidly Biblical polity can strengthen a church greatly.

Among many other things, polity empowers congregations to take action against abuses and to hold accountable those who perpetrate it. Too often, the absence of IFB church polity is used to conceal wrongful relationships. Believers are called to live in mutual submission to each other. This includes IFB pastors. Church polity provides a way of upholding this.

Where Polity Isn’t

Independent pastors argue that there is no Biblical basis for inter-church associations. Others feel that independence fails to express the unity of the body of Christ. But — never let this point of disagreement obscure the need of accountability and mutual submission. Let Heb 13:17 be held together with and be balanced by Eph 5:21.

Sects with no polity are responsible to write, adopt and make available to the whole membership transparent procedures for resolving issues that arise in church life. These must reflect truth, grace, justice, protect the vulnerable and hold all accountable. To require this is not disrespectful, rebellious or extreme. It is to ensure that justice issues are not resolved on the basis of who is related to who, appeals to authority, and secrecy.

Sects that refuse so to protect people thereby give members very grave grounds for leaving. It is entirely appropriate to ask church officers at a prospective church home about the policy and procedures by which the church operates, and whether this is readily available to all members. Church members have a right to know how their church is governed.

Denominational Agencies

Denominational agencies include things such as world missions, home missions and outreach, social justice, diaconal issues, church education, publications, and more. Unless the denomination is small, expect at least one denominational seminary and possibly some liberal arts colleges. At times, representatives visit to give an overview of their work. This is tied to appeals to support that agency, its work, programs or some campaign. Periodically, deacons schedule offerings for an agency or campaign.

Non-denominational churches can do all these things; but they are not challenged to do so. And they’re on their own in terms of finding such works. They have no say in the standards maintained by independent agencies other than what support they can offer or retain as a church. Churches can always support ministries outside the denomination. But local churches are encouraged to support denominational causes first.

The Church Yearbook

The annual, denominational yearbook publishes the names, numbers and addresses of denominational officials, agencies, ministries, schools, regional executives, local church pastors and officers. This facilitates communication in the denomination for cooperation on many projects and ministries. A church embarking on a new ministry can contact churches known for that ministry to learn from them. Your local church can also contact the agency related to the ministry for more expertise.

Church Councils

Congregations elect officers to church council. Council is responsible for the oversight of all aspects of church life. Program leaders report to council. The pastor also reports to council, which supervises her/his work in preaching, visiting, teaching and whatever else belongs to the job description. If a pastor refuses to cooperate with church officers and all efforts to mend this relationship fail, council goes to the appropriate section of church order and takes this up at the regional meeting.

Leaving Fundamentalism Behind: Day One

Time to Go!

Leaving Fundamentalism?

This is the first in a series on leaving Fundamentalism. In addition to my thoughts, no doubt others will have their own insights to add. In time, I hope to become more adept at this. SFL should have a more permanently accessible page for those planning their escape from fundamentalism.

Time to Go!

You’ve seen enough. You’ve calculated the cost and burned your bridges [if only in the sanctuary of your own mind]. Insipid antics, sanctimonious sermons with neither form nor content, theological unbalance, irrational arguments, scurrilous slanders on [always-at-fault] women, double standards and false standards, bellicose rhetoric, ignorance and anger – all this and much more established one thing: It is time to go!

Go Where?

Less than an official guide, more than a few principles, here are some admittedly fallible observations on finding a church. No perfect church exists. You may need to scratch something on your ‘looking for’ list. But solid matches do exist. Make a GOOD effort! You need to be able to live with your church. But also enjoy this. Give yourself permission to be ‘playful’ about this! Church? Fun? Heeeeey! Who would have imagined it!

Why Hurry to Re-affiliate?

1. You needn’t rush to re-affiliate. Know that churches do target seekers.

Many churches have people who gush about how wonderful it is here. Not infrequently, gushy people left another bad situation. They’re happy now because the old dynamics associated with their former congregation are GONE! That alone doesn’t mean the new situation has no issues. You want a good sense of where a church is before you affiliate.

Take your time. Look around. Especially if you’re looking at a number of possibilities, six months likely won’t be enough. Depending on where you are and what options are available, take a year. Perhaps two are in order.

Finding a church is rather like a marriage. Both are a big step, and in each case, you’re after a good match. Many new things are before you. You’re going to grow in perspective as you look. You’ll learn plenty! As you do, you may want to revise your ‘looking for’ list. Remember that you need to be able to live with your church. Take your time! Two years isn’t too long.

Patriarchy and “The Propriety of Rape”

Patriarchy Personified

Doug Wilson, Patriarchy and Rape

No stranger to controversy, Doug Wilson has kicked a hornet’s nest.

Since this is Doug Wilson, he is [quite naturally] peddling patriarchy. But particularly odious is the unstated premise that by not accepting his perspective, women act as agents in their own injury.

Ignoring the fact that our society rests upon a system of laws enforced by police workers and supported by courts where judges hand out sentences to law breakers, Mr. Wilson makes men the protectors of women.

Well…Some Men

In Doug’s bizarre vision, men are classified as predators and defenders. The safety of women is contingent on dutiful submission to defender men. And if women refuse the place of submission Doug defines for them?

‘One consequence of rejecting the protection of good men is that you are opening yourself up to the ‘predations of bad men.’

Rather than stating grounds for his view, Mr. Wilson speculates on what hypothetical consequences may befall an ‘egalitarian and very foolish reason’ for refusing a man’s protection. We all know how flattering it is to have ‘foolish’ reasoning. The ‘foolish’ and ‘irrational woman motifs aside, don’t miss the thinly veiled threat to ‘accept’ male protection — or else.

‘Protection.’ Ignoring the mob business racket, let us ask exactly how it ‘helps’ to make public safety contingent on the elevation the chauvinistic impulses of those who claim to be ‘charged’ as protectors?

Speaking of chauvinism, Mr. Wilson sets up his article by reminding us that ‘young Muslim men can grope women ad libitum,’ and that ‘the women are the ones blamed.’ No irony there, right?


Vicarious Atonement, Christus Victor

What if it's Vicarious Atonement

What if it’s vicarious atonement?

Vicarious atonement is the Holy Grail of Christian Fundamentalism.

It is vicarious atonement, or you are no Fundamentalist. Doubtless some believe that it is vicarious atonement, or you are no Christian. For one very simple reason, that is untenable. Vicarious atonement is about 480 years old. And that is being very generous.

Do some texts support vicarious atonement? Yes. And they zero in on guilt, debt, obligation, obedience, debt transfer, payment and justification. Sound familiar? Those ideas shape Fundamentalism’s Gospel. What’s more, they are legal terms. All of them. This begs a beguiling question:

Is it vicarious atonement that makes fundamentalism, ‘Fundamentalism?’

Might vicarious atonement illumine Fundamentalism’s fixation on law, guilt and obedience? And if so, do alternatives exist with the depth and redemptive import to found and nurture true faith in Jesus Christ? The answer is ‘yes.’ Here is a much older alternative to vicarious atonement.

The Christus Victor view of Atonement

Through Christ, God revealed the definitive truth about himself [Rom 5:8, cf. Jn 14:7-10], reconciled all things [including us] to himself [2 Cor 5:18-19; Col 1:20-22], forgave sins [Ac 13:38; Eph 1:7], healed our sin-diseased nature [1 Pet 2:24], poured his Spirit on us, and empowered us to live before himself [Rom 8:2-16]. He also showed us what it looks like to live in the kingdom [Eph 5:1-2; 1 Pet 2:21]. But above all this, Christ undertook his work to defeat the devil [He 2:14; 1 Jn 3:8].

Christus Victor recognizes that Jesus saw Satan as the functional Lord of this earth at that time [Jo 12:31; 14:30; 16:11]. Everything Jesus did was to contest and take back the world the Satan seized, and restoring it to its rightful guardians [Ge 1:26-28; 2 Ti 2:12; Re 5:10]. Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil [1Jn 3:8] and free those held in slavery [He 2:14-15].

Jesus demonstrated God’s power over the Satan, demons, rebellious principalities and powers, thrones, dominions, rulers. He became incarnate, died and was raised to reconcile to himself all things on earth or in heaven by making peace through his blood on the cross [Co 1:20].

What is Salvation?

Salvation certainly involves forgiveness of sins; but forgiveness is also about release from Satan’s grip. Salvation is primarily concerned about escaping ‘the snare of the devil’ [2Ti 2:26], about being freed from this present evil age [Ga 1:4], and about ending enslavement to the spirits of this world [Ga 4:3, Ro 6:18, 8:2; Ga 5:1; Co 2:20]. It is about our transfer from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God’s Son [Co 1:12-13] and receiving forgiveness of sins and an inheritance in him [Co 1:14].

In the NT, salvation is not primarily about deliverance from God’s wrath and/or hell. Salvation is a cosmic event liberating the whole cosmos from demonic oppression, as well as overcoming our rebellion so that we may live new lives under his loving reign [Ro 8:19-22]. Everything Jesus did — healing, teaching, exorcisms, confrontations — pushed back the kingdom of evil. More, it expressed the victory of the cross in all of life. Result?

By fellowship with tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners, by forsaking tradition to heal and feed on the Sabbath, by crossing racial and social barriers with Samaritans, Gentiles and lepers, by treating women with respect and dignity, by showing mercy to those culture said should be judged, Jesus waged war against religious legalism and oppression. He resisted, exposed and battled the powers of racism and social exclusion, sexism, as well as social and religious cruelty and judgemental-ism.

That is the earthly system Jesus came to destroy. It is what ‘repentance’ calls us to forsake. But it is also too much like the earthly power system Fundamentalism means to keep and enforce. This brings us to …

The Meaning of Jesus’ Death

Ask your typical North American evangelical what Jesus’ death means and you will hear something like this: our lawbreaking alienated us from God and incurred his anger. But Jesus took our sin and guilt on himself. God poured out his anger on Jesus, removing the obstacle to a relationship with the Father, which is now offered to us through faith in Jesus Christ.

For some 11 centuries, the church answered otherwise. Ask what Jesus death meant in generations past and you would hear, ‘Christus Victor.’ Christ the Victor! He engaged the powers in spiritual conflict in life, and by his death and resurrection, defeated them. When he ascended to glory, he led out a host of captives in his victory train [Ep 4:8]. That’s us.

Other theories of atonement do exist. All have strengths and weaknesses. Vicarious atonement fleshes out the legal issues but does little else. Given what Christ’s death is to Christian faith, it’s bound to shape us deeply. But if that leads to Fundamentalism’s legalistic bent and disinterest in broader issues of justice, peace and goodness, there is good news. Christus Victor embraces more of Christ’s life and ministry than vicarious atonement. It also shifts the discussion back to the Gospel narratives. And that’s good.

Why? There is more to Christian faith than penal substitution theory. Fundamentalists [and others] need to embrace ALL that Jesus does.

This material was shamelessly copied without permission from Greg Boyd, whose fine work I hope I’ve enticed to read. Please click the graphic.

Greg Boyd on Atonement