Leaving Fundamentalism, Day Three
Conservative or Liberal

Conservative, Liberal

Conservative, Liberal — Must we Decide?

3. ‘Conservative’ and ‘liberal’ change meaning depending on where you are.

For some, ‘conservative’ means ‘holding the line’ on specific issues such as vicarious atonement or a 6 day creation and a young earth cosmology.

In Fundamentalist churches, these are watershed issues. This is dogma. No other options exist for those who are faithful to God and to Scripture. These are the hills on which you stand and die. You must agree, or you are deemed to be in a state of apostasy. Your salvation is very much in doubt.

Yet recently, we noted that Christus Victor and Narrative Christus Victor are alternatives to vicarious atonement with very deep, Biblical integrity. It begs to be asked: might other matters also have solid alternatives?

Revisiting the Genesis Prologue

Genesis 1 and 2 offer differing creation narratives. Using the King James Bible doesn’t change that. What does one make of this? Some take these two accounts to mean that the ‘days’ are not literal days at all, Instead, the ‘days’ are taken as a literary device used to structure the story.

Still others see the Genesis creation account as a product of the exile. It is believed that the author never intended to address scientific questions.

In captivity, Jews struggling to keep their identity. Answers were needed. This was especially so when their freshly taunted children came home with questions they heard from neighboring children: ‘if Yahweh is so great, why was Jerusalem sacked and we got dragged here?’

Jews sorely needed a narrative alternative to Babylon’s creation myth. Comparing the Genesis prologue to Babylonian mythology shows strong parallels. This makes a compelling case for this view.

What Honors the Creation Narrative?

Author intention matters. If an author never meant to address modern questions of geology [the age of the world] or astrophysics [the age of the cosmos], we cannot force the text to say otherwise. Reading our scientific understanding into the text doesn’t honor the narrative; it appropriates the authority of the text to ourselves and for our own purposes.

One real difference between Fundamentalist sects and churches is that whereas the former generally don’t allow discussion of such questions, genuine churches do. And that discussion is sorely needed!

Fundamentalist sects are concerned with adherence to specific positions on an host of questions. Churches are more concerned with the exegetical process by which a position was developed, how that position is held, how it integrates with our faith as a whole, and how it relates to life.

About that Prospective Church Home

Church denominations can have congregations that run the full gamut — conservative-progressive, liturgical-freestyle, traditional-contemporary. All these and more happen in many combinations. Even in the same town, churches in one denomination can differ widely. Sometimes, everyone is fine with that. But if that leads to fights between churches, stay clear.

Less conservative denominations often have some conservative churches. And conservative denominations have pastors who aren’t dipsticks. So you approach churches on a ‘case-by-case’ basis, with an open eye on how that church is responding to church and societal issues. Again, if a fight is brewing, it isn’t yours. Get a sense of where this church ‘is going.’

If terms such as ‘liberal’ or ‘conservative’ come up, don’t assume that you know what they mean at THIS church. And if asked where you fit into the spectrum, have a few thoughts to explain how YOU use such terms.

Conservative, Liberal, or Just be Faithful

Each of these positions mentioned above [Christus Victor, Narrative Christus Victor and the differing readings of Genesis 1 and 2 are held by deeply committed Christians who hold Scripture in great reverence, and seek to unfold its meaning responsibly. And yes, this applies to many issues.

Certainly, you must weigh what you hear with Scripture. But rather than endorsing ideas based on conservative or liberal idea lists, listen closely to HOW Scripture is handled in this process. This is lost on many IFB sects. But then, IFB sects desire blind, implicit faith in their doctrines.

True churches nurture explicit, knowledgeable belief arrived upon by honest inquiry and serious study of Scripture. In the end, ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ are just names. Needed is that we just be faithful.

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.