Sometimes I run late for work and I fail to make myself some breakfast. Unfortunately my fail safe is a pit stop at the local fast food joint. Although the indulgence is pleasurable for a season, I look forward to running into some of the regulars more than the slimy sausage whatcha-ma-jiggy.
One of those regulars happens to be my old Sunday School Teacher. He was a an important part of the puzzle that became my profession in Christ. Much of what I knew up to that point came from the lessons he was faithful to teach me. He has been a steady disciple for as long as I remember.
This meeting was the same as most of our others. We exchanged a salutation, inquiry regarding each others families, and small talk. But this time, he had bad news. The assembly he was now a part of (the result of a previous congregation split) was closing its doors. I was saddened to hear this as the group is a great, friendly, caring, giving, and energetic witness for the Lord. They rented a school for their meeting place and had minimal overhead. When I asked why they were closing his response did not surprise me:
“There just aren’t enough tithes to pay the pastor.”
Cue the cane. Exit stage left. End of story. No money to pay the pastor means no way they can make it as a congregation. The elders decided to close up shop because they could not pay its most prominent member. I assume there are a dozen other issues that contributed to the decision. I even wager that there are capable teachers in their midst able to lead the group together, free of charge. The group think of this particular body was unanimous, they had to have a paid pastor leading them week in and out.
But the Church, in its local manifestations – has no authority to close itself. Only Jesus Christ, the only lead Pastor of all congregations demonstrates that authority in the New Testament.
We see this problem all the time. “Churches” fail. With a church building established on almost every corner in America we observe start-ups renting halls and schools. We even see splintered groups defecting and starting building funds. Is it no surprise that natural attrition occurs. You would think that churches fail all the time. We actually do not seem to be surprised at the occurrence anymore at all.
I am unable to cite an example of a failed Church in the New Testament. Maybe the case could be made over a few centuries of transition, doctrinal apostasy, and various other sundry, but Church history is just – well, history. The New Testament does tell us discipline is threatened or exacted. But this discipline or suggestion of closure only comes by way of the hand of Jesus Christ (snuffing of the candle upon the lamp stand cf. Rev 1:1-3:20). Even this discipline comes by way of justice toward individuals, not the assembly as a whole (Rev 2:7, 2:15-17, 2:24-29, 3:4-6, 3:11-13, 3:21-22).
If indeed an assembly of believers is called out by the Lord (ekklesia), that assembly meets regularly to use their gifts and engage in remembrance of the Christ, and working together to equip each other for the works of service (Eph 4:12). For a local assembly itself to fail suggests the group of believers were not called out and brought together by the Lord (Acts 2:47, Acts 17:26-27). On the other hand, to suggest that any manifestation of the body of Christ as He ordains it fails is in line with what the Pharisee Gamaliel stated regarding the birth of the Apostolic Missionary movement:
Acts 5:38 (c) …for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail;
As that conversation with this dear brother came to a disheartening close, he concluded that he would just “join” another church somewhere else. When I asked him what was going to happen to everyone and why don’t others step up and help shepherd the assembly (they have a plurality of elders), he shrugged it off as if it weren’t even an option. My personal experience is that this particular assembly felt they could not exist without a salaried pastor.
Whenever faced with contrasts of current Church practice and New Testament examples it becomes difficult to navigate what is acceptable application and non-negotiable biblical application. Where we exercise freedom of interpretation has its place when scriptural commands must be evaluated for practical purposes. To principalize who has the right to close a church begs many questions.
My primary concern is best conveyed with just one. Has the view of the pastor and his authority become so skewed that churches rise and fall on the existence of this central person and their gifting?
Hopefully, the ones whom YWH has ordained to be part of that local assembly will continue as the Church in that area. Let us pray that we continue to see Christ’s authority for what it really is. Singular, unchallenged, and earned by His obedience to the Father. It is not ours to usurp through trivial man made manifestations.
See also a similar post I wrote at Deliver Detroit: Oh well Rob Bell.