Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Monochurches, Not Megachurches, Are the Problem

Item 1: Andy Stanley, Pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, GA, recently preached his sermon "When Gracie Met Truthy," in which he strongly left the impression that he does not consider homosexual practice to be a sin on the level with adultery (which he also, apparently, construes somewhat more narrowly than Jesus did). Stanley's message unmistakably suggests that open homosexuality is compatible with both membership and leadership at North Point. Note: There is no way to link directly to this sermon, but "When Gracie Met Truthy" is sermon number 5 in the series "Christian" and is merely one click away from the first message in the series, which is available here. Hat-tip to Peter Lumpkins, whose blog was the first I saw bringing this to the world's attention.

Item 2: In response to Stanley, Dr. Albert Mohler posted on his blog yesterday an article (rightfully) criticizing Stanley's message. Mohler gave his essay the provocative title, "Is the Megachurch the New Liberalism?" Mohler's is a solid and helpful treatment of the issues raised by Stanley's sermon.

Item 3: In response to Mohler's response, Rick Warren challenged Mohler, not to much to defend Stanley as to reject the analysis that Stanley's waywardness is about megachurches rather than being about something else. Warren was incensed that thousands of other megachurches are implicated by Mohler's essay.

Stanley's sermon makes me sick. The capitulation under pressure to normalize the homosexual heresy makes me sad. His clear use of a Christological passage to do so is what I find most offensive—people aren't content merely to sin; they have to blaspheme along with it by pretending that Jesus Himself would campaigning against Proposition 8, although the books of the New Testament, and really all of the Christian scriptures, condemn homosexuality as an abomination.

So, Stanley's sermon makes me sick. Mohler's response does not offend me at all. But I do think that his analysis is a bit off the mark…not quite precise enough…when he connects Stanley's error with the megachurch phenomenon. The problem isn't the megachurch. Rather, it is (to coin a word) the monochurch.

The prefix "mega-" comes from Greek and indicates about the size of something that it is large. The prefix "mono-" also comes from Greek and indicates about the relationships of something that it is alone.

Now, Stanley's North Point Community Church certainly is a megachurch. It has five campuses and averages more than 24,000 people in weekly attendance, according to Wikipedia (therefore, it must be true). This is a behemoth-church. It is very large.

Stanley's church is also a monochurch. It has no denominational affiliation. It has no formal relationship with any other sibling churches. It is accountable to no one. I'm writing today to suggest that Stanley's radical non-denominationalism, rather than the size of his church, is the problem most responsible for the error of his ways.

To be fair to Mohler's essay, he clearly is not indicting every megachurch, and when he talks about megachurches he rather obviously has in mind not merely a size threshold but also a cultural and historical phenomenon. Missed is the opportunity, however, to identify the factors that make the difference between the megachurch as a force for good in the world (for example, the Conservative Resurgence) and the megachurch as a force for evil in the world (for example, Andy Stanley on this subject or Joel Osteen in general). Whatever the exhaustive analysis of those factors might be, I think that healthy affiliation with sister churches in a denomination is important among them.

Baptists prize local church autonomy. I am among them, and I am zealous about this point. Denominational accountability can survive quite well without the denomination's owning the title to the church property or retaining the legal ability to oust a pastor. I'm calling for nothing nearly so draconian. Rather, what churches need is a clear standard of faith and order upon which valued peer relationships with sister churches has been predicated. The transgression of boundaries results in the loss of the relationships. Nothing more, and nothing less. The loss of these relationships is a powerful indication to the members of a congregation that something momentous has changed in the theology of the church and is a powerful deterrent, even if it seems to have very little worldly power behind it. Local church autonomy is, in essence, the belief that churches admonishing wayward churches should do so as peers rather than as alleged superiors and with spiritual weapons alone rather than with recourse to coercive material weapons of law or warfare.

It remains to be seen how well the Southern Baptist Convention can provide this needed influence for orthodoxy. We have a great statement of faith, but our structure does not make it, or anything else, a clear standard of faith and order serving as the foundation of our relationships with one another. My state convention, on the other hand, is a confessional fellowship of churches. A church can only enter and remain within the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention by affirming the Baptist Faith & Message. The Southern Baptist Convention needs to be ordered in the same way, restricting membership in the convention to those churches that share a common set of basic beliefs.

31 comments:

Rick Patrick said...

Below is a reprint of a comment I posted beneath Peter's article. I think it applies here as well. I agree that the lack of denominational accountability contributes to Stanley's peculiar abandonment of conviction. I also cannot help but wonder what his father thinks of all this...

"I too thought it very strange that Mohler attributed the "new liberalism" to the size of mega-churches. Frankly, when it comes to influencing theology and preaching, the size of one's church is a very hard "cause and effect" phenomenon to trace.

As an alternative, might I suggest two of the ideological perspectives embraced not only by Stanley, but also by pastors of many different sized churches. They include (a) the "Seeker Sensitive" movement championed so prominently by Willow Creek, and (b) the contextualization trend common frankly among many of the New Calvinists graduating in record numbers from Southern Seminary.

Because liberalism is an idea, when we start searching for its causes, perhaps we should look for other "isms" that serve as tributaries feeding into this Liberal River. To me at least, the springs of accommodationism and contextualism make much more sense in explaining all of this than merely the size of one's congregation."

R. L. Vaughn said...

Brother Bart, I think in this case too many people (including you) may be overthinking this. I don't think the problem is megachurches or monochurches. It is something much simpler and something much more ingrained in all of else -- sin. Megachurches, monochurches, and those with strict denominational accountability all fall by the wayside. I think Rick's point about ideological perspectives is good also, and can be followed back to a large degree to the sin of pride (among others).

That said, and while I don't agree with you on denominational structure or accountability -- denomination is a modern construct rather than a biblical one -- it is notable that while autonomy is a biblical doctrine, Westerners run the road of independence to an extreme. Clearly the New Testament churches were interdependent as well as independent.

Tim Rogers said...

Brother Bart,

As one committed to historic Baptist poity, I submit to you that your position is lacking one step--the local association. While I applaud the SBCT for their stands and commitment to a confessional fellowship of churches, I am a bit saddened they do not acknowledge the local association in that commitment. I understand the problem is that associations in Texas are already strongly aligned to the BGCT, but I do encourage you and other Texans to take this as a matter of concern. I know the SBCT is working well as it is established and I look to your convention as a leader in all of SBC life.

I believe the local association has a huge part in historic baptist polity. It is in the local association that we monitor the confessional fellowship as we noted in the Kentucky association. I see a day when even the SBCT will be so large they are not able to monitor the confessional part of their fellowship.

Big Daddy Weave said...

I'm not a fan of what you are calling the "monochurch." I just wonder how much real "accountability" there is in a denomination with the structure of the SBC?

Stanley's church is not accountable. True. But how accountable is the average SBC church? A little bit more?

I tend to think size matters. Whatever accountability system or internal pressures that a denomination like the SBC provides, I tend to think that larger churches face less pressure.

At the end of the day, most megachurches function as their own denomination. If their denomination is pressuring them to see the error of their ways, they are more likely to pack up and leave or just "check out" so to speak.

I'd say Mohler and yourself have some very valid points.

Also, the other week at the CBF sexuality conference, Coleman Fannin (who teaches here at Baylor in Great Texts, don't know if he's adjunct or part-time lecturer) argued that the move away from a the traditional view of sexuality is a symptom of a much larger problem. That problem is a poor ecclesiology.

Fannin argued that Baptists need to look to the Catholic Church and embrace a more "thick ecclesiology" to protect and preserve a Nicene orthodoxy.

Anonymous said...

This is a great clarification. Dr. Mohler didn't clearly enough make the connection between Megas and the basic problem at one Mega. Accountability is tricky as we walk the line between connectionalism and independence. I do admire Catholic polity, about twice a year, for a minute or two. Very worthwhile discussion here.

Gary L

D.R. said...

Rick,

I am glad you posted your comment over on Bart's blog so it can be critically challenged. You write:

As an alternative, might I suggest two of the ideological perspectives embraced not only by Stanley, but also by pastors of many different sized churches. They include (a) the "Seeker Sensitive" movement ... and (b) the contextualization trend common frankly among many of the New Calvinists graduating in record numbers from Southern Seminary.

First, you are way off on suggesting that there is a "contextualization trend common ... among ... New Calvinists". It's just simply not true. There is a contextualization discussion going on - specifically about what the word even means and how it could be appropriate and inappropriate - but no trend that would be a legitimate reason for Stanley's comments. Here is one example of that conversation:

http://vimeo.com/35976123

There is a whole panel discussion about this at T4G. It can be accessed through this article by Thabiti Anyabwile, who writes here on the contextualization discussion. I would highly suggest reading it and listening to the panel - I think you'd agree much more than disagree:

http://bit.ly/IkSBPJ

Secondly, if anyone has been more adamant against homosexuality it has been Southern Seminary and the "New Calvinists". Acts 29 churches especially have been vehemently opposed to any sexual sin. While the Driscoll book has been a hot topic, he makes it clear that the only acceptable sexual ethic is one man-one woman in marriage. So there's no direct connections between "New Calvinism" and contextualization leading to acceptance of sexual sin (of any kind). You can't just claim that this is the problem and then not point to a clear correlation of such.

Third, you never even attempt to explain what people mean by contextualization - you throw the word out there like a pejorative meant to elicit fear. You talk about examining other -isms, but it's not fair to simply throw words out there with no intention of defining them. For example, for some contextualization is changing the Gospel story and taking out all parts that might offend the culture they are sharing it with (that's obviously wrong, but you will strain long and hard to find a "New Calvinist" advocating such). Elsewhere it simply means giving an illustration that helps your audience understand the Gospel. You've probably done that thousands of times. Would it be fair to suggest that your contextualizing is a tributary leading to liberalism? Of course not. That would be ridiculous, wouldn't it?

Rick, part of the reason why this discussion about Calvinism has been tense is because we each need to take time to understand what each of us is saying before we go and malign an entire group of our brothers and sisters in Christ without even the slightest bit of corroborating evidence. Why don't we all agree to practice the Golden Rule a little more often in the blogosphere? I think it would help a lot.

Jon said...

I think you and Mohler both touch on the "mono" theme, from different angles. Two traditional relationships are under pressure; the relationship of pastor-to-congregation, and pastor-to-pastor.

In the megachurch, Mohler notes the lonliness at the top. If you think God has given you the ultimate responsibility of making a $25mil. budget and filling seats, you might feel pressure to talk consistently with popular ethics.

But without denominations, those same pastors tend to form "peer" relationships. So the lonely-at-the-top model seems normal among "successful" preachers. In denominations, someone might speak up about deviations from the norm that hurt the group. But without a group to hurt, few outsiders see it as their "place" to criticize.

The crisis is the growing idea that church is primarily a transaction between a speaker and a crowd. But megachurches and non-cooperationalism both reinforce that idea.

Rick Patrick said...

D. R.,

I am not the only one who believes many of the YRR folks have taken contextualization too far. I'm glad to hear the T4G conference is trying to reign in on that. They need to.

Until about a year ago, I might have been forced to agree with you about homosexuality and Southern. But Dr. Mohler's comments last year about the way we have lied and been homophobic were a bit too much for me.

And yes, I agree with you there is room for the right kind of contextualization, but far too many, in the interest of fitting in with the culture in order to speak to it have only succeeded in more or less giving in. The Culture Wars may have brought some problems, but surrender was not one of them. I just don't like the way we are speaking to the culture these days. We need to separate a bit more, with both our words and our actions, so people can tell the difference between Christians and the lost.

Finally, I get a bit annoyed when I share an opinion, informed by facts and observations, only to have someone say, "You have no evidence." It usually means the other person is just not willing to hear what I'm saying and consider whether there might be some truth to it.

As for the Golden Rule, I've enjoyed our exchanges even though we may disagree about an awful lot. I spent a week every summer at my grandmother's house in Athens about 8 miles from Cleveland Road. Like you, I am a fan of "Shawshank Redemption." I will seek to speak more respectfully concerning New Calvinists, Acts 29 members and friends of Mark Driscoll. But I cannot pretend that principled differences do not exist between A29-SBC churches and just regular old SBC churches. I believe they do.

Bart Barber said...

OK, now that a busy Wednesday is winding down, I can enter the conversation. Thanks for your patience.

Rick, I do believe that the seeker sensitive approach can be connected with this, and I also believe that excesses of contextualization can be connected with this. I don't know how those connections work out in terms of cause, effect, or correspondence, but I do think that they can be connected.

I would be more careful about forging a connection with Southern Seminary or even Calvinism and contextualization. The Camel Method is, in my opinion, the worst error that Southern Baptists have encountered with regard to contextualization. Tom Ascol was an early critic of the Camel Method (here). M. David Sills, a professor at Southern, has published what I think are some of the more helpful correctives against destructive over-contextualization.

Bart Barber said...

Bro. Vaughn,

I believe that the New Testament churches were interdependent as well as independent. I also believe that denominational structure, done biblically, is precisely the interdependence and independence of the local congregations. On this basis my chapter in Upon this Rock argued for a denomination of churches as a biblical and useful idea.

My convictions along these lines may be why we, although we are so similar in our convictions, are speaking past one another to some degree at this point.

I think you have a strong point to indicate that our sinfulness prevents any structural change from being able to prevent this kind of degenerative disease from ravaging churches. My point is simply that sister churches, if a church has sister churches, at least have an opportunity to serve notice that a sinful wandering away from the truth has taken place.

Bart Barber said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bart Barber said...

Aaron,

I agree. I think that accountability in the structure of the SBC needs to be stronger. That's why I would support changing the SBC into a confessional fellowship of churches like the SBTC.

I concede that your point about the size of megachurches making them somewhat immune to the pressures of accountability from sister congregations. I do not believe that this problem is absolute, however. Recent events have shown that the persistent disapproval of even solitary individuals can prove to be quite bothersome even for influential megachurches. PR is very important to megachurches. I think that megachurches would find some value just in avoiding the embarrassment of being booted out of a denominational affiliation for doctrinal reasons.

That having been said, probably the bigger problem is the power of very large churches to exert pressure on denominational structures to prevent action from being taken against them—their ability to game the system.

I haven't seen the specifics of what Fannin means by a "thick ecclesiology." I do concur that ecclesiology is much of the problem here. I do not believe that we need to be more hierarchical—this can be accomplished through peer influences while maintaining Baptist ecclesiology. But I do believe that there is a need for a more robust associationalism. If that's the "thicker ecclesiology" in view, then I'm in agreement.

Bart Barber said...

Thanks, Gary.

Bart Barber said...

D.R.,

Your comment is not addressed to me. I just wanted you to know why I'm not offering any reply to it.

Bart Barber said...

Jon,

I agree that a high level of compatibility exists between Mohler's essay and my own.

Bart Barber said...

Tim,

A new Blogger interface confused me momentarily and I accidentally deleted this comment. I'm restoring it.

I submit to you that you should read my post more carefully.

1. I only mentioned two specific denominational entities in the post: The SBTC and the SBC. The function of these two entities in the post was to illustrate the difference between a denominational entity WITH confessional accountability and a denominational entity WITHOUT confessional accountability. Along the way, I did recommend a change in the ordering of the SBC. Are you disagreeing with that recommendation?

2. The vast preponderance of the post mentions no specific denominational entities at all. Rather, it speaks of "a clear standard of faith and order upon which valued peer relationships with sister churches has been predicated." I think that a local association fit well within that definition…or can. Do you disagree?

3. As to your critique of the SBTC, I can only presume that the North Carolina tobacco fumes overwhelmed you at that particular moment. Are you suggesting that the SBTC does not work with local associations (which would come as a real shock to me, and I'm the vice-chairman of our executive board)? Are you suggesting that the SBTC would not acknowledge a local association's finding that a local congregation was not in agreement with the Baptist Faith & Message or was disorderly in some way (again, which I say is false)? Are you advocating a connectionalism in which the SBTC could not have its own standards for membership? And if that's what you're advocating, I have to guess that you would vote in favor of removing the SBC's standards for membership, including the stipulation that homosexuality-affirming churches are not in friendly cooperation with the convention, since that requirement does not explicitly indicate any role for local associations in the process. Is that your position? And if not, my brother, then what on earth are you talking about?

SAGordon said...

Very good post, Bart. I concur with you...and Dr. Mohler (of course ;-) ).

I am further troubled by the double standard criticizers who publicly questioned and condemned Dr. Mohler's questioning and critique of Pastor Andy Stanley.

SG!

R. L. Vaughn said...

Brother Bart, I appreciate your response. There is quite a bit I'd like to say in reference to denominationalism, but fear it moves too far away from your main point. But let me say that your chapter "A Denomination of Churches" in Upon this Rock is well-written and well-argued, even though I don't come to your conclusion.

I may see too much causation in your use of the word "problem," which may also result in speaking past one another. But I seem to be seeing it here: "...Stanley's radical non-denominationalism, rather than the size of his church, is the problem most responsible for the error of his ways."

Perhaps to identify the problem, it is necessary to clearly identify the error of his ways. The immediate and obvious error is Andy Stanley's illustration/stance that identifies adultery as the situational sin rather than homosexuality. But the underlying error is more important and more pervasive -- a shift from biblical truth because of a belief that changing (at worst) or soft-peddling (at best) our message is necessary in order to reach people (which is fueled by our pride and depravity). If that is the real error underlying the problem, then I don't see that "monochurch" is the problem or that denominational structure will adequately address it. I observe this kind of thing happening across denominational lines, and in bodies with (theoretically, at least) much tighter denominational structure than the SBC. I want to end by noticing some degree of agreement. Yes, sister churches have an opportunity (yea, a duty) "to serve notice that a sinful wandering away from the truth has taken place."

D.R. said...

Bart,

While you didn't address my comment directly (and I didn't expect you to but thanks for acknowledging it), I do appreciate your response to Rick with those specific examples from Southern Seminary. One of the biggest issues I am finding is that people are lobbing grenades at seminaries they've never been to, nor ever sat in a class at. While I could point out certain professors at certain schools that I agree or disagree with on various issues, after attending 4 different SBC institutions, I think I can say pretty safely that all of our institutions are quite diverse and a variety of opinions exist within each one of them. Thankfully now, we can handle such diversity knowing that every one of those who teaches is firmly rooted in the inerrancy of Scripture and the Baptist Faith and Message.

Bart Barber said...

R.L.,

You've provided a helpful corrective through your comment. Very good. Here's what I've taken away from it, with full agreement:

1. The "monochurch" character of North Point certainly is not the precipitating problem. That is, Stanley did not do what he did BECAUSE his church is aloof from other churches. My title at least suggests that something about the absence of sister-church relationships LEADS a church to accept homosexuality, for example.

2. I would maintain, however, that healthy relationships with sister churches functions somewhat like the immune system in a healthy person. The immune system does not prevent unhealthy elements from invading the body; it merely responds helpfully to those unhealthy elements when they do so. A weak immune system does not formally cause one to have the flu. Likewise, a healthy relationship with sister churches provides a mechanism of response against the invasion of deadly doctrine into the Body of Christ. The absence of these relationships does not cause doctrinal error like this, but it does greatly weaken the array of potential responses.

Jonathan Melton said...

First of all, all the young Christians and pastors who have idolized Andy Stanley should be more careful as to who they are following.

Secondly, I am affiliated with the American Baptist Association (ABA). Because of our fervent love for and staunch defense of the independence of the local church, we perhaps have taken that to an extreme. We basically have what the old-timers a "hang your hat" position toward associational participation. Basically, if you send three messengers to the meeting, your independence is immunity from being questioned about your orthodoxy, or anything else. And while I shrink back from calling for accountability (I am very vehement myself about a church of the Lord Jesus Christ being told what to do by a messenger assembly or a screening committee), there needs to be a Scriptural solution found to protect churches from having to fellowship with (which in a limited sense, you must to be a part of an association) a church that is blatantly unScriptural in doctrine and/or practice, if nothing more than a resolution of censure. To me, is an orthodox church's right to try to abide by Christ's commands to be separate, to mark those who stubbornly refuse to go against God's Word, and not to receive those who bring in false doctrine or practice, any LESS than those churches who are unorthodox?

Jonathan Melton said...

Hi Bart,

I noticed that you have not responded to my last several comments that I have left on your blog?

Are they not intellectually complex enough to merit your attention?

Or are they so disagreeable with your position that you choose to ignore them?

Bart Barber said...

Sorry, Jonathan. The last one I really wanted to respond to, and I plan to do so. Pastoral ministry limits the time I have to reply. You may have noticed that, for everybody, my comments generally come in bursts (when free time presents itself).

Several of your other comments have been good, strong content, but they've had more to do with the old SBC-ABA debates. Those are conversations worth having, but they just really haven't been the focus of my blogging efforts. You've correctly deduced that I just let them slide on by without comment.

I don't mean to be offensive in this. I'm not looking for an ongoing arm-wrestling match over our differences with the ABA. "Ongoing" is the operative word in my mind in that statement. What I've been contemplating is perhaps to put together a post someday highlighting differences between the SBC and the ABA and just having a free-for-all in that particular comment stream.

I'm sorry for the impression that I've left. Of the two factors that I've mentioned here, it has primarily been my general neglect of the blog that has prevented a better, more respectful response to you.

Bart Barber said...

Jonathan,

I agree with regard to young pastors being cautious about those whom they follow. Sometimes I scratch my head and wonder aloud why good godly people so often choose their heroes so poorly?!

With regard to the function of associationalism, I think (with something far less than certainty) that the FORMAL concept of an association in Southern Baptist life is not substantially different from that of ABA life, granting that the INFORMAL and customary practice of the two may diverge at points. Nevertheless, I would say that most SBC associations have followed the "hang your hat" method as well.

For example, there's a church in Fort Worth, Texas, that has been excluded by both the national SBC and the Baptist General Convention of Texas for its well-known practice of welcoming practicing homosexuals into membership and leadership in the congregation. The Tarrant Baptist Association retains this church within its fellowship. Too many of the member churches of the TBA, some of whom would disband before they would adopt such a position with regard to homosexuality, have failed to understand, as you have stated, that "you must [be in fellowship with such churches] to be a part of an association [with them]."

The remedy for the both of us is the same. No association is authorized by the Lord to tell a local church what it must do (if, indeed, a society with openly homosexual leadership can be considered a church), but neither can any local church require that OTHER local churches acknowledge it as orthodox when it is not nor force other local churches to maintain fellowship with it when it is not their wish to do so.

This is clearly compatible with the ecclesiologies of both the SBC and the ABA, for we are living with the aftermath of our having done that to one another some years ago, are we not?

Richmond Goolsby said...

Bart,
Yes, yes, and yes! The need for accountability is still great although the practice has faded. I have just finished Baker's, "The Blossoming Desert", a few biographies on B.H. Carroll, and Early's account of the Carroll/Hayden Controversy. These books and others on Baptist history (as well as old church meeting minutes) confirm that our Baptist forefathers sought the balance (although sometimes touchy) of maintaining accountability and autonomy. Of course you know this and we agree on the importance of confessional fellowship. Many will not want accountability, but I keep wondering and seeking ways to increase this way of thinking (accountable and responsible) not just among pastors, but among church members. Associations are failing, Texas is too large for SBTC to handle all of this, what will we do to increase this thinking among church folks?

Bart Barber said...

Richmond,

The challenge here is the widespread anemia (and sometimes outright failure) of the institutional aspect of Baptist associationalism. Many associations feel the terrifying breath of financial insolvency breathing down their necks with each month's financial statement. They wonder what can have happened to erode so rapidly a framework that was robust just a generation ago.

Many have failed to notice that the vital core of any association of Baptist churches is not its institutional aspect but its fraternal aspect. The fraternal aspect is the degree to which churches in an association FEEL that they are "sister churches" with one another.

A great many associations have thrived with a healthy fraternal aspect and NO institutional aspect. In contrast, an association with only an institutional aspect and little to no fraternal aspect can only linger; it cannot thrive and be healthy.

The great task for Baptist associationalism in our day is the renewal of the fraternal aspect of interrelation among our Baptist churches. Unfortunately, so little binds them any longer as to make that fraternal connection difficult to re-establish and nurture.

Anonymous said...

Bart,

According to Thom Rainer I pastor a "mid-Mega church" in the Atlanta area that is SBC. Because of our denominational association with other SBC churches we recently had a church resign its fellowship with us because they ordained a lesbian deacon(es).

To your point, who is going to hold Stanley's "feet to the fire?". Our process was not enjoyable but accountability took place. SBC structure is far from perfect, but it does possess some ability to hold accountability. I sincerely doubt that Andy would answer my call much less hear my response to his sad excuse of a sermon.

Bart Barber said...

Anonymous, thanks for your story.

You're 100% right. At this point, the only people who could hold Stanley accountable are those members of his church who understand the error that he has made.

Richmond Goolsby said...

Bart,
As you know, I concur. I think this fraternal (not institutional) relationship is "worth fighting for". Here is my recent blog post regarding the issue.

http://richmondgoolsby.blogspot.com/2012/04/need-for-baptist-churches-to-associate.html

R. L. Vaughn said...

Bro. Bart, with your last response to me -- including, "a healthy relationship with sister churches provides a mechanism of response against the invasion of deadly doctrine" -- I think we have just about reached agreement. We might disagree a little on how we determine what is a "sister church", but even there I don't think we're far off. It is about building relationships with one another. Too many churches have turned inward, whether they are "monochurches," associational, or independent. You wrote to Richmond, "The fraternal aspect is the degree to which churches in an association FEEL that they are 'sister churches' with one another."

When I was growing up there was a feeling of relationship and fraternity between the churches in the local association. They visited one another's revivals, special meetings, and so forth. Our church participated in a quarterly "joint-prayer meeting" with the four churches geographically closest to us. It gradually died out as pastors cared only for what was going on in their own churches and nowhere else. Now, folks in churches within 5 or 10 miles of one another don't even go to one another's revivals and other meetings. An association of this nature actually becomes somewhat of a sham, in my opinion.

Accountability comes best with "relationship" more than "membership".

Bart Barber said...

Yes! We agree!