Saturday, November 18, 2006

Evangelicalism: Protestantism's [Smaller] Rome

The Protestant Reformation railed against what was deemed to be unbiblical excesses of the Roman Catholic church. Power concentrated in the clergy, clergy-laity distinctions, priesthood of priests, the papacy, church leaders speaking ex cathedra - in short, usurpations of authority. The doctrine of the priesthood of believers was promoted to show the actual standing of individual believers before God. Every believer was a priest. But also closely linked were doctrines of family and vocation. These doctrines served to show how "government" (i.e. authority) was de-centralized and that God placed authority in the hands of individuals. Tyranny was replaced with liberty.

But something has happened over the last 400 years in Protestantism to nullify these doctrines. Although it didn't take 400 years, today's typical structure of evangelical ecclesiology reveals it. Oh, the doctrines are still given lip service, but practically they are denied. The pastor is the man in charge, and what he says, goes. In churches that believe in a plurality of elders/pastors, quite often this group of men lord it over the flock. A "priesthood of the clergy" mentality reigns. Instead of the sheep ministering, the pastor is viewed as the minister. Church leaders dictate doctrine to their congregations and require adherence to creeds, confessions, by-laws and statements of faith as requirements for "membership." This is then used against Christians who don't fully agree, even if their views are quite biblical. In essence these leaders are speaking ex cathedra, where the church is the final court of arbitration in all matters, and they forget their "protest" against medieval Rome for the same thing. Leaders control (i.e. lord over) all the ministries of the church and no ministries outside of the institutional structure are legitimized. Even though commands in the bible are given directly to individual believers (e.g. the "one anothers", not the "body anothers"), the churches assume a mediatorial position between gifts of believers and their exercising thereof. The pastor is simply a smaller version of the pope.

Lip service is given to the priesthood of all believers. This doctrine is clearly taught, where each individual is responsible for interpreting Scripture for himself and applying it to his own life - just as long as their conclusions are the same ones reached by the church leadership.

I'm praying for another "protestant" reformation in the church that will result in the freedom for which Christ set us free.

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