An Identity Crisis
Mr. Donald L. Norbie of Greeley, Colorado, is a frequent contributor to “Food for the Flock- and serves the Lord in numerous ways, including a ministry among university students.
Some assemblies of Christians are undergoing an identity crisis. Who are we? How do we wish to function? With whom do we wish to identify?
Some have little sense of historical continuity and wish to chop through their remaining ecclesiastical roots. They wonder, “Should we terminate our contacts with other such assemblies? Perhaps we should be completely independent in our associations and function more like a Bible Church …
“Perhaps we can learn from Churches which seem to grow numerically. A strong, charismatic leader can gather a large congregation. Perhaps we need to find a gifted pastor-teacher to head up our fellowship and do most of the speaking. Encouraging various men to speak does not command the same listener loyalty and growth is important.”
“Maybe we need to re-evaluate our position on women. Major denominations are relaxing their stance on this issue. More and more, churches now have women elders and pastors. Perhaps we need to reinterpret Scripture.”
“The charismatic churches are knowing explosive growth. Maybe we have been too hard on the tongues experience. If people enjoy it and it makes them happy, what is wrong with it? Maybe we have tried to be too theological in this area and should be more open to experience.”
“The stand on faith principles has marked this movement in times past. Those who served God full-time at home or abroad went out understanding they would trust God and not solicit funds or pledges. Assemblies prayed and gave as the Lord led them.”
“But this all seems quite ineffective today. Look at the money evangelical groups raise by solicitation —millions of dollars? Why not salary homeworkers as ‘pastor-teachers’? Instead of going out on a faith basis, why not encourage missionaries to join a mission and raise ‘support’ by solicitation?”
Maybe these suggestions are surfacing in your fellowship. Many practices that were once accepted are now being challenged. This is true for many church groups.
So how do we chart our course for the future? Certainly there should not be a blind adherence to tradition. But here it would be well to make haste slowly.
Men and women in years past struggled with these same issues. In the early 1800s there was a revival of interest in the simplicity of the New Testament church in England and in other areas. Men and women began meeting together on the basis of the one body, rejecting the divisions of denominationalism (1 Cor. 12:12, 13).
They discovered the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:5) and the importance of spontaneous worship (1 Cor. 14:31) at the breaking of bread. The clergy concept was disowned and the gifts of all were encouraged (1 Cor. 14:31). There was great zeal in the Gospel and a missionary enterprise was begun which has girdled the globe. Workers went out in faith without salaries or pledges, looking to the Living God. Is there any reason to be ashamed of such noble beginnings?
Within the framework of these principles there is much liberty. The place of meeting, time, hymnbook, musical instrument, and other details may be decided by local leadership. But be careful about making radical changes. Man can be shortsighted. Truths which have been hammered out by past generations on the anvil of controversy and discussion should not be cast aside lightly. To reject the lessons of history is to repeat its same mistakes.
Do not be quick to sever your spiritual ties with other like-minded groups. There is strength in sharing gift and fellowship. Itinerant workers augment local gift and strengthen the spiritual bonds between churches. The early apostles formed no inter-church organization, but they and other workers were the spiritual links between churches, bringing news and fresh life to them.
The words of Proverbs 22:28 are appropriate in a day like this: “Do not remove the ancient landmark which your fathers have set.” It is stabilizing to have landmarks in a country and in a church.