This is the third article in a series having to do with a comparison between conservative and contemporary churches. Labels are often unfortunate because contemporary churches may also call themselves fundamental or conservative in certain ways. They usually mean that they are conservative in their list of “doctrinal” beliefs although other beliefs about biblical practices have changed. Those that call themselves “conservative” may also include a number of beliefs and/or practices such as dress codes, Bible versions and particular doctrines.
My purpose has been to describe those differences that affect the appearance and practice of the church, especially its public worship service. It has been my contention that doctrine and application must go hand in hand, and that methodologies must be an outgrowth of basic doctrinal beliefs. Our church services and practices are the most important (and most visible) declaration of our belief system. The list I have made is what one would probably find in a “conservative, traditional (small “t”), non-contemporary, Baptist church. Few things find 100% consistency.
Pastors and Deacons
Conservative churches make use of the Biblical officers of the church as given in Paul’s epistles (1 Tim. 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). Baptist churches usually have the two offices of pastor and deacons. There may be multiple pastors on staff but there is usually a senior pastor/teacher whom the congregation has called to be their pastor. I do not discount conservative churches who use an elder system as not being conservative. That is a point of church polity, but for my part I believe that there are only two “offices” and not three. My point here is that conservative churches use and rely on the offices and officers that the New Testament describes and they will be visible in the operation of the church.
Conservative churches find no place for ordaining women to the Christian ministry. There are no such examples in the New Testament (though some prophesied, this was a miraculous gift for the apostolic days which has not continued) and there are no qualifications given for women in ministry. That having been said, conservative churches have always found many places of service for women (though not teaching of adult men) in various important church ministries. A conservative church makes the New Testament its basis for belief and practice, and does not place current political correctness above Scriptural example. Therefore, neither should a church place a novice in office nor a man who is practicing immorality or who is unspiritual according to the apostle’s qualifications. Between 1 Timothy and Titus, Paul gives twenty seven separate qualification characteristics for pastors alone!
I have written often (already in this short series) about the tragedy of placing young people in leadership positions while at the same time pushing the elder saints out. Often it’s not that immature young people hold the office of pastor or deacon (but often enough!) but that they are virtually controlling the operation of the church from the sound board and video equipment to the praise band and the platform (I should say “stage”). It is not unusual for the pastor of the contemporary church to not even come near the platform for thirty or forty minutes until the young people have finished their performances. After their exit, the pastor may proceed with whatever it is that he has planned.
A key difference in conservative churches is that they believe the mature saints minister in the core functions of the church. Mega churches are constantly looking for a way to have “small group” ministries because they realize that is the basic New Testament concept. The fact is, the local church, with its officers IS the small group concept in the New Testament. Other than the Jerusalem church (which unfortunately will never have an equal in today’s mega churches), these local churches were fairly small congregations which operated in the manner the pastoral epistles describe. The pastor/teacher(s) and deacons were busy caring for and feeding the flock of God.
I grew up in a “mega” church of the sixties and seventies. It was listed as one of the ten largest Sunday Schools in the nation at that time. But the size was no guarantee that real ministry took place. I do think that those large churches were not so concerned with “seeker sensitiveness” as the large churches today, but more with pure evangelism and outreach (of which I am a product). Regardless of how individual congregations may grow due to circumstances and gifted leaders, large churches will never be the norm nor should they be. Nor should young people seeking ministry lower their view of pure ministry by seeking positions there. How much better and more fulfilling is the average sized congregation to the minister whose heart is prepared to serve God’s people and reach out into his local community! There is good reason for those Biblical admonitions to be humbled in ministry rather than exalted.
Conservative churches differ from mega churches in their basic operational mode. It is common today to read or hear criticisms of the smaller churches because they have not adopted the necessary “apparatus” for growth. Our desire for church growth has led us into all kinds of worldly methodologies (after all, what is it that lost people are really “seeking” anyway?) just to make the ministry bigger and better. I wonder if these same people go out in their garden and grab the small plants by the stem and begin to pull them and stretch them into larger plants? Natural growth will only take place by leaving your hands off the plant itself and paying attention to the mundane jobs around the plant. History has told us too late that largeness does not mean converted people. If all the “converts” in the city of Chicago from D.L. Moody to Jack Hyles were true converts, the city would have become Christian three times over! It is also too late for history to tell whether having ten churches of a hundred each would have been better than one church of a thousand, or whether having ten churches of five hundred would have been better than one church of five thousand. No one wants to place human limits on those things.
I have read criticism of smaller churches for being “hub and spoke” type of churches. These type of churches (it is said) will never grow because they have a mentality where all the church is connected (the “spoke”) to the leadership (the “hub”) in some necessary way. The only way for growth (they say) is to adopt the leadership style of the world (which is in my opinion the “purpose driven” style) of having CEOs and pyramid flow charts. But is the New Testament our authority for faith AND practice or not? Are the Biblical offices of pastor and deacons supposed to minister to the people God has placed under their care or not? If so, the “hub and spoke” picture is a Biblical picture! Why can’t we be satisfied with it? Because it will not bring us fame and fortune!
I’m not saying that all New Testament churches will be the same size. There are many circumstances that go into the make-up of a church such as the abilities and gifts of the pastor and deacons to minister in that church, or perhaps the church is located in an area that is hardened to the gospel. The size means nothing but the Biblical functioning of the body means everything. When the church is too large for that man to dispense his sacred office well, it may divide. If it levels off at the level of the pastor’s giftedness, that is God’s enabling business. A man of God will be held accountable for his care of God’s sheep! Perhaps if we had done this for the last hundred years, there would be more churches, more converts and a greater testimony in our country for Christ.
Manners and Decorum
Manners is no more than self-government. To the degree that an individual, a family, a church or a nation loses its manners, anarchy or totalitarianism takes over. The Bible admonishes us to personal and corporate manners because God has displayed divine manners on our behalf.
Paul told the Corinthians, Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners. Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame (1 Cor. 15:33-34). We are plagued today with a lack of respect for our sinful nature. We do not understand or estimate what our old nature will do in our lives when it is left unchecked or even encouraged. Even when it comes to the treatment of our bodies, Paul wrote, And those members of the body, which we think to be less honorable, upon these we bestow more abundant honor; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness (1 Cor. 12:23). Those parts of our bodies that ought to be covered should receive that help from us. This “given” is used as an illustration for the church body. But where these “manners” are corrupted, the whole body suffers.
The writer of Hebrews beautifully paints the picture of divine manners. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through suffering (Heb. 2:10). It was “becoming” of God to allow Jesus to suffer for us. Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren (vs 17). Jesus took upon Himself these divine manners to become a faithful High Priest for us. For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens” (7:26). It was “fitting” that Jesus would become such an Holy Priest for our sakes.
Paul told Titus, But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine (Tit.2:1). I fear we think this means that anything we speak becomes sound doctrine. Rather, Paul is saying that what we speak ought to be “fitting” or “becoming” of sound doctrine. If God has displayed such divine manners on our behalf, surely we can display manners that are equal in deportment to our very doctrine!
Symbolisms teach. We are willingly ignorant to think that Americans are not pagans because our body markings and piercings have now become stylish. Our churches are following closely as we watch manners disappearing from our services and families. It seems to be too much of an inconvenience on parents to discipline or say “no” to their children. How selfish! We are willingly sacrificing our children and our churches for our own comfort. The family that is truly happy is the one which practices more manners at home, not less. Why should we be polite when strangers come into our home and act like pagans around the ones we love the most? At home, by ourselves, with our spouse and children is the time for the most careful self-government. One television advertisement for finding one’s mate keeps using the testimony that “you can be yourself; you don’t have to change at all; you can find a mate that will let you be whatever you want to be.” The truth is, such a relationship is headed for failure because there is no mannerly self-control from the beginning which says, “I will discipline myself for her sake because it is the right thing to do, and it will make me a better person besides!”
Churches ought not advertise that we can come to church and be ourselves; we will never have to change; God will be satisfied with us just the way we are. Conservative churches that believe in the sinful (unmannered) nature of man and the life-changing power of God, should be acknowledging every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus (Phile. 6). Rather than adulterating the Word of God, we ought to, by the manifestation of the truth, [be] commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God (2 Cor. 4:2).
And so . . .
My purpose has been to encourage the conservative, traditional churches to keep on doing what is right. Comparisons to “successful” ministries mean absolutely nothing before God. The Word of God is our only measuring stick for success in ministry, and the Bema Seat of Christ will be the only proper evaluation for how we have done. We will do more for the cause of Christ by doing it His way, whether we can see all the details or not.