When some attempted intervention with Hyles, they were dismissed as undermining church authority. Since then, in my lifetime, I have seen this play out again and again in numbers of different places with the same claims of individual church authority being sacrosanct. Is it true that another church does not have authority over another church? Does the chain of authority end at a single church?
Here Presbyterians might pipe up. They offer presbyteries, synods, general assembly, and confessions. They would claim some biblical basis for this system and tout the quality control it offers. The church council has authority over individual churches according to this arrangement. Truly, if that is a biblical structure, we should follow it. I don't think so, but I digress.
A church with which I was very close, at which I was a one time member, began a rot at the head. Then I heard the idea that if someone warned the members, he was stepping someplace without authority. He was doing the worse thing. The rotting of the church was bad, but he made the warning worse. The dilapidation of the church was better than messing with church authority. You might call this laying down the church authority card.
About every week, I visit other church's members and try to pry them from their churches. Is this wrong? Is that messing with church authority? Is it dividing a church? At what point, is it permissible to do anything about what's going wrong with another church? Our church says, my priest says, my pastor says, is a primary basis for not listening. They don't need scripture; they've got their leader.
Some might say, you can do something. You can pray. You can talk to the pastor of that church, try to change his mind, make a difference that way. I agree with pray. I also think that faith without works is dead. While I'm praying, the Bible tells me to do something about someone who disobeys. Prayer in that sense is faithless. I agree with confront the pastor. And he shuts it down. You're done, and when you say one more thing, you're what? You are messing with the authority of that church. You've got your own church, so, really, mind your own business.
So you've now talked to the pastor and he's doubled down. He has battened down the hatches and circled the wagons and closed ranks in numbers of ways. You either don't understand church authority, you disrespect it, or you're arrogant. You can't tell him, them, what to do. You are operating outside of your realm of authority.
Enter my local only church doctrine. I'm local only. Local only guys really respect the authority of each church. When someone works around the pastor or operates on another church not his own, he's proven that he's not a local only guy. That's sort of universal church happening in practice. Is this right?
Jesus is over all the churches and Jesus wrote the Bible. The use of the generic noun, "church," says there is only one church, His church. There are not a variety of churches. There is only His church, His. Church. When another church disobeys the Bible, at what point are you defying church authority? Again, Jesus is the Head of the church. He walks in the midst of His churches. He's a body part -- the Head of the body, of each body. He's also the body. The body, over which He is the Head, is His body.
Jesus said, "I will build my church." He has only one church. And each of those churches are to have the same mind. What is that mind? What is the source of that unity? It is the truth. The truth is authority outside of every church and other than the Lord Jesus Christ. How does Jesus Head the church? Through His Words. He rules through His Words. Each church is ultimately under the authority of scripture, so each church doesn't have the authority to disobey scripture. Disobedience to scripture is the worst abuse of authority.
In a sense, Jesus is the Truth, so the truth is still Jesus. But you know what I mean. People outside of a church can judge another church according to the truth. And they can intervene with the truth. It's true that they can only say something. They don't have a vote.
Once a whole church stops listening, you can't do anything anymore, just like you can't do anything with a person you evangelize who won't listen. You dust your feet of that church, just like you would that individual. At what point do you let it go? Can only a church judge church authority?
We have an example of churches intervening in each other's matters in Acts 15. There were two churches, one in Antioch and one in Jerusalem, on the outs with each other, and the leadership met to stay in fellowship. The fellowship between two churches was important. Would each church just say, "It's none of your business," or, "You're just getting your nose in another church's matter?" Not if they cared about each other, and not if they loved the church and Jesus and the truth.
In the end, is church authority more important than the truth or is church authority a means to an end, which is the Truth? We are sanctified by the Truth, not church authority. Church authority is a truth, but not a truth to abuse truth.
The church authority card could be used in an abusive way. I think it was in the Hyles situation, the one I had several years ago with a church with which we were a member. That church rallied other churches to its side, saying that its authority was being undermined and attacked.
I can't do anything with authority in another church except tell its members the truth. I'm not there to see events like its members can see, but I can judge doctrine, perhaps even better than the church people themselves. There is some practice I can judge. If I get on youtube and see false worship, I'm seeing it. I can read a doctrinal statement. I can interview, ask questions, and hear it or see it myself. We can know things about a church from the outside. The Acts 15 churches were judging those types of beliefs and practices themselves, when they judged each other. And then they did something about it.
Many of the decisions about what do do with a particular person or pastor or church are each judgment calls. You act in wisdom, relying on biblical principle. Any men should be willing to have their teaching and practice exposed to reasonable, biblical criticism. Every church should be willing to defend their practice. I know I want to do that. I want to explain why we believe and practice like we do. If what I believe and practice is good and the truth, then I should want to and be able to defend it in front of more than just my own church people.
The Bible itself is authority outside of a church. No church has authority outside of scripture. When you lay down what God says, that still rules over a church, whether it comes from the outside or from within.