How a thing starts often sets the course of orthopraxy (church practices). It is impossible not to notice the two very different structures adhered to between Charismatic / Full Gospel / Evangelical and the more traditional, even Catholic, structures of those who follow liturgies or the formal training of Presbyterian / Lutheran / Methodist / Baptist churches.
I don’t speak here of their differences in service structure but in how their churches and pastors come to be, which naturally influences structure.
(Part 1 can be found here.)
Those striving to be ‘in Spirit’
No two Charismatic, Full Gospel, or Non-Denominational churches are alike. A great deal of confusion about exactly who they are, what they believe, and exactly what their practices are, stem from this fact.
Certainly, it might be said that no two Lutheran churches (within the same sect) are the same, insofar as the pastor makes or breaks it; nonetheless, the overall structure of service and what they believe will be consistent. This is not true of Non-Denominational churches. (I am lumping all non-traditional churches under this category for simplification.)
Let’s consider how the church focused on living ‘in the Spirit’ comes about. It’s pretty simple. If one has a Bible, a felt-calling from God, and the faith to rent a building and begin, that one may found a church and pastor it. No formal education required. No reference letters required. No ready-made congregation needed.
Indeed, is anything but zeal required? If YouTube has taught us anything it’s that a lot of people are followed who, perhaps, shouldn’t be.
Nonetheless, this simple start contributes both to the wins and losses for the Non-Denominational camp.
On the one hand, not bogged down with prescribed interpretations and formal training, these tend to take the Bible literally, very literally, and, when pursued with a pure heart, can produce a remarkable culture of passion and joy in following Christ.
On the other hand, the lack of formal training is what leads to the sometimes extreme varieties of expression founded by these and, of course, doctrinal errors – even when well-intentioned.
Even so, these will rightly ask what formal training or qualifications John the Baptist or the apostles (minus Saul, of course, who had great formal training… he then counted as rubbish later) had to preach the Word of God.
Are we starting to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some [false teachers], letters of recommendation to you or from you? [No!]
Such is the confidence and steadfast reliance and absolute trust that we have through Christ toward God.
Not that we are sufficiently qualified in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency and qualifications come from God.
He has qualified us [making us sufficient] as ministers of a new covenant [of salvation through Christ], not of the letter [of a written code] but of the Spirit; for the letter [of the Law] kills [by revealing sin and demanding obedience], but the Spirit gives life.2 Corinthians 3:1-6 [AMP]
And so, they will say that their qualifications come from God.
Personally, I cannot fault them here. Our qualifications should come from God, not man.
And, as we have seen in recent days, those who are formally trained are falling away into apostasy and grave errors equally by way of dissenting sects every day.
Those striving to be ‘in Truth’
“Well, pastor, you could fill an entire stadium with all of the people who have passed through your church.”
“That is true. And you could fill a stadium with all of the pastors who have pastored yours.”
That was a less-friendly discussion had between a traditional and a non-denominational pastor, as told to me by the latter some years ago. Well, both have their pros and cons, don’t they…
So, you want to be a pastor? Not so fast, hot-stuff. That’ll be years of seminary training, a good stash of cash, and, even then, you’ll be placed and vetted by how the referring body values your method, style, and character.
Let’s just say, I’m not sure John the Baptist would have made it far in this method.
Though these institutions and traditional denominations vary some in their techniques, it is likely you won’t even get to say, “I want to start a church in Omaha and raise my family there.” No. You’ll have your choice of three or four places around the nation; you’ll have to succumb to being interviewed by the already-founded members of this church; and then you’ll have to hope you are favored by the one your heart desires most.
And, if they decide they don’t like you after a year? Well, tough luck. You’ve been voted out.
(I know people this has happened to. Yes, it can go down this way.)
The good produced by these types of bodies tends to come in way of the dissemination of formal training and interpretations – which isn’t always a bad thing. I have learned much from these during this last third of my life so far. For whatever may not be preferential about their services, you can count on the basic foundations of the Gospel being in tact –
Except, of course, for when they’re not.
A few things can happen here. First, a pastor desiring to keep his station, may fall prey to conforming to that which the congregation prefers to hear or, worse still, to flattering the congregation rather than preaching the Word of God.
I saw this first-hand while visiting a Methodist church once. The poor, young pastor spent the first twenty minutes of the service congratulating those who had given the most in tithes and offerings or donations and, evidently, coddling to their need for ego-inflation. It was one of the most painful things I’ve ever witnessed.
Second, same as in the non-denominational camps, various sects can split from the more traditional heads of these organizations to form their own newly-branded theology and formal training.
These things happen in both non-denominational and traditional (I use that word loosely for lack of a better one) churches. Splits happen in both. Bad doctrine can happen in both. And power-struggles (congregation vs pastor) can happen in both too. The only difference, so far as these things are regarded, is that the non-denominational pastor gets to keep his building, his locale, and his title, sending the split off to live or die elsewhere (ergo, the stadium full of people passing through).
Even so, as my dad used to say, If you’re ever in doubt about what church to choose, start with Baptist: you’ll get the Word of God there and the rest will naturally follow as you learn the Word.
Sadly, even this isn’t foolproof advice anymore – again, because of the splitting off of sects who will still call themselves Baptist (or Lutheran or Presbyterian, etc…) while embracing sin and heresy. (So far as I know, EVERY denomination now has a sect that approves of the ways of society and culture and sin.)
But let’s throw that aside for a moment.
Those who are with a pure heart trying to live by the Words of God (‘in Truth’) strive for order, accuracy, and do tend to excel in teaching (especially with their children). This has impressed me most: Their children are taught the fundamentals of faith at a young age with precise and certain measures. Personally, I feel that is something largely lacking in non-denominational settings, where entertainment often trumps learning doctrine – especially with regards to children.
Is this a false dichotomy?
I want to say that it is, but I can’t seem to equate it as such for all of my experiences in both types of churches. No… there is definitely a difference and churches do tend to fall into one or the other (though I have seen rare breeds that try to walk the line, though, like most things on a spectrum, they favor one side or the other).
My hope, my purpose, my reason for writing about these differences, however, is to flesh out why and how we need both. There should be no division here; to worship ‘in spirit and in truth’ – both are vital.
The ‘in Truth’ type will say, “But I do!” After all, the Spirit is received upon salvation, so one-and-done, right? (In other words, we are all ‘Spirit-filled’, so what’s the fuss about?)
The ‘in Spirit’ type will say, “But I do!” After all, they’re using the same Bible these other churches use and study too, so same-same – but more lively, right? (Besides, some of us have been to Bible college too, so what’s this stink all about?)
Well, if ever there was a job for the Holy Spirit, this is it. I don’t have all of the answers… even if I know one world religion and the compromise of Faith entirely is not the answer.
Nonetheless, from their beginning structures we can see how one of these groups naturally tends toward a go-it-alone authority structure with only the Holy Spirit to act on their behalf as the Guardrail, and where the other tends toward processes and procedures, all in order, line-upon-line of qualifying text, with multiples of influencers squeezing from top and bottom.
I mean really… do we need any more evidence of the type of division here? The description alone pits the creative, free, and spiritual soul against the orderly, textual, and leather-bound types. Both are formed of flesh and spirit; but both, being conformed in their environments, tend toward their own preferential errors.
And yet… the result has not been largely different in terms of culture. Both have led entire groups astray in theology or practice and, often, both.
…for you are still carnal. For where there are envy, strife, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?1 Corinthians 3:3
At the very least, neither party can boast…
Save in whatever good Christ has worked on our behalf.
So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.Romans 10:17
And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.Galatians 5:24-26
So then, we can ‘live’ but not ‘walk’ in the Spirit?… A question for thought.