Wednesday, April 24, 2013

9Marks on Parachurch Ministries: A Review

I was invited to read this here article from 9Marks, ordinarily a ministry I hold in high regard, about parachurch ministries. Once I'd read about half, I decided a note-taking walkthrough would be more beneficial than a mere reading, and once I had reached the end I realised just how problematic the entire piece was.

The article gets off to a pretty bad start:
From Joel Osteen to John Piper, from Creflo Dollar to Tim Keller, from Joyce Meyer to John MacArthur, it’s difficult to find Christian leaders who don’t lead a parachurch ministry.

Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen, and Creflo Dollar? These are not Christian leaders. They are not even Christians. So much for discernment.

No Scriptural commands. This is just his own opinion.
It exists primarily to protect the church.

1) Says who?
2) What does "protect" mean?
3) The church needs protection?

The church has a unique and high ministerial calling that stands above all others: the right teaching and preaching of the Word.

That is not all the church is called to do. The church is commanded to make disciples of all nations, baptising them, teaching them to observe all that Jesus commanded. Teaching and preaching the Word is necessary and awesome, but to say it's "above all others" requires argument, which he didn't give.

A good biblical model for parachurch ministries is found in Acts 6

1) This is again a mere assertion, not an argument.
2) Nothing says that this was a parachurch thing. The church is supposed to provide for widows (cf James 1:27, 1 Timothy 5:9-16). This was a church thing.

And so, it appears that what would become the church’s office of deacon was established to protect the primary ministry of the church, that is, the ministry of the Word.

He arrives at his conclusion via an unwarranted jump.
The primary ministry of *the apostles* was the ministry of the Word, sure. But the church is not the same thing as the apostles, and neither are modern elders.

Not all gatherings of Christians are “church.”

Here is where the article's assumed and problematic jumps back and forth between Visible Local Church (hereafter, VLC) and Invisible Universal Church (IUC) commence.
So, if he means that not all gatherings of Christians constitute a VLC, agreed.


A healthy parachurch ministry avoids acting like the church.

It *is* supposed to act like the IUC.
There are certain things non-VLC entities shouldn't normally do that VLCs do, certainly, such as establish elders.
But what about the other things he mentioned that VLCs do?

--commit themselves to each other
IUC is supposed to be committed to each other, to love each other, etc. We are supposed to love the brethren. Look at the way the churches participated in Acts, the way the churches accepted Paul in the various epistles like Philippians and Philemon.

--gather regularly
"Parachurch ministries" can do this.

--teach the Word
"Parachurch ministries" can do this.

--celebrate communion
To be honest, I have always taken it as a given that the Lord's Table should be celebrated among VLC, and that does seem to be the actual practice of the earliest church in Acts.
Acts 2:42They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
Acts 2:46Day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved.
And of course, 1 Corinthians 11:17-33.

If communion is not to be closed, however, it is open to not-strictly the people of the VLC on any given day; rather members of the IUC can partake as well.

--baptise converts
Like Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch? Or Philip in Samaria? That guy was just a crazy renegade! He should have been disciplined for his impudence, daring to take it upon himself to baptise people who were getting saved.

Or like Luke 9:
49John answered and said, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name; and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow along with us.” 50But Jesus said to him, “Do not hinder him; for he who is not against you is for you.”

--discipline their members
It's true that there are specific instructions in the NT for expelling persons from a VLC for specific reasons.
But here are a few things to think about:
1) If someone is excommunicated for good reason from a solid VLC, should I as a member of a different VLC just ignore their excommunication? Isn't that part of the point behind the SBC's "letters of __ standing", sent from one church to the church a particular person is applying to join?
2) Are the following Scriptures only directed at people who were within the walls of the one particular VLC and were excommunicated?
2 Tim 3:1But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.
Sentiments such as Psalm 101:7He who practices deceit shall not dwell within my house; He who speaks falsehood shall not maintain his position before me.
Is it totally OK for me to accept a Titus 3:10 person into my church, given how they acted before?
10Reject a factious man after a first and second warning, 11knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.

A "parachurch org" can just as easily create a code of conduct modeled after Scripture as a VLC can create a confession/bylaws/constitution. And a "parachurch org" can fail to do so just as easily as VLCs can and do.

--establish a biblical structure of leadership

If Acts 6 is an example of a parachurch org, then this can be done as well, since one could be at least forgiven for thinking the biblical structure of leadership would presumably be the way the Acts 6 parachurch org was set up.

--pray and give together

Parachurch orgs can do that just as well as VLCs can. Why? Because they're supposed to be populated by members of the IUC.

So, it turns out that there is not really a whole lot of difference here. Sure, a VLC is distinct from not-a-VLC, but not all not-a-VLCs are created equal.

parachurch leaders will tell “the Church” what “the Church” needs to do. They will advise it to partner with become more relevant,

These would be poor examples of telling a VLC what to do. But there are other ways that VLCs get stuff wrong. For example, numerous of them DO partner with Romanists, and numerous of them ARE becoming more "relevant" in a bad way. It is a good thing for them, a helpful and loving thing, to offer correctives and admonish them.

Would this author contend that, say, Pirate Christian Radio, CARM, or Grace To You (if you doubt GTY's status as a parachurch org, why was John MacArthur mentioned in the opening paragraph?) are therefore exhibiting signs of poor health, because they tell VLCs not to partner with Romanists and not to give in to passing fads of "relevance"? These are parachurch orgs, after all, admonishing VLCs of which they are not a part.

(1) Christ loves the Church. (2) This love for the Church expresses itself in a concern for her purity and faithfulness. (3) Lack of purity and faithfulness are met, in the example of Rev. 2-3, with letters of reproof and exhortation. (4) We also have the mind of Christ. (5) Therefore, if we love the Church as we ought, we will also be concerned with her purity and faithfulness, and speak up to exhort and reprove our fellow brothers and sisters as need arises.

to patch holes in the gospel by caring for the poor

I am unsure what this statement means, but it does not bode well for the strength of this author's overall powers of discernment.

But if this inclination is not tempered by a clear understanding of the differences between church and parachurch, these well-meaning church members will pressure the church to look and act like a parachurch ministry.

This sentence circles back on the rest of the article, like a snake swallowing its own tail. The proper differences haven't been substantiated or laid out in Scripture yet.

Parachurch ministries often have the luxury of ignoring secondary doctrines.

VLCs often do too. Not all VLCs have extensively detailed confessions of faith to which they subscribe, if not slavishly, quite strictly. A significant number of VLCs in America don't have much of a confession at all, don't require any sort of explicit assent to it if they do, don't take action if a member, say, blogs or Facebooks things contrary to that confession or even teaches those things in Sunday School or small group, and wouldn't have the cojones to initiate church discipline toward such a person in any case.
What's the difference again?

I didn’t care that much about the mode of someone’s baptism when I was in a parachurch ministry.

The author might have been in the wrong parachurch org.
Perhaps he'd like to direct his criticism at Dr James White and Alpha & Omega Ministries, for allowing real live pædobaptists like James Swan and TurretinFan to post on his blog and even occasionally sit in for him during his Dividing Line broadcasts.
There are also VLCs in this world that allow for membership to both credobaptists and pædobaptists. I am friends with a man in South Africa who attended just such a church for years.

But a healthy parachurch ministry should avoid pressuring a church to dismiss church doctrine that may not have much meaning in a parachurch context, but which has a real impact on the health of the church.

The author needs to flesh this out more. To what is he referring? How would such things deleteriously affect the health of the church? Does criticism create a negative impact on church health? How so?
The leaps he is making are severe.

MARK 5: No argument here.
Let us note, however, that where the "rocks of history are strewn with the shipwrecks of parachurch ministries", those same rocks boast the corpses of many, many VLCs as well, probably more than "parachurch orgs".
We *all* need to heed the warnings of Scripture. It is possible for a VLC to lose her lampstand. It is possible for a presumed member of the IUC to be a false convert, or a hidden reef, a concealed antichrist.
2 Corinthians 13:5 applies to all professing Christians, not just those who don't happen to be meeting with their VLC at the time or who do things with other Christians outside their VLC.

MARK 6: No argument here.
Again, though, the same things can be said of VLCs. There are VLCs in the world that boast tens of thousands of members, and "parachurch orgs" that have a handful.
The danger of pragmatism is that we can begin to trust in skill, techniques, or programs more than we trust in the Spirit’s work or in the clear commands of Scripture.

Has the author been paying attention to recent patterns and issues within the Southern Baptist Convention at all?

MARK 7: No argument here.
Again, though, the same things can be said of VLCs. There are VLCs in the world that boast annual budgets worth $tens of millions, and "parachurch orgs" that have $a few dozen to their name.

I was speaking to a friend about her move to the head office of a large parachurch organization. She said that,as she began to get to know the office culture, she made two lists of people in the office: one list of those who were godly, and another list of those who were in power. And she said—tellingly—that they were different lists.

Replace "parachurch organization" with "VLC" here, and is it any less credible an account?

Nothing so endangers the health of a parachurch ministry than suppressing discussions about gospel faithfulness out of fears that it might hurt the donor base.

It may surprise the author to know that we abolitionists are familiar with some VLCs that suppress discussion about Gospel faithfulness out of fears that it might hurt the donor base.

MARK 8: More of the same.
One of the best reasons for a parachurch ministry to exist is to bring people together who are passionately committed to the gospel but who might not agree on every secondary doctrine.

One of the best reasons for a VLC to exist is to bring people together who are passionately committed to the gospel but who might not agree on every secondary doctrine.

To be healthy, all parachurch ministries must maintain a deep commitment to the core of Christianity—the gospel—no matter what else they do. Beware of any parachurch organization that does not hold to the gospel with a firm grip.

To be healthy, all VLCs must maintain a deep commitment to the core of Christianity—the gospel—no matter what else they do. Beware of any VLC that does not hold to the gospel with a firm grip.

Most parachurch ministries have a doctrinal confession that clearly articulates the gospel. But does it matter? Is it relevant on a day-to-day basis?...There is almost nothing more corrosive to a parachurch ministry than a doctrinal statement that has become irrelevant.

Most VLCs have a doctrinal confession that clearly articulates the gospel. But does it matter? Is it relevant on a day-to-day basis?
There is almost nothing more corrosive to a VLC than a doctrinal statement that has become irrelevant.

But here is a way for parachurch ministries to be protected by the church: if more parachurch ministries sought accountability relationships from a church, both for individuals and for the organization as a whole, they would find themselves protected from the dangers implicit in marks 2 through 8.

So if a VLC is empowered and asked to hold a parachurch org accountable, that's great and welcome.
But is it "not protecting" the church if the reverse should hold?
Are wounds from a friend trusted or despised (Proverbs 27:6)?

A healthy parachurch ministry needs transparent and honest relationships with evangelical churches,and should invite critique from those churches.

But healthy VLCs don't need transparent and honest relationships with other evangelical VLCs, and should not invite critique from those churches?

Parachurch organizations are not above reproach. Defensive postures on the part of parachurch ministries are indications of illness.

VLCs are not above reproach. Defensive postures on the part of VLCs are indications of illness.

Parachurch organizations would gain much from submitting, as an organization, to the leaders of healthy gospel-centered churches.

This is of course true, but it's almost tautological. Of course Christians are to submit to each other in love, and supposed to admonish each other in love.
And all members of the IUC are supposed to be members of a VLC, and each VLC is supposed to have biblical leadership, in normal circumstances and when possible. Again, the author isn't saying anything to set parachurch orgs apart.


But we should never forget that his chosen method for the expansion of the kingdom is his church.

Yes, the IUC. Plenty of VLCs have fallen by the wayside (such as all 7 from Revelation 1-3) and many more will follow them. Yet members of the IUC do all sorts of things for the kingdom of God. Where is the biblical injunction to restrict all activities for the kingdom of God to the VLC? The author hasn't provided one. In fact, he barely touched Scripture at all during his article.

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