Why I Love...and Need the Apostolic Ministry: It Provides Accountability and MediationTuesday, January 11, 2011
Four: It Provides Accountability and Mediation
One of the most frustrating things in the world when you're leading a church alone is having someone to go to when you can't resolve issues in your local church. Paul's question to the Corinthians always haunted me: "Don't you realize that someday we believers will judge the world? And since you are going to judge the world, can't you decide even these little things among yourselves? Don't you realize that we will judge angels? So you should surely be able to resolve ordinary disputes in this life. If you have legal disputes about such matters, why go to outside judges who are not respected by the church? I am saying this to shame you. Isn't there anyone in all the church who is wise enough to decide these issues?" (1 Cor. 6:2-5).
Of course, there ought to be people wise enough. But evidently there weren't. Which is why Paul had to intervene and say something. And that was a shame to them, as it should have been. It is precisely because there are few wise men in local churches that they have so much division, much of which spills over the edges and out into their communities bringing shame to the name and body of King Jesus. Churches fight over the dumbest crap in the world. And the fact that so many of them are independent-minded and "autonomous" just makes it worse.
To be sure, a biblical local church seems to necessitate autonomy. That simply means that when they are mature with their own leaders, a church is ready to govern itself with the biblical leadership structure it has put in place. Also, it does not seem to be a biblical idea that one church has a right to tell another church what to do, how to do it, when to do it, etc. Each local church essentially operates independent of the others. But biblically they are never to operate without interdependence upon each other.
I recall some of the darkest days in my life. I was pastoring a small Southern Baptist church in West Georgia. For some readers, the fact that I mentioned Southern Baptist is probably all you need to hear. Memories of church business meeting fights probably come to mind...the ones where everybody was yelling and making threats toward each other because of the disagreement about whether pine nuggets or pebbles ought to be installed in the children's playground area. Seriously. Or the one I sat through as a kid where the church voted on how much to spend for the new toilet seat in the parsonage where we lived. Asinine.
At the church where I was pastoring a stink arose which I hope I never have to relive. I can't recount it here, but I will simply say that the lack of interdependence among other Southern Baptist churches meant I was all alone in dealing with this massive problem. I could not rely on any other Southern Baptist pastors in town or even outside of town for any help other than just the obligatory, "We'll be prayin' for ya!" Gee. Thanks. I think.
The massive problem ended up in the courts. No kidding. One half of my congregation sued the church leadership by lying to the courts with zero evidence to support the initial accusations. Somehow those poor folks either had a special study bible which footnotes releasing them from obedience to 1 Corinthians 6, or else they had use their black highlighter on those verses. And while there were wise men in our midst who could handle the situation, the fact that were were an autonomous local church meant that we couldn't govern ourselves, the courts would have to...or at least try.
To be sure, Paul's apostolic ministry did not necessarily prevent lawsuits from happening in Corinth. But the fact that he planted the church did give him a right as well as biblical authority to speak into the life of that church to reprove, correct, and exhort the flock. In other words, the apostolic role he played in the life of that church gave him a place of biblical influence. And that had the power to change and shape things, because some of the problems got better, as we read in 2 Corinthians.
For me, things only got worse. There was no one I could turn to. The area director of missions was of little help. He had been in town way longer than I and had made it apparent that he had sided with the ones who were disobeying the Bible. A baptist pastor in a nearby town would have little to do with me. Only a friend from the Atlanta area, and a friend from South Georgia, and a local Methodist church member offered accountability for me outside the existing church leadership. In other words, there was no one really holding us accountable for the way we were handling all of this. And we desperately needed it, especially since none of us had ever experienced anything like this before.
My point is that where I am now in life, I would never think of operating in any leadership capacity in a local church without the apostolic ministry offering accountability and mediation to resolve conflicts and difficulties. We've already had a few where I am now. And if we didn't have apostolic oversight, we would have already split...perhaps two or even three times. We are not at a point now where biblically we can govern ourselves, so to speak. We have no elders yet. And until then, as it was in the Scriptures, the apostolic man and the pastors he trains, lead the church together, until the church matures by ordaining its own elders. That gives the apostolic ministry a place of influence and authority in a local church, which is used biblically to shape and mold and form a group of people around the gospel of Christ, both in belief and behavior.
It seems that when I adopted a mindset that the apostolic ministry was valid for today, a whole host of problems, both potential and actual, flew right out the window. When a local church adopts a mindset of accountability rather than independent-autonomy, it can experience the spiritual growth the Bible talks about...that "unity of the faith" and "mature man" stuff Paul speaks of in Ephesians 4. A local church will be filled with people who aren't tossed back and forth by every wind of teaching. They will grow up together in love. Accountability is necessary to see that through. And the apostolic ministry is Jesus' gift of accountability to His church. Thank you Lord for the apostolic ministry in my life and local church.