[personal profile] thecosmicdance
Authority



Conservative evangelical churches (at least those that are members of legitimate wider denominations) are democracies. Not only does the church board get to vote on important decisions, but all adult members of the congregation may vote on issues that affect the congregation as a whole. The congregation decides who will be their pastor (unless it’s a church plant), the pastor does not usually handpick their own successor without an agreement from the board. Once or twice a year, regional or national conferences are held mainly for discussing denominational business issues. At this time, they may also vote to elect new regional and national leaders. If an issue affects the national denomination, then the national denomination votes on it. Your pastor is the first among equals, he’s your leader, he can put his foot down but the church is not his personal fiefdom and he can be fired. Regional or national leaders are more like administrators than the source of all wisdom and God's representative on earth.

Unless the church began as a “church plant”, meaning the pastor started it himself with or without, endorsement from a wider denomination. If the pastor chooses to go it alone, and make his church “non denominational”, there’s no telling what might happen. He could turn it into something like Rob Bell’s “Mars Hill” or this could happen:
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A fundamentalist environment is always a dictatorship. God is the supreme dictator, whose will must never, ever be questioned. The pastor is the one who tells you what God’s will is, so the pastor is infallible on any issue he chooses to insert himself into. The Elders are his chosen enforcers, who make sure your father is towing the line. Your father rules your mother and you, with your mother coming in a close second unless you are a married woman, and in that case your husband replaces both your parents as your personal dictator. You don’t get a vote. Are you a guy? Then your bosses are your dad and your pastor. Hierarchy is vital, everyone must have a place and everyone must have someone who is in charge of them.

The person in authority extends an “umbrella of protection” over you. Stepping outside the umbrella by disobeying them in any sense leaves you open to attack,through physical danger or disembodied forces of evil. No, the rules don’t have to “make sense”, only limp wristed, light in the loafers, moral relativist Mainlines question whether things “make sense”. Someone must be in charge, if we let people go around thinking they’re allowed to run their own lives, we’d be living in chaos.

But they’re also obsessed with personal freedoms. It’s a weird dichotomy, where the government is nothing but Satan’s minions out to destroy your freedom to make decisions for your family, discipline children as you see fit, associate only with who you want to associate with, do what you want with your own business/land, not have to contribute money to anything you don’t want to, say what you want to in the pulpit, conduct marriages in your own fashion, etc. But only certain people get those rights, and the person in authority over you controls your life far more than the government ever could. Fundamentalists jeer at, and reject totally, the authority of Popes and Archbishops, but their pastors end up becoming thousands of little popes, with more power and less accountability. And less education, too.

I think if you understand the fundamentalist attitude toward authority, everything about fundamentalists starts to become clear.

Making Friends
The most fundy churches are usually a loose network of independent establishments, more often than not, Baptist in theory but in practice, a bizarre hodgepodge of theologies mainly obsessed with the idea that being a good person is only about the things you don’t do.
This is because fundamentalists often believe in the concept of “separation”. It means that if someone you know is engaging in an activity that threatens your values, you must cut them out of your life. . It comes from the Bible verse Come out from among them and be ye separate.

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They have more internal schisms than any other type of Christianity at present. You’ll often see, at least in North America, one fundamentalist Baptist church, and another, entirely separate, congregation of fundamentalist Baptists meeting two blocks away, having marched out in huff because the pastor at their old church said women should be allowed to wear knee length skirts. Since they’re so often “independent”, there’s no higher denominational authority to arbitrate.

Conservative evangelicals generally don’t do this. Their motto is “in the world, but not of the world”, which means you don’t have to “separate” from anyone. You don’t have to be like everyone else to shop in the same mall or live on the same street. They try to remain good friends with people who don’t necessarily share their exact beliefs. In the case of a conservative evangelical who is particularly aggressive about trying to convert you or discourage your beliefs, you may wish they’d give up on you instead. You find yourself in a situation with The Conservative Evangelical Who Won't Go Away, which is almost as bad as The Fundamentalist Who Won't Even Look You In the Eye At the Supermarket.

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But conservative evangelicals are optimists where fundies are pessimists. They believe that if they continue to interact with people who have different beliefs, and they act as witnesses for Jesus, then the other person will eventually come around, or at least develop a grudging tolerance. Conservative evangelicals live in the world, they don’t hide in enclaves, occasionally venturing forth to attack and then run back behind their walls, dragging new converts with them. Conservative evangelicals have, at least, mastered the art of subtlety compared to the clumsy,blunt edged way fundamentalists attempt to relate to non Christians.

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thecosmicdance

May 2013

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