Responding to Independent Ministries
Responding to Independent Ministries
Relating to self-supporting ministries is pleasant in comparison to some independent ministries, who regard their ministries as ordained to “straighten out” the leadership of the church; bring the church “back on course,” and “qualified” to receive tithes of members. As noted in last week’s article, the latter consider themselves as loyal members of the church although their operations run counter to the programs of the church. Accordingly, I will attempt to explain how we should respond to them. In doing so, I will reference again an article by Woodrow W. Whidden, printed in Ministry Magazine, August 2000. Firstly, a look at the Wesleyan’s Revival of the 18th Century, the significance of this for Adventists and finally, how the church can relate to “independent Ministries.”
A Look at the Wesleyan Revival in the 18th Century
Woodrow W. Whidden explains, “Any effort to draw parallels from one historical setting to another is always a delicate pursuit since the parallels of history are often elusive and inexact.” Nevertheless, he views The Wesleyan Revival of the 18th century as presenting “numerous striking similarities to many Adventist para-church movements.” Says Whidden, “The parallels and concerns are so striking that I find them quite irresistible as a laboratory to explore the dynamic ways religious minorities and establishment majorities relate to one another.” He pointed out, “John Wesley never intended to be a divisive schismatic in any of the innovations that he introduced in his 18th-century evangelical revival. He died an ordained Anglican priest and proclaimed his loyal intentions to the very end. However, Wesley never shied away from doing what he thought necessary to advance his Methodist outreach, especially to the ‘poor’ who were caught in the social and spiritual crossfire of the early Industrial Revolution.” As such, from this context, Whidden identified two major factors that contributed to the unwanted schism that the Methodist revival ultimately experienced and their relevance for Adventism.
Relevance for Adventism
Whidden observed, “All across Protestantism, including Adventism, and in a number of sectors in the Roman Catholic community, there is a growing appreciation for small group ministries and lay leadership in all aspects of church outreach and nurture.” Furthermore, he states, “In the face of these trends, denominational ministers and administrators need to adopt wise and restrained practical and/or theological caution.” In fact, he contends, “in many cases, church leaders need to get out of the way” only “if there is an abundantly evident manifestation of positive spiritual fruitage.” On the other hand, “If the teaching and action of a particular para-church movement shows little or no positive fruitage, there may well be need for church administrations to take necessary action.”
According to Whidden, “the central issues that appear to be unresolved between the main body and some of the so-called ‘independent’ or ‘self-sup porting’ ministries does not seem to primarily concern theology per se.” Comparing to the Wesleyans and the Anglicans, he views the issues mostly having to do with “matters of organization and lifestyle.” As such, he posed the following questions: “How should the organized body relate to groups that continue to criticize it regarding real or imagined compromise on moral and lifestyle issues?” “How does the church relate to a manifest claim of entitlement, by the ‘independent’ ministries, to receive ‘tithes.’"
He admits, “The solutions don't reveal themselves easily, but some potential schisms do appear to be amenable to solution if enough mutual patience and dialogue can be brought to bear on the situation.” In addition, he believes, “Much of the stress could be alleviated if the establishment administrators would take more time to reassure the ‘independent’ ministries that they affirm their doctrinal orthodoxy, loyalty and sincere zeal to protect, for example, the delicate balance between justification and sanctification.” He goes so far as to say, “Denominational leadership needs to be prepared to humbly and patiently dialogue with the independents and seek every possible area of agreement. They should be prepared to be vulnerable to the questions and concerns put to them.”
In seeking balance Whidden argues, “On the other hand, the ‘independent’ ministry leaders would do well to renounce any intention to knowingly receive tithes.” Additionally, they need to ask themselves: “How far are we actually willing to go when it comes to our separate publications, institutional development, camp meetings, conventions, and other independent teachings and activities?” “Are we reaching the point where the finer points of our own prescribed behavior and teaching are becoming the primary points of ecclesiastical identity and meaning for our followers?” “At what point do our criticisms of the church and its leadership become destructive or irreparably damaging and divisive to the body of Christ?”
Going back to the reference of the Wesleyan Revival, Whidden concludes, “With the loudest protestations of loyalty and all the best motives for reform and renewal, the Wesleyans eventually found their primary ecclesiastical identity with the United Societies rather than established Anglicanism. Do Adventist ‘independents’ really want now to go this route when it comes to established, denominational Adventism?” Quite frankly, I do not think so. Next week, I will identify some of the supporting and independent ministries.