I am grateful for the invitation to contribute to the most recent volume of the 9 Marks Journal. My essay is on pastoral authority from a Wesleyan/Methodist perspective. It’s part of a round-table discussion with Kevin DeYoung offering a Presbyterian approach and Benjamin Merkle giving a Baptist perspective. Here’s an excerpt:
Methodist founder John Wesley considered himself “a man of one book,” and that book was the Bible. Wesley believed that essential doctrines must be grounded in scripture. His attitude toward pastoral ministry was no different. This is clear in Wesley’s sermon, “On Obedience to Pastors,” in which he exposits Hebrews 13:17. He introduces the sermon insisting that the nature of pastoral authority can be understood if we “simply attend to the oracles of God” and “carefully examine the words of the Apostle.” Later in the sermon he rejects views on pastoral authority that cannot be proved from Scripture, and he refuses to “appeal to human institutions,” insisting again on what “we find in the oracles of God.” Wesley also believed Scripture puts limits on the pastor’s authority. He didn’t expect members of a congregation to obey the pastor if that pastor instructed them to disobey Scripture. And when pastors shepherd the flock in a way that accords with scripture, Wesley says, “we do not properly obey them, but our common Father” (italics original). The point should be clear: faithful Methodists locate the source of a pastor’s authority in scripture.
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I’m grateful for the opportunity to take part in a roundtable discussion for the 9 Marks Journal on the question: are denominations worth it? The other participants are pastors from a variety of contexts and denominational backgrounds and include Tim Keller, Carl Trueman, Tom Ascol, Tim Cantrell, and Rick Phillips. You can preview the roundtable discussion here, and the full journal should be available soon.
Most of us answered the question with a generally positive view of denominations, though as you read each response you may get the sense that some find denominations to be more “worth it” than others. Several responses focused on the value of connection to foster cooperation between churches in a single denomination. Ascol suggested that denominations are useful in bringing autonomous local churches in the same denomination together as partners in mission. Cantrell praised the cooperation of the Sola5 association of churches in South Africa for their strategic partnership to plant new churches and engage in mission. Keller and Truman, both Presbyterian, find worth in the role of denominations in keeping local church leaders accountable to the larger connection, and Phillips sees value in denominations as long as they don’t begin to think that their boundaries are the same as the boundaries of Christ’s kingdom.
Taking a somewhat different approach, my own contribution focused on the value of denominations in relationship to each other. I’ve learned a lot from reading and studying those with backgrounds in other denominations. I hope that exposure to the strengths and distinctives of other traditions has and will continue to improve my own understanding and practice of ministry. I also hope that people in other denominations will learn from the strengths and emphases of our Methodist heritage.
What do you think? Are denominations worth it? Why? Why not? Share your thoughts in a comment below.