The Expository Files


“Not A Chance”
By Mark Roberts, editor Pressing On
{ This article originally appeared in a new e-magazine, Pressing On. For more information, visit}

“When the Church of the Good Shepherd in Binghamton, N.Y., left the Episcopal Church over disagreements about what the Bible says about sexuality, the congregation offered to pay for the building in which it worshiped. In return the Episcopal Church sued to seize the building, then sold it for a fraction of the price to someone who turned it into a mosque” (Mollie Ziegler Hemmingway. Wall Street Journal. October 7, 2011 accessed via

That rather startlingly quote comes from a story in the Wall Street Journal by Mollie Hemmingway about the problems in the Episcopal Church. This large, mainline denomination is experiencing something of a revolt in its membership. Many congregations are upset with “headquarters” about the doctrinal stance the Episcopal Church has taken in ordaining a practicing homosexual as a bishop and other stances that are perceived by many to be theologically liberal. The result? These unhappy congregations want to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church, but as they leave they would like to buy the church building where they have worshiped for years.

The Episcopal Church is emphatically saying “Not a chance.” The article goes on to quote the head of the EC, Presiding Bishop Katharine Schori, as flatly saying she’d rather those buildings be Baptist churches or even saloons than remain worship centers for her fellow Episcopalians. To prove that point, the EC is putting its money where its mouth is. They are dedicating $22 million to legal actions against departing clergy, congregations and dioceses! Schori says “We can’t sell to an organization that wants to put us out of business.” That’s an unusual viewpoint on breakaway Episcopalians, since the EC is so liberal it has long endorsed the standard “all churches are equal, go to the church of your choice” line that runs through denominationalism today.

So why is the Episcopal Church making news in Pressing On magazine? For several reasons I want to call attention to the madness the WSJ highlighted. First, without question, the article shows the wisdom of God in providing for local churches, who are to be autonomous and independent of one another. There is no centralized structure for the New Testament church. There is to be no central governing body ruling over all congregations, nor is there to be a policy making body for all congregations. In the New Testament we find local churches (Phil 1:1), each with its own elders to watch over and serve that local church and none other (Acts 14:23; 1 Peter 5:1-2). There simply is no bureaucracy or governing mechanism beyond that.

That simple plan looks pretty good when compared to the mess the Episcopal Church is in, doesn’t it? When local autonomy is preserved no board or conference can dictate policy to all other congregations, creating dissension and division if other congregations don’t agree with the board’s stance. Under God’s plan one local church might go astray from the New Testament pattern but they can’t take any other congregation with them, or force anybody (through enormous legal funds) to line up with them. It may be painfully obvious to state but it is worth being reminded: God knows best. God’s way works.

Let me take that point a little further, however. Why are there giant denominations with huge budgets and officials and conventions? The answer is simple: Americans love big things. We are a country that wants to get things done on a big scale, and do them in a big way. But the truth is that a simple local autonomous church is never going to have the money to buy a Super Bowl commercial, mail a booklet to every household in America, distribute DVDs all over the globe, or do massive works of charity that get noticed on the evening news. If you want big things, you have to organize! So folks - probably well-meaning folks - get things organized so they can raise more funds to fund more big stuff. It flows directly from our love of the large and impressive.
Could we stop and examine that for a moment please? Scripture contains precious little that would cause us to think God cares nearly as much for making a big splash. The very entrance of Jesus into this world in a barn found in a backwater Jewish town covers that point quite adequately. The simple New Testament churches that dot the landscape of Acts reinforce this point, don’t they? Simple and small seems to work quite well for the Lord. The truth is most of the New Testament is directed to individual Christians in how they are to live and what they are to believe. Yes there are instructions for collective action (and important instructions they are) but simple New Testament Christianity is really about men and women making Jesus the Lord of their lives and living as He teaches and directs ... individually. The best part is that those individual actions don’t have to make a major media gathering even necessary, and God is very okay with that.

Do we really get that? How often do we decide if we can’t do things in a big way they just aren’t worth doing? Don’t kid yourself. You don’t have to wait for an evangelism program to talk to someone about the Lord. There’s no need to wait for the annual church-wide Bible reading program that begins on January 1 for you to start reading your Bible everyday. You don’t have to decide that since you can’t preach or lead singing (the big things, you know) that sending a note to a shut-in or emailing a preacher laboring in a foreign country doesn’t matter. In fact, thinking that things have to be done on a big and grand scale is exactly the mistake that the Episcopalians made that got them in the mess they are in now, isn’t it?
Jesus said “For truly, I say to you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ will by no means lose his reward” (Mark 9:41). To do that you don’t need an unscriptural denominational organization. To do that you just need disciples who are willing to do what they can where they are. Let’s not make the mistake of wagging our heads at the denominational world while we duplicate their mistakes only on a smaller scale. Don’t wait for programs, organizations, or even others so you can do bigger things better. Serve the Lord where you are today!

By Mark Roberts 
From Expository Files 18.12; December 2011