How Do the Concepts of Liberty and Security Affect Church Governance? And Selection of Church Leaders?

 Historically, there has been a philosophical divide in governance. That divide can be summarized by two concepts: 1) Those who value "liberty" vs 2) Those who value "security".  Ever since the Enlightenment these two ideals have been in "competition" with one another.  That has especially been true in the political area.  This is not surprising as there seems to be a natural tendency of man to seek to be "free" as well as his desire to be "secure."   I would postulate these same desires play out in the church setting.  That is, some church leaders point their congregations towards "liberty" and some church leaders point their congregations towards "security".  Let's see how these concepts play out in practice and how they also relate to scripture. 

What about "security?"  Security is commonly thought of as being free from danger, fear, or being anxious about some need or threat.  What does this mean in a typical congregational setting?  What are the perceived dangers, fears, needs or threats.   The first is drawn from scripture : Acts 20:29–31 (NIV)"29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears."  The first fear, then,  is the real fear of the perversion of the Gospel of Christ. 

The second is a fear of "change".  In this context "change" is nearly always as a reference to those who would "distort the truth".   But, in practice this fear is one of any change from what the leadership perceives to be "correct" whether just a departure from traditional practice or a true denial of the gospel. Therefore any change is a threat to the status quo.  Security then is achieved by adhering to a fixed, traditional, or standard way of doing things.  Always doing things in the same pattern and way gives one a feeling of security and well being.  Departure from accepted ways creates a feeling of anxiety.   Anyone in leadership who appears to advocate for new methods or needs is then automatically labeled a threat. 

Elders in a congregation are usually very sensitive to anything that seems to threaten the security of the membership.  If the world has changed from one where most citizens have a Christian world-view to  one where those under 35 are thoroughly post-modern in their world-view, elders are reluctant to address this external change with any internal change in their methodology.   Instead, in name of protecting the flock and preserving "unity", they will resist any methodological changes.  They will stick to old methods, organization concepts, worship methods, and traditions in order to make all feel secure.  I note it is rare that true departures from the gospel message are entailed in proposed method changes.  

What about "liberty?"  Liberty or "freedom" in the NT is most associated with Paul and particularly on his writing on freedom from law, sin, and death.  But, Paul's view of liberty is much more expansive that this.  For example:2 Corinthians 3:17 (NIV)17 "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom."   Paul has many other scriptures where he postulates there is true freedom in Christ--particularly in how things or done--cite food, observance of special days or new moons, evangelism, etc.  Where Paul does not continuance liberty is  in the perversion of the gospel from the death, burial and resurrection of Christ ( the good news) and salvation by grace rather than by works.  He is aggressive against the binding of traditional Jewish practices on members as a condition of salvation, But, he is quite willing to adhere to them to have his message of the gospel accepted.  

It is noteworthy that in contrast to the Jewish law we have no single set of scriptures that detail exactly how worship should be conducted.  There is no set liturgy.   We do not even have a single set of scripture that provides in single setting the five-fold hear, believe, repent confess, and be baptized,  We do not have set methods of "doing evangelism".  We have plenty of letters addressing particular problems as they arose in different congregations or admonitions of how to live.  We have the gospel accounts of the life, death and resurrection of our Savior. It is as if there is a deliberate distinct difference is how God's will was revealed in the Old Testament and how it is revealed in the New.  Perhaps this is to emphasize worship is to be "in spirit and in truth"

Liberty is a distinct teaching in the NT.   Liberty is a direct threat to security in a congregation.  That is particularly true when elders view their task as making sure everything is done "right" or "correct" in the congregation or in worship.  That is an authoritative attitude.  But, elders are to be servants, leading by example.  The exercise of liberty in practice will be associated with spiritual growth.  Growth does not come from doing things the same way.   

One can conclude the same tendencies of man to either embrace liberty or security also plays out in the church.  What does the above say about the selection of elders?   Elders will either embrace the liberty Christians have in Christ or they will opt for security as they perceive it. The first choice of liberty  will result in an eldership that will both by example and by teaching enable the membership to address the postmodern worldview.  The second choice will embrace the methods and of the past providing a false sense of comfort and security for itself and the membership . 

When elders are selected which attribute do you think is most likely to be valued? ---- The innovative person who obviously is reaching out to the unchurched in new ways and who is not afraid of new methodologies?  Or the person who is steeped in the traditional ways of "doing church".  Usually, men choose security over liberty because liberty is very challenging. The true Christian life is an extremely challenging one. Unfortunately, this choice means a graying and declining membership,   Churches of Christ are decreasing in number every year as we cling to what worked in the 1950's.  When will our leadership wake up?

Note: This short essay is not annotated. However, a much longer essay with numerous references could be written as there is abundant discussion in the literature. 

 

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