Are para-church organizations Biblical? Should we support them?

Discussion in 'Ecclesiology' started by Tim, Aug 5, 2008.

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  1. Tim

    Tim Puritan Board Graduate

    I have been thinking about ministries such as Bible studies or missions being conducted outside the auspices of the local church or presbytery (which is also the church). Shouldn't all ministry fall under the structure of a church (people) that is presented in the Bible?

    I wonder whether para-church organizations are Biblical because there isn't the proper form of organization (such as elders and deacons) or function (preaching, singing, prayer, communion, reading of scripture - see Acts 2:42). As such, it seems that para-church organizations are a "church" that is done in the wrong way and/or without a complete practice.

    One time I taught a Bible study on my own, but I was not supervised (nor "called")- I could have been teaching anything!

    The only caveat I have with this is when I consider some groups such as Answers in Genesis or a financial ministry. They minister in their respective areas with a depth that no individual pastor could realistically achieve. Or could he?

    Shouldn't everything be a part of a church body that is organized and operates according to the Biblical model? Isn't there only one ministry model (presbyterian vs. congregational government debates aside)?
  2. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritanboard Amanuensis

    I think you are right in differentiating between "parachurch" organizations and organizations that serve an apologetic function.
  3. Tim

    Tim Puritan Board Graduate

    Yes, thanks for making this point.

    But does this apologetic function represent a need that Christians should have filled? If it is a need, then why should it not occur under the authority of the Church (capital C)? That would suggest that the Church is not adequate to feed Christians all the food that they require.

    Or is it that these organizations exist because the Church is not doing its job (in those areas)?

    Just some further questions...
  4. Backwoods Presbyterian

    Backwoods Presbyterian Puritanboard Amanuensis

    Well as far as AIG is concerned the seminaries have dropped the ball in this regard so there function is quite seriously needed. However it would be nice to have them under the eye of a Church. Anything that operates outside the jurisdiction of a body of believers is accountable to no one but itself, which is a problem in my opinion. Especially if we actually believe in Presbyterianism.
  5. Tim

    Tim Puritan Board Graduate

    Yes, I really would have to agree. And I think that Answers in Genesis is a great organization - I love the teaching of Ken Ham et al. I think that the Greenville Presbyterian seminary continues to stand for 6-day creation, though. But they may be the only ones (open to correction).
    Last edited: Aug 5, 2008
  6. Casey

    Casey Puritan Board Junior

    I believe this is a big part of the answer. The word "ministry" is being used to cover a wide range of good works today. Perhaps the use of the word in this way comes from a certain understanding of Ephesians 4:11-12, but of course there are two ways of exegeting the passage.

    I used to be heavily involved in an on-campus "ministry." When I came to the Reformed faith I eventually concluded that it was inappropriate for this organization to operate outside of the oversight of a church. Of course everyone in the organization was a member of a church, but I don't equate that with ecclesiastical oversight.

    In this organization that I was in, I've never seen any baptisms, but I have witnessed communion administered a couple of times. I was rather appalled that a local evangelical pastor would come to do this, without any fencing of the table whatsoever, and without any real knowledge of the individuals that were there -- many of whom I knew to be unbelievers.
  7. Jimmy the Greek

    Jimmy the Greek Puritan Board Senior

    Although a parachurch "organization" may not be under the auspices of a church body, wouldn't the individuals operating this parachurch "ministry" be members of individual churches and thereby considered as under some oversight?
  8. TimV

    TimV Puritanboard Botanist

    This will sound cynical but practically speaking they are an excuse for women to run things as well as taking potential male leadership and placing them in a position where they practice leadership without oversight and it really messes some of them up.

    They often say that they are under individual churches where they have their membership, and in some cases it really works, but practically, they act as a church composed of novice leadership.
  9. BertMulder

    BertMulder Puritan Board Junior

    You may find this article helpful:

    The Standard Bearer
  10. R Harris

    R Harris Puritan Board Sophomore

    Exactly, for this is THE big problem with the parachurch ministries - accountability and correcting where others point out their rather sometimes obvious errors.

    I remember Rushdoony writing some years ago that those who opposed parachurch ministries were a "sorry lot." Well, that was very convenient for him to say, since Chalcedon was not under any denomination's oversight and he basically did what he wanted to do.

    That is the problem - strong personalities want to run the show, and if they diverge off the path and start getting into strange and diverse teachings, then problems arise, and there is no authority to stop them (this is why the original Westminster delegates inserted section 3 in Chapter 23. They believed - rightly - that ultimately it would require the State to stop a heresy from spreading far and wide, especially if there was no church structure in place to stop it).

    Remember the old Jim Bakker PTL Club? A board member (first name Richard, can't remember his last name) lamented after its collapse why no one "warned them" earlier about the path they were going on.

    Oh please, I thought at the time. If someone had gone to him or any other board member and said "look, you guys are way off base here, you need to repent or else face ruin", he or any other board member would have politely told him to go take a long walk on a short pier. When the good times are rolling, rarely will anyone take negative counsel into consideration. (Just look at the financial "experts" on Wall Street. Two years ago, anyone mentioning "housing bubble" was ridiculed and laughed at.)

    This is just one aspect of a long list of reasons why there are difficulties with parachurch ministries, and why the model of Presbyterian church govenment was given to us by the Lord and why it works the best (albeit imperfectly at times, but just like anything else tainted by sin).
  11. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I am part of a missionary society, which most would consider a parachurch. However, the leadership of this society consists of a council of pastors drawn from the churches from which the missionaries come from.

    Also, I am thankful for MAF, other mission aviation orgs, Wycliffe Bible Translators, the various Bible societies and bible colleges, most of which are not under the direct oversight of a single church.

    In the NT we see local churches sending out Paul and the others and these all, while on the field, voluntarily associated, formed working groups and made semi-autonomous decisions and did not pass everything by their local sending churches.

    While big M missionaries who do church planting should be ordained men, there are various support roles such as pilots, nurses, computer specialists, MK teachers, etc that are needed on the mission field - and I would not hesitate to call these people missionary and stress that they need NOT be ordained to labor for the Lord and be supported by our monies.

    Most condemnations of parachurches are overblown and reactionary. While I agree with the need to stress the place of the local church there is no need to tear down the work of many fine groups that are sent out by local churches and labor alongside local churches in voluntary associations to further the Gospel.

    All parachurches are not the PromiseKeepers.
  12. Ex Nihilo

    Ex Nihilo Puritan Board Senior

    I am not really sure about whether, in the grand scheme of things, parachurch groups are a good idea. But I do feel that I've benefited from the Christian Fellowship at my law school. Fortunately, some of the students who lead the group are Reformed and are careful that the group does not take on a church-like role. Instead, it's an opportunity to fellowship and discuss social issues from a Christian perspective. Most importantly, it's just really helpful to know who else at the law school is a Christian -- this is how I've made some of my best friends at school. It's also been really amazing to meet Christian LL.M students from other countries.

    So, on the whole, I don't know if parachurch organizations are a great idea, but as long as its role is limited, I rather enjoy mine.
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2008
  13. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    I have been a part of the Navigator Ministry that was started as a military ministry to Sailors. I have been discipled by those guys and in turn discipled many other young men who have in turn discipled others. Bible Societies have been a big part in getting the gospel out to the world. I am reading 'The life of Robert and James A. Haldane right now. It is published by Banner of Truth. These men started their ministries in what some would term a parachurch organization setting. I am for parachurch ministries. But I do agree they shouldn't separate from working under the leadership of Churches. Men need to be under the authority of their respected denominations.

    Parachurch ministries can be a blessing from God as the Navigator ministry is. There is usefulness in God's Kingdom for such. Many Churches today have been blessed with the materials that these organizations produce.

    Before one makes up their minds to the usefulness and Biblicalness of such organizations I would recommend reading the story about the Haldane brothers. Good Scottish men of God they were.
  14. R Harris

    R Harris Puritan Board Sophomore

    When I was in graduate school, my pastor at the time told me he was working with some Navigator student leaders who essentially told him that all they needed was the Navigators - they had no need for a "formal church."

    Is this an isolated example of Navigator thinking, or does there seem to be a pattern of independence within its ranks?
  15. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    The Navigators I have known were under a Churches authority. The Navigators do not and should not administer the ordinances / sacraments. This is the job of ordained men. Although I do know Navigator Staff who are ordained.
  16. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

  17. Tim

    Tim Puritan Board Graduate

    Evie, you have made several good points.

    First, I appreciate that you said being careful that the group did not take on "a church-like role".

    Second, you mentioned fellowship and discussion. This, of course is quite permissible for all Christians in any situation.

    I am acquainted with some of the Christian medical students on my campus and it is comforting to know that they are there. But I have recently thought to myself that Christian organizations on campus should exist as social/fellowship organizations only and leave the teaching/ministry of the Word function to the local churches. I mean, in which city big enough to have a university is there such a shortage of churches and pastors that you need to have a campus organization that includes worship, Bible studies, prayer meetings, and counseling to the students? In a sense, these organizations 'steal' the flock from the local churches and put them in to groups that are segregated from the rest of the community by age, intellect, and socio-economic privilege.

    Don't get me wrong, I know many people and organizations that might fit into this category. And I love them as brothers and sisters, its just that in light of my understanding of church government from the Bible, I have some serious questions when ministry is conducted outside of the Biblical leadership model.
  18. Tim

    Tim Puritan Board Graduate

    Thank-you for your perspective 'from the field'. Pergamum, you probably deal with many challenges about which we are not aware. Airplanes and language translation are vital. But would it not be ideal that these could be operated under the direction of the church (I include a denomination as 'the church')? Perhaps under a diaconate-type function of ministering to temporal needs? You mention a single church - I am not sure what form of church government you hold to; I am Presbyterian, so my model can accommodate such endeavors.

    Agreed. Church planters should be ordained. But the jobs of pilot and teacher are not described in the Bible as a function of ministry, so it seems that these should fall under a separate category of Christian service.

    The idea is not to 'tear down' but to build up such operations so that they are conducted according to the Biblical church model. I do not deny the value of such endeavors. I myself have spiritually benefited from them. But I think that the model that God has described in His Word is the way that we are to achieve the spiritual goals for which we labor. No one should deny that we will be the most effective if we follow God's way. I am just trying to explore what might need to change in certain organizations.

    I come back to a point that has been implied earlier: sometimes these organizations exist because the church is not doing its job, or is in such a state that it can't do its job.
  19. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    "...should exist as social/fellowship organizations only and leave the teaching/ministry of the Word function to the local churches...", folks can hang out, but they should not open the Word together? Its pretty bad when overly rigid ecclesiology impedes studying the bible by Christians together. Sharing one's faith with one another and even praying with one another and reading together is not authoritative Ministry in a sense that only ordained elders can do it.

    Ministry in a little m sense of the word should be conducted inside the church, outside the church and wherever. In the big M sense of the word, ministry should also be conducted by those sent out by churches everywhere as well.

    Again, Christians should belong to local assemblies, but they are also free to voluntarily associate outside the church as well and read the Scriptures together, and discuss such things and pray together. These things should not substitute for the church but can supplement one's spiritual walk and promote fellowship.
  20. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Fine. Call mission pilots, nurses whatever you want. Their Christian service is vital. Their is nothing unbiblical about Christian voluntarily associating together for cooperative efforts. It is very Biblical and was the practice of the Apostle Paul and his team. Call it big M Missions little m missions, Christian service or voluntarism if you want. The result is the same, a global infrasructure so that the Great Commission can be fulfilled.

    Missions orgs are not mere pragmatism and there is no need to think their existence came into being due to a deficiency in the church. From the NT we see the example of the book of Acts which closely mirrors the works of mission societies today.

    P.s. I would like to see many of our reformed churches, especially the micro-presbyterians adequately teach cross-cultural skills and linguistics and bible translation skills by themselves as one solitary church. Then negotiate with foreign govt's, get visas for their people and then create a chain of existing foreign contacts once in-country. Why replicate services anyway? And what is wrong with voluntary associations and cooperative efforts for the goal of world evangelism? One can honor the local church and still be gung ho for missions, even through a mission society.
  21. Tim

    Tim Puritan Board Graduate

    Pergamum, with the greatest respect, I think you are missing my point. Why would I suggest that Christians not open the Word together? Perhaps a more precise definition of the issue will help the discussion. What I am trying to discuss presently is the issue of formal organizations functioning in teaching and discipling roles outside of the authority and structure of Biblical church government and ordained spiritual leaders.

    A 'global infrastructure' - this is what I am trying to get at (I assume you are talking about a ministry infrastructure). How is this Biblically developed?

    Are you suggesting that the missionaries described in Acts went out and ceased to operate under the authority and direction of presbytery and local church body? This is really the central point of the issue, in my opinion.

    They probably can't. This is why I suggested earlier that perhaps today's church is unable to fulfill such a function (hence the 'need' for separate specialist organizations). If the church was in a better state, each denomination and local church would be bigger and more thoroughly Biblical in its faith and practice. The body would be better able to equip the saints for Christian work.

    I appreciate the work you do as a missionary, Pergamum. You have added much value to this discussion. No doubt you have seen many good things done by the very organizations I am discussing. All I am asking is if these organizations might be better overseen and directed by elders and deacons who have been chosen because they fit the Biblical criteria, and who function in a Biblical form of government.
  22. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I am a credo and an independant. If you are a Presbyterian within a denomination of hundreds of churches then I guess perspective changes.

    Know that most mission societies have a controlling board drawn from the pastors of the churches that send their missionaries. Therefore, there is control by the local church.

    In the book of Acts we see Paul and his team functioning largly autonomously while on the field in the manner that most mission societies do. They even recruited others, without seeming to go through their local churches first.
  23. Scott1

    Scott1 Puritanboard Commissioner

    I've never thought "para church" organizations are unbiblical per se.

    In recent years, I have come to understand the "high view" of the Church in Reformed theology because that is what Scripture teaches.

    It has been my understanding a "para church" organization runs alongside as a help to the local church- like a paralegal, serving in a support role to an attorney, not as a replacement.

    While there are vastly different para church organizations out there, some encourage or even require church membership and make clear they do not replace and are not in competition with the local church (e.g. the Gideons). In practical fact, however they do tend to do this though.

    It's hard for me to discount them when so many of us have directly benefitted from them and grown spiritually from them when there did not seem to be an alternative. I need to study this more Scripturally.
  24. Grace Alone

    Grace Alone Puritan Board Senior

    I think it is best when Bible study groups are under the leadership of the church for accountability. But there are important ministries such as Crisis Pregnancy Centers that are a cooperative ministry for many of the churches in a town. Sometimes homeless shelters are cooperative. These ministries are usually governed by boards with members from the various churches that support the ministry. My pastor is on the board of his local CPC.
  25. Richard King

    Richard King Puritan Board Senior

  26. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    What do you mean by words such as "authority", "oversight", "control" when it comes to the mission field anyway?

    My home church sent me and I am accountable to them, but I make my own field decisions largely because they are too far removed to help.

    Control and authority looks much different on the mission field and the church, when it sends a missionary, gives tacit approval of that missionary's decision-making capabilities.

    Therefore, the phrase "every ministry and mission should be under direct control by a local church." is a very clumsy and bad way to go and got William Carey in trouble and many other missionaries who were dictated to from 1,500 miles away. The missionary, being an extra-ecclesiastical elder-ordained man gains tacit approval to function semi-autonomously and works to honor his sending church to glorify God in his decisions.
  27. Tim

    Tim Puritan Board Graduate

    Pergamum, first of all, thank-you for clarifying your stance on church government. Your independent government model is necessarily more limited than the Presbyterian model. This will naturally result in differences in how ministry is guided and should be noted in this discussion.

    Good question. My view is that the church body has the authority to send out. Men can't just decide on their own to start some ministry. The church body oversees the operation as best it can from afar (easier today than ever). If someone who is sent out starts teaching heresy a few years later, there will be some corrective or disciplinary action. If there is no change back to orthodoxy, the ties should be severed. The man is then on his own and really has no authority to do ministry. The word control is a bit more challenging. I like what you said about making autonomous decisions in the field (see your quote below).

    But the important thing is that your church has examined you for suitability for ministry (and the elders themselves have previously been examined by others, and so on). They send you out because they believe you to be wise, trustworthy, and true to the Gospel.

    I agree, except that I believe that an elder-ordained man isn't necessarily extra-ecclesiastical. Can't he be viewed as part of the body, perhaps as a 'long arm' that is stretched toward a distant land?

    Thank-you for that post, as it has led us to clarify many things. I hope that others will be edified by this discussion. I know I have been.
  28. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Tim: Yes, it sounds like we are agreed on many things.
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