Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Hard Issues Concerning Parachurch Organizations

On my way to work one morning, I happened to hear John MacArthur on the radio talking about the importance of the church. In particular, he was talking about the local church, not the big invisible body of believes that some people believe everyone who has been saved is a member of. He got off on things like church membership and lettering members from one church to another, baptism and the Lord’s supper, all of which he is for. I won’t repeat all he said, but he also got off on the issue of parachurch organizations, which is any faith-based organization that works outside the church and/or across denominational lines and engage in social welfare and evangelism efforts.

Perhaps to my shame, this is a topic I’ve avoided. This is partly because I have friends who either currently or sometime in their past worked for one of these organizations. It’s a difficult situation to be in when you end up saying something against the organization a friend works for, especially when it has the appearance of being a godly organization. And I’m reminded Mark 9 in which the disciples saw a man casting out devils in the name of Jesus, but when he refused to follow them, which in essence is that he refused to join the church, they forbad him. But Jesus said, “Forbid him not, for this is no man who shall do a miracle in My name that can lightly speak evil of Me. For he that is not against us is on our side.”

And yet, John MacArthur brought up some very good points about parachurch organizations. One is that anyone who wants to can start one and do. There are thousands of them and they invest a great deal of time calling people up on the phone or sending out mailings to request people give them money. “Free a starving child for a few cents a month.” “We’ll be collecting clothes in your neighborhood.” “Help the needy in your area.” While these things are good things to do, men (and yes, even women) who do not meet the qualifications to pastor a church are leading many of these organizations. As a church, aside from not supporting these organizations, there is little we can do about it.

Parachurch organizations draw the emphasis away from the local church. You might ask why that matters. If the local church isn’t doing the work these organizations are doing, what does it hurt if someone wants to start an effort outside his church to do a good work? Well, for one thing, God places the emphasis on the local church. With few exceptions, the New Testament was written to specific local churches, who then passed the letters they received on to other local churches so that they other churches could learn from the letters as well. Even the Book of Philemon, which Paul wrote requesting that Philemon forgive his runaway slave, Onesimus, and send him back to Paul because Paul needed his help, was addressed to the church as well. The epistles to Timothy and Titus were not addressed to the church, but they were written for the instruction of leaders within the church. Jesus, in his personal ministry, spoke to the church.