The Church Needs Theological Accountability

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Charles Swindoll shares this story in his book, “Living Above the Level of Mediocrity.” Several years ago, I met a gentleman who served on one of Walt Disney’s original advisory boards. What amazing stories he told! Those early days were tough; but that remarkable, creative visionary refused to give up. I especially appreciated the man’s sharing with me how Disney responded to disagreement. He said that Walt would occasionally present some unbelievable, extensive dream he was entertaining. Almost without exception, the members of his board would gulp, blink, and stare back at him in disbelief, resisting even the thought of such a thing. But unless every member resisted the idea, Disney usually didn’t pursue it. Yes, you read that correctly. The challenge wasn’t big enough to merit his time and creative energy unless they were unanimously in disagreement!

Now while that works for Walt Disney because his creativity was far ahead of his peers, that does not work with the truth of God’s Word.  We as pastors and church leaders are not called to create some new creative truths that are not grounded in what is already written in Scripture.  The apostle John gives a stern warning against such theological creativity at the end of the Book of Revelations. 1I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, 19 and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”  In an attempt to create a theological checks and balances Luther describes the danger of any church leader, even the Pope, claiming to have supreme authority.  In an earlier post I review the three walls Luther challenged, because they were ignoring warning signs that have led to doctrinal impurity in the church.  And now that these errors were in the church’s teaching, the walls were preventing the church from correcting the false teaching.  These walls are easy to build but even harder to tear down once they are erected.  In this final post we examine the final wall.

In his 1520 Letter to the Christian Nobility. Luther’s attacks the premise that only the Pope can call an Ecumenical council to deal with errors in church doctrine.

It is important here to define what an Ecumenical council is: ecumenical councils are assemblies of Patriarchs, Cardinals, residing Bishops, Abbots, male heads of religious orders, and other juridical persons, nominated by the Pope. The purpose of an ecumenical council is to define doctrine, reaffirm truths of the Faith, and extirpate heresy. Council decisions, to be valid, are approved by the popes.[1] Participation is limited to these persons, who cannot delegate their voting rights.

Luther’s argument: For when the pope acts contrary to the Scriptures, it is our duty to stand by the Scriptures, to reprove him, and to constrain him, according to the word of Christ in Matthew 18:15: “If thy brother sin against thee, go and tell it him between thee and him alone; if he hear thee not, then take with thee one or two more; if he hear them not, tell it to the Church; if he hear not the Church, consider him a heathen.” Here every member is commanded to care for every other. How much rather should we do this when the member that does evil is a ruling member, and by his evil-doing is the cause of much harm and offense to the rest! But if I am to accuse him before the Church, I must bring the Church together.

They have no basis in Scripture for their contention that it belongs to the pope alone to call a council or confirm its actions; for this is based merely upon their own laws, which are valid only in so far as they are not injurious to Christendom or contrary to the laws of God. When the pope deserves punishment, such laws go out of force, since it is injurious to Christendom not to punish him by means of a council.

Summary; no person regardless of their place, position, or education level can be considered errorless. That position is reserved only for the Word of God.  We need to have in our congregations, our churches and church bodies a way to regularly have a healthy check and balance on our theology. It is easy to get sloppy and allow all kinds of false teaching and practices to creep into churches.  We need to regularly be in God’s Word and not be tempted to have reached a level where continued growth is not needed.

As Luther points out in this letter, Let us, therefore, hold fast to this: No Christian authority can do anything against Christ; as St. Paul says, II Corinthians 13:8: “We can do nothing against Christ, but for Christ.” Paul says to the Corinthians, II Corinthians 10:8, “God has given us authority not for the destruction, but for the edification of Christendom.” Who is ready to overleap this text? It is only the power of the devil and the Antichrist which resists the things that serve for the edification of Christendom; it is, therefore, in no wise to be obeyed, but is to be opposed with life and goods and all our strength.

[1]Hubert JedinKleine Konziliengeschichte, Freiburg, Herder, 1960, 9

23 Comments on “The Church Needs Theological Accountability

  1. I think many of the younger generation want to have church without the trappings of religion. This seems to have given rise to the ever increasing number of Independent churches. This problem I see is the same as Luther’s, who keeps them in line with scripture. What are the checks and balances. With denominations you have the church hierarchy to fall back on if needed. With independent churches they are a law unto themselves. Perhaps this is also why people seem to jump from church to church.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As an independent pastor I’d like to weigh in on this subject (observation only, no hint of anger); I have overseers to whom I’m accountable, these men ask the tough questions and check on me. I’m no free-bird, saying and doing whatever captures my mind at the moment, and I certainly feel the full weight of teaching sound doctrine to a congregation of mostly new believers. Finally, I don’t understand your connection between church hoppers and independent churches; I’ve witnessed as many church hoppers in mainline denominational churches as I have independent (please explain). Blessings on you!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t see a comment here about church hopping. And this post was not a slam on independent churches. It was addressed mostly to mainline church hierarchy. When the truth at the top is in error and does not allow for debate and correction. Sounds like in your situation you already see potential danger of no accountability and have safe guards in place. You are to be commended.


      • For clarification “Perhaps this is also why people seem to jump from church to church.” – from Dwight’s comment to your post. I didn’t regard your post or Dwight’s comment as a slam, rather I hoped to offer an opposing viewpoint in regards to independent churches, namely, we aren’t all the same. Open discussion on these topics is critical for unity amongst the brethren and I appreciate the opportunity to share with you. Still, I am curious about Dwight’s connection between jumping from church to church and independent churches.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I appreciate your comment and your view on this. I should clarify that I believe church hopping happens across the board, not just with independent churches. I have been part of the church all my life and have watched the church become a revolving door. Over a ten year period I watched as a whole congregation of folks migrated through. Some got upset and left others got bored and some seemingly never will be happy wherever they land. I live in the Charlotte, NC area in the middle of the Bible belt. There are churches every where and I still see people starting their own group, often because of the conservative theology that they feel they have a better handle on than the one they were attending. I go to an independent church and I still feel uneasy that there is not a larger supporting body that could be there if needed. This leads me to my earlier statement. If I don’t like what is going on I just move on to one that suits me better. We also have Super Churches with pastors who live in million dollar mansions! Others where one pastor has four or five churches that he preaches to on a screen every sunday! It raises a lot of questions in my mind. Hope this was not too confusing.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I sincerely appreciate your reply and understand all too well your concerns. I too, am from the Bible Belt – lived in St. Louis area most of my life, then moved to Maine, which is 97% unchurched (this doesn’t mean there aren’t churches but most of the churches here aren’t retaining people).

        Liked by 2 people

  2. What a confirming word Keith, I just noticed and read this post. While different, I posted a similar word earlier this morning. I do believe this spiritual principle is poignant and pertinent for such a time as this. Now is a time for check and balance, as well as accountability from a theological perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: Wagner the NAR and new wineskins | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  4. Pingback: A new bible translationfrom the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) group | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

  5. Accountability and Church discipline are NOT for the faint of heart! The world we live in today is so worried about how someone “feels”! Well, it doesn’t “feel” good to be wrong and most definitely not when i5 has to be pointed out by someone else. If and when discipline is done in a loving manner…it hurts just like when our dads whipped us as children. However, when we look back we can see that he only done it because he loved us and wanted others to love us as well. When it is done in any other way BUT love, it damages both the person and their relationship with Christ.

    Thank you for the post. It is very much needed in todays churches!

    Liked by 1 person

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