Why I Argue for the Free Church (baptist) Tradition

   Obviously I got interrupted in mid-rant yesterday, hence the confusion among thoughtful readers. I did not get to finish the coda, let alone fully integrate the peroration.

   In other words, the phone rang. Let me try again.

Why I Argue for the Free Church Tradition

   The Free Church tradition, in large part, is about local congregational autonomy. We get to make our mistakes on the most elemental level. 

    Our most egregious error, perhaps, in the Southwestern/Southern version of the Free Church (mostly baptist) was to grow large, while continuing to act as if we could connect as we had always connected. We created the most byzantine of church hierarchies in the process.

    Understand our misunderstanding(s). We believe decision are made in meetings we can see. The annual convention meeting, for instance, of TCFKATBGCT, could not overwhelm the average broom closet now  because the power structure in place proved to its faithful constituency that nothing of substance happens at the meetings. Once disabused of the notion of functionality, even the conformist die-hards simply stopped attending.

   Understand this: politicians, of whatever stripe, sacred or secular, make it their practice to build barriers between themselves and their constituency. One fellow who accepted the executive director's chair before subsequently turning it back, told the candidating committee they might not want him because he thought the staff in place needed a giant pruning. As evidence, he posited the changes the convention voted for in regular session (repeatedly) and the absolute lack of change in the convention staff's actions. 

   If you wish to be heard beyond the regularly scheduled business session of your local church, you should know a few things. To wit:

  • Real decisions (which means those that will be enacted), are not made in general, open sessions. The fellow who insists you come to a general, open session to voice your opinion knows he is actually asking you to wait until it is too late to foment change and then show up to be embarrassed, disappointed or classified as "not a team player."
  • Thick bureaucratic protocol is enacted, adopted, evolved, augmentrd and enhanced to hold constituents at arm's length.
  • The silence resulting from a disenchanted constituency is interpreted as acquiescence unless and until the last person standing walks out with his checkbook. If he leaves his checkbook, it does not matter if he personally disappears.
  • Noise, on the other hand, is easily dismissed as shrill ignorance, or, more pointedly, disloyalty. The people making the noise have their microphones turned off by people who make a living off the pastor in the pew. The disloyal, noisy fellow will be told, even more pointedly, to pack up and move on if he does not like what he hears.
  • The less attention paid to staff, the less they tend to represent "you/us" and the more they tned to work for "them," which is how you get to be not us.
  • Proactive participation happens before the budget is printed and the representatives are chosen. Reactive, angry, panic-stricken noise-making is what happens at or after the general convention sessions.
  • Like water, people often seek or force open an outlet, in order to find a reasonable level where they may gather. These outlet seeking/forcing groups or persons,  as regards a larger, general convention bodies themselves, is now make decisions more and more in local congregation.s There participation is still open to non-aligned locals, who would like to see missions supported but not determined by an amorphous entity behind the entity, where the non-aligned local knows he can never exert influence. This resurgence of the local congregation business meeting is not working out well for the general convention, with its long standing dependence on the now largely discredited entity-behind-the-entity.
  • People who have been alternately misled, ignored or bullied by power-holding persons or bodies, seek a way to reply to the powerful forces who punish them violently. The common person repeatedly forced into a retrograde maneuver returns next time with new allies and greater force, thus requiring greater violence be focused against him. At some point his aggressive movements are exhausted, but at great expense to the besieged larger body. 


    If all of this reads like a secular political action primer, it is. Unfortunately, each of these notices prompted some response in any Free Church reader, as he/she recognizes some of the happenings in his/her own convention/associational dealings over the last thirty years.

   I know this is too long. 

   I could go on.

   Monday, I will.

3 thoughts on “Why I Argue for the Free Church (baptist) Tradition”

  1. Rick,
    This sounds nearly as likely a descriptioin of Church Business meeting/politics as any of the other larger umbrellas…
    Which may speak to a big problem in Convention stability and growth, in that people are looking for some form of pride based homogeneity rather than Spirit led felowship. Thus it works up as easily as working down. “You are not like me, so I will ignore and speak over you.” works to segregate and isolate at all levels of (dis-) cooperation.

  2. If this sounded like a business meeting in my church, I would think I attended the wrong church. As a conservative-minded person, I still prefer local control and a limited central authority with a maximum amount of accountability.

  3. I like local control, I just wonder sometimes who actually has it and what is at their focus. In my mind what you describe at the convention level especially is sort of like Moscow telling Georgia how to grow their potatoes—only the local farmer really knows his soil, his climate regimen, his pest representation, his labor force and his technological expertise. Moscow failed at agricultural control, and the rest is history.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.