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I am not a Lutheran nor have I heard of the radio show Issues, etc. I believe by the name that it was a question-and-answer show of sorts and Biblical expounding on the air waves and shared through podcasts so that topics of today might be discussed. I honestly think that canceling such a program is a direct reflection of the lack of interest in religious education (either by the "teachers" or the "students") and contributes to the dumbing of our own society and brethren that basically will turn us all into mindless sheep who don't think for themselves.

What I am curious about, since I am not a Lutheran but rather a Baptist of sorts, is why such a structure exists to cancel such a show? From the limited reading and studying I have done, I would think that people would be very resistant to having a group of people "run" a denomination in such a hierarchical structure due to the very nature of man, a nature strongly discussed even on this website. It confuses me because I would think that people would want to focus on a more independent-church structure with possible associations with groups such as mission boards instead of there being a control issue there. By giving more power to a smaller group of people, there is an inherent flaw of corruption that only seems to be threaded out by reducing or eliminating the structure.

So my summary question is: why do Lutherans (in short) use a Synod church structure verses a more localized structure to protect against these types of pitfalls? Thank you for helping me with my ramblings.

Steve Newell


As a former SBC, now in the LCMS, I will try to answer your question. The structure of the LCMS is between a hierarchy structure that one finds in the Roman Church and a purely congregational structure that found in many church bodies, such as the SBC.

The problem with the SBC structure is that there is not a common confessional statement that all churches subscript to. In the LCMS, the confess of the faith is found in the Book of Concord. This is a 16th Century document which outlines the theology of the Lutheran Church. The closest thing that the SBC has is their "Faith and Message" document and that document is very limited what it covers.

In the early church, there was the role of bishops ("overseers") who provided over site to churches in their area so that they remain faithful to the Christian faith.


I guess I see somewhat,
The thing that confuses me is that despite being a part of the SBC in most churches I've been to, I've always held more of an independent church structure (to avoid scenarios like one of the churches I knew who were "kicked out" of the SBC when the SBC went liberal some time ago. It just always seemed to me that putting people in a structure where a few lead the many in a hierarchical structure that corruption would run rampant. I always interpreted "bishops" to speak of pastors or overseers of a local church. I dunno, it just seems odd to me, but maybe i'm missing an interpretation or a logical portion of the argument/debate that would solidify the need.

Steve Newell

How does the SBC provide over site of a local congregation that may teach doctrine that is not in line with SBC doctrine? Over site can be of benefit as well if it keeps local churches in line with correct doctrine.

If you look at many of the great church fathers, they were bishops in the tradition of one man overseeing many churches in a region. This form of Church governance is historically valid. The form of church governance that the SBC uses can lead to each church doing their own thing.


Well, I don't know with great detail, but the SBC seems to hold to the idea that each church is allowed to teach as they so choose as long as they abide within certain criteria. As far as I can tell, these criteria are limited and minimal but contain the core of the Christian message. From there on out, the SBC's involvement in a local congregation is limited to the gathering of support funds and the channeling of missions organizations and programs to each church as each church is in need. The only time they seem to bring about a certain amount of power is when a church speaks out in a manner inconsistent with whatever those criteria are (which I think is the Baptist Faith and Message).

I believe they have this structure due to the fact that people can disagree on the interpretation of a great many passages, especially those referring to eschatology and the connecting lines through covenant theology vs dispensationalist as is applies to pre-mil, post-mol, a-mil, and various preterist viewpoints. There is also some rather large distinctions in the studies on election, predestination, and foreknowledge that would allow for differing interpretations in between the Arminian and Calvinist camps.

I think it becomes a principle issue with the two ideals: do you have a set structure and committee of sorts to handle the "official" interpretation of Scripture so that those who know so little cannot corrupt it (but leaves room for corruption through power and political processes) or do you bring it back to a localized group and allow for people to vary in their beliefs to a wide degree?

I know that the SBC will kick churches out of its own body as well as attempt to take over the church when a pastor starts speaking "heresy" according to them, but I feel that even that is wrong. I personally feel that the more limited the church government, the better off the people will be to search the Scriptures for themselves and if corruption comes, then it isn't a whole slew of churches under the corruption, it is the one. This would give some incentive for pastors and lay teachers to be more accurate for the simple fact that they do not want to fail their congregation. What do you think, Chris?

Steve Newell

What defines an SBC church? For Lutherans, it's the Lutheran Confessions found in the Book of Concord. If you want to understand Lutheran theology, that is the place to go. If I asked you to provide a theological document on SBC theology, what you provide me?

The problem with the a purely local method of church governance, is that they are not subject to the disciple to a larger church body. Local congregations can be just a corrupt theologically at any church body.


Well, I decided to look into the bylaws and constitution of the SBC and it seems that they claim (and I don't know how recent this revision is) that they hold no authority over any church body except to kick them out of the convention, of which they are a voluntary member. So it seems the SBC is more of a voluntary association of Baptist Christians with the goal of gathering, extending, and furthering resources for the churches in its Convention.

So basically, and SBC church has little membership requirements except a fee and that they don't endorse anything homosexual (odd that this is one of the few requirements...) and that it's for Baptists...which makes sense. Now, I did not find a definition of what makes a Baptist, but I can only conclude the classical or historical definition of a baptist. I found this information on their website at http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/legal/constitution.asp

I personally have certain sets of doctrines, principles, and creeds (so to speak) that I believe in; however, I do not know for certain that I could subscribe to any particular confession or creed due to the fact that any Baptist creed would be 40 pages long and I would need a committee to read it ^_^.

As for church governance, Steve, could there be a division between being a disciple of another church or body and being under their control? As I look at Biblical accounts, it seems that the churches had shepherds or pastors who started several churches and managed them in such a way as to send them letters telling them what they ought and ought not to do, but that exercising any control over them was nonexistent. The other part I see is this: If you have 10 churches in an area. In a local governance structure, if a church becomes corrupt than that is the only church that is corrupt. Other churches, pastors, and others could speak out against them or talk to their leaders or lay people to guide them back to the truth from their error.

If, however, they are all part of a governing body and somehow the governing body had corruption, then the corruption could easily be filtered down into all 10, depending on what that corruption was (and we aren't talking going from strong Christian to acknowledging that the Bible could be a hoax...that's too big a heresy jump, but CS Lewis had it right when he said the devil works gradually, like seeping in programs that 'work' and sooner or later driving your church into a Purpose Driven church). And if one of those churches revolted against the changes, then chances are the governing body could and would use their power to shut them down or expel them...which would put them as an independent. It might sound like a far off stretch, but what's happening with Issues, Etc sounds to me to be just that.

I'll look through the Book of Concord...I think it's cool that it's freely available in PDF...nice for us techies :). I also wanted to note that I'm not defending the SBC...I think they are an interesting group of people but much of their stuff I just don't like (very much down the purpose-driven mode of things).


I found the collection of those beliefs for the SBC and it IS the Baptist Faith and Message (http://www.sbc.net/bfm/bfm2000.asp) as well as a collection of "positional statements" here: http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/positionstatements.asp.

So I mean, and SBC church has its own bylaws and confessions of sorts, but it depends on how much weight confessions and creeds give (whether or not they are on the same level as Scripture or not) from what I could tell in the SBC's comments on creeds and confessions.

Stephen Newell

Wow, another Christian Steve Newell who is also a blogger! Greetings in the name of Christ, brother!

As a Southern Baptist, let me give you the short version of how the SBC works: The SBC is a voluntary convention of Baptist churches who have come together for the purpose of pooling resources for missions. That was the founding principle and continues to be the driving force behind the SBC. The convention has no authority over any of the churches associated; instead it is the churches who have authority over the convention. The convention has no "power" except to do what the churches tell it to do. That's the reason for the yearly meeting, so that representatives from the churches can meet to discuss and vote on what needs doing. The SBC is, so to speak, a "bottom-up" entity. The local church is an autonomous body and cannot be dictated to by the convention. Unfortunately that doesn't always characterize the convention.

There's no "fee" required to join the SBC. Any giving is voluntary. Formal affiliation with the SBC can be in statement or financially (giving to the Cooperative Program). Also, affiliated churches have for much of the past century agreed that the BF&M defines what it means to be Southern Baptist. That document is not a creed but a confession; and each church, being autonomous, is free to make the BF&M or another confession of their choice (i.e. the Philadelphia Confession, the 1689 London Baptist Confession, etc.) their primary confession of faith. The BF&M is only enforceable towards convention employees, not towards individual SBC churches, except in cases of heresy or apostasy, as Brendan notes.

Also, the SBC didn't "go liberal" some time ago; quite the opposite, it has over the past 15-20 years been returned to its conservative roots under the leadership of men such as Albert Mohler, Paige Patterson, Adrian Rogers, Jerry Vines, and others too numerous to mention. At this time my own generation of Southern Baptists (the under 40 crowd) has begun a move back to the SBC's confessional roots; for some that simply means the BF&M, for others it means the Reformed Baptist beliefs of the SBC's founders. Only time will tell where the SBC will finally settle when the return to conservatism is finished.

Okay, that's the nutshell version. Again, surprising and joyful to meet another like-named believer!

Steve Newell


I was raised in the SBC so I am familiar with both SBC structure and theology. I am now part of the LCMS since college.

In my view, there are aspects of SBC theology which is theologically liberal such as the "age of accountability" which as not basis in Holy Scripture. One can culturally and politically conservative, but theologically liberal.

I prefer to describe myself as orthodox and catholic in the Christian faith since "conservative" is such a loaded term today.


Just a clarification: when I was talking about "going liberal", I'm referring to 50 some odd years ago...it has since returned back to conservative roots, however I knew of a church personally that the SBC tried to shut down during that time in exerting its power and thus became independent. Also, the fee to join thing, I got that from their faq as the first question which states that they must "contribute" to the SBC in the fiscal year preceding (http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/faqs.asp#1). I don't think it's a specific fee, but requires some sort of contribution.

So I guess the whole church structure thing is not so much a question of a synod structure vs SBC congregationalist, but more of a synod vs independent structure for me. Am I wrong in my deductions of corruption of a governing body verses a local body? Just trying to get some clarification from my Lutheran brethren...I'm even blogging about my readings through the Book of Concord.

Steve Newell


My concern is this about the SBC local church is not accountable to anyone on what they teach and doctrine that they subscript to. To me, this is a form of individualism where anyone can define their own theology and it doesn't matter if that doctrine is consistent with Holy Scripture.


True, they hold no authoritative accountability; however, is this a bad thing? Are they not accountable to the Lord for what they teach? Should we attempt to force everyone to believe a certain way? If we did, should we all be baptists, lutherans, presbyterians, methodists, etc.? I think there is a key point missing in the discussion: (imho) accountability doesn't require direct authority. I believe that similar to having someone hold us accountable for habitual sins when it is not as if they actually have some sort of authority over us, a church can do the same.

A church can be accountable to its people, its community, and other churches with which it chooses to associate itself without a direct authority. A pastor is chosen among the people to lead the people closer to the Lord as a whole. The pastor is held accountable for his actions by the same congregation that chose him, must there be another force to control him? If he is corrupt, his deeds will find him out. If he swindles money, the deacons and treasurers will find him out. If they are all corrupt, then the church will fall apart due to apathy and heresy unless the Lord has a special plan for it (like I'm sure He does with Osteen's church).

If He is held accountable and "managed" by another governing body, then the congregation has little to no motivation to take their own responsibilities to search the Scriptures and prove what he says is true.

Are there benefits to a management style or governing style like a synod? Absolutely. For one, heresy becomes more difficult to introduce if the synod is branched out far and wide with many members. Secondly, it keeps people from creeping up and pastoring a church when they have no education on the Scriptures and corrupting people (albeit formal education is not always necessary). Thirdly, the church itself may not have to go through a great and problematic struggle in finding pastors because the "management" can help or find one for them. The question truly comes down to principle and cost/benefit ratios. Are the benefits worth the cost? Is the cost truly in line with your principles and with Scripture?

I guess either way is valid and has its pros and cons, but I feel it is more principled to be free and self-governing than otherwise. I am honestly just trying to understand and continuing to learn, so I promise I'm not trying to just argue for arguing's sake. I really want to understand what the Lutherans feel and how it bounces off with other ideals and try to find that balance somewhere that strictly adheres to the truth but doesn't sacrifice the principles along the way either. Let me know what ya'll think, peace.

Steve Newell

The LCMS model gives the local parish the freedom to run their affairs in the manor that best fits their particular circumstance within the context of the LCMS structure and Lutheran Theology. However, they are not free to create their own doctrine. The LCMS system is between the pure congregational model that the SBC has and the hierarchical structure that exists in the Roman and Episcopal Church USA.

A SBC can create their own doctrine since the SBC doctrinal statements are fairly generic. For example, could an SBC congregation institute the use of wine instead of grape juice for Holy Communion? The use of grape juice is not biblical but the use of wine is. Grape juice is product of the 19th century.

Also, can a SBC call a pastor who is not ordained and certified by a SBC seminary? If so, how does the local congratulation know that the pastor is properly trained in his role as shepherd to the flock?

Self governing is great as long as the pastor remains faithful to the Word of God. What happens when a church and its pastor no longer remains faithful? How does the SBC deal with this?


Morning Steve!
Well, and SBC church could use wine instead of grape juice; however, most baptists in general are against that idea more on the teetotaler basis. There are arguments for and against it, my particular favorite is the use of the same word for a variety of levels of alcoholic beverages, but either way: the SBC church could do that.

A Southern Baptist church could definitely call a pastor that wasn't of a Southern Baptist seminary, but I don't know many who would. The congregation and local church determine the qualifications of the minister that they are seeking and then accept resumes and search. Most of the time, one of the biggest requirements is for their formal education as a minister at a seminary, either Master's or ThD/PhD level (for senior pastor). So, in theory, a church could neglect that particular requirement if they know of a man in their local congregation that is skilled in the Word, pure, full of integrity, etc. but without a seminary degree and they decide through prayerful consideration that he should be their pastor. As far as being prepared to oversee the flock...I don't think they would pick someone without formal education who was not a long-standing member of their congregation (simply because they don't know the guy...unless he came with great recommendation or something special).

When a church begins to fall into heresy, which can just as easily happen in a more structured church government style, it is the people who must correct the pastor. If the people are willing to be dumb and follow a man blindly, then their doom is certain and it is partially their own fault (even though the minister will face his own stronger judgment according to the Word). If a pastor no longer is faithful, in whatever area, then it is the church's responsibility to take care of the situation...if they don't, then the people themselves are to blame. We cannot expect the members of the holy church of Christ to simply stick with milk and be fed only. They must grow, chew on meat, search the Scriptures themselves, and challenge heresies as they come. The church will only be kicked out of the convention if they condone homosexuals/homosexual conduct or if they are no longer in the same spirit as the convention (which, if they are following heresy, they probably will want to leave anyways).

I'm curious, and just humor me if you can, but say somehow the people at the top end of the synod or somewhere higher up become corrupt by power, money, or false doctrine, then they start creeping in heresies of the Purpose Driven sort. Three questions: First, wouldn't all of the churches underneath them have the possibility of being corrupted as opposed to just one? Secondly, how would the synod deal with higher ups in the synod being corrupt? Thirdly, once they dealt with the issue in the higher ups, how would they deal with it on the more localized level (ie. would they simply ban all things similar or call the pastors to an emergency meeting or something)? Thank you for continuing to dialog with me, I am learning a great deal.

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