Many voices in our day are predicting the end of denominations. Their woeful predictions are strengthened by a steady statistical decline among a plethora of religious organizations…..what are we to say to these foreboding voices? My answer is simply this:
If by denomination you mean an ecclesiastical system entrenched in inertia and enthralled with the insignificant, if by denomination you mean a carefully guarded subculture formed by political maneuvering—with all of its positioning and self-promotion—empowering itself with man-made titles, positions and measurements, if by denomination you mean the perpetuation of lifeless religion, empty and powerless, bearing a form of godliness that is merely a hollow shell, if by a denomination you mean anything of this sort then let it die! May the modern prophets’ warnings come true. Like a cheap Easter chocolate, may the waxy rabbit shell— a ridiculous counterfeit image completely void inside—- forever reside in some forgotten clearance rack of history.
But if by denomination you mean the eager and intentional cooperation of resources — prayers, ideas, gifts, finances, passions, influences, relationships —- for great causes and if those great causes included bringing lost souls into the forgiveness and life provided in Jesus, and if those souls are taught— by example and word— to obey everything Jesus commanded us, and if those different disciples gather in local churches desiring nothing more than to bring pleasure and glory to God, and if those churches — humble, prayerful and joyful — extend their influence into the neighborhoods and nations and the nations that have come into our neighborhoods so that even more lost souls are found; if this is what is meant by denomination then let it live. Let it live!
John Stumbo, President of the Christian & Missionary Alliance
Why the connection
The New Testament illustrates a Church life that is joy-filled, Spirit-filled, adventure-filled and dynamic. This is also a Church life of accountability and relationships that consists of standards, endorsements, approval, and, on occasion, discipline. We would maintain that no individual Christian or individual congregation should go-it-alone; each should find meaningful placement in the larger Body of Christ. Failure to do so perhaps speaks to a deeper underlying problem.
Just as a Christian should be responsible and available to duly constituted local leadership, so should ministers and local churches be responsible and available to duly constituted regional and national leadership of the Church. This should be true for doctrine as well as behavior.
Confidence in leaders
Is it appropriate for a person to only self-authenticate themselves as called to lead in the body of Christ? In the New Testament, apostolic senior leaders like Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, and Titus installed junior leaders like pastors/elders over local churches. Local church leaders did not appoint themselves. There is no basis for self- promotion in the scriptures or in ancient church history. Leaders find themselves in a difficult position when they claim authority yet they themselves are not under authority. A person can boast all day of his calling and gifts but until he is authenticated, it is mere bravado. If a person calls himself a leader, it is reasonable to ask “Who’s following?”. The scripture cautions the individual Christian “know those that labor over you in the Lord” 1 Thessalonians 5:12. Paul cautions the young apostle, Timothy, about the hasty ordination of elders: ”Lay your hands suddenly on no man” 1 Timothy 5:22.
Simultaneously, we value a potential leader’s sense of calling from God as foundational to the process. There is still the necessity of examination of that call by others. Even Paul the apostle who was called of God, later sought out the older apostles in Jerusalem “lest he be running in vain”. Galatians 2:2.
Added to the above, a calling from God still took time to be evidenced. After his initial calling by Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul did not function as an apostle for thirteen years until he was sent out by the leaders in the church of Antioch in Acts 13:1-3. Paul was a team player who allowed the leaders of the church to play the critical role in his development and sending.
Today many people want the anointing and ministry of the apostle Paul. Are those same people willing to step into it the same way? Patient, Spirit-sensitive, submitted to a larger team, and committed to the long haul? Team relationships are the crucible for developing effective leadership and character. Show me a man who can’t work under authority, and I’ll show you a man who will have conflict, confusion and broken relationships litter his timeline. That man will not resemble Jesus.
Local church leaders
A church should not be owned by a leader. A church does not exist for any leader’s aggrandizement or comfort. Churches treated as family affairs, with staff positions stacked with family members and cronies, is an affront to the people of God and to the integrity of the ministry. A family should never compose a church dynasty, nor should a pastor act as a local potentate.
Churches are led by teams of elders commissioned to teach and care for the flock. These elders are the governing authority. This governing authority submits major changes, annual budgets, real property purchases and any changes of senior leadership for approval to the congregation. This mutual accountability protects a local church from extremes and from improper control of any individual. Added to this, the local church and pastors always have a place of appeal to the regional District leadership should the need arise.
Regional leaders provide a remedy
With connection to a regional and national church, the people of God can have confidence their leaders are duly called and qualified. In the event of leadership failure or questions of succession, there are regional leaders caring for the process. It is also comforting that everyone in the church has a way to appeal his/her concerns if left unaddressed by the local leaders.
Oversight for regional churches
The early Church apostles spoke into the life of distant local churches and expected them to obey. This expectation is evidenced by the epistles, mainly letters from apostles. We read and value these as part of the canon of the New Testament. It is inconsistent with belief in the authority of scripture, in which apostles spoke authoritatively to a local church, to reject conceptually that an apostle or regional leader can speak authoritatively to a local church. The Bible sets the pattern. Local churches are not a law to themselves, but must be accountable to a higher authority.
That model was followed by the post-apostolic church through the emergence of apostolic-like leaders, later called bishops who oversaw city-wide presbyteries and groupings of smaller churches in a region. While the term bishop in the New Testament meant an overseeing elder, its later usage took the concept of oversight and applied that to a region. The ancient churches (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Coptic and Anglican) use bishops and an episcopate (from episcopos for “overseer”) to lead and govern a region. In summary, the concept and function of a bishop is an extension of the apostolic office. Other church organizations use different terms to describe this function. The general concept is valid, albeit the specific practices may be subject to Biblical scrutiny.
In the Alliance we use the term Superintendent to describe what is actually the function of the episcopal or regional apostolic office. In our region called a district (the Central District), that includes the oversight for nearly 90 churches and a couple hundred pastors and ministers.
The District has clear executive leadership but annually all pastors and church representatives gather to choose those leaders. All the C&MA churches in our district send representatives and their pastors to meet at a District Conference for several days of prayer, vision casting, worship, and reporting. At the District Conference, local churches choose who will lead the District, decide on the budget for the District, ordain new ministers, and gather in committees for District business. This process is overseen by the Superintendent and the District Executive Committee (DEXCOM). There is a democratic foundation for our polity and direction.
Joint Mission regionally
NEO House Church Network exists because District and national leaders assisted with funding and oversight of church planters, Joseph and Renee Horevay, during our launching phase. Our initial planting core was helped by Grace C&MA in Middleburg Heights. Presently, the District is funding another planting couple, Michael and Rebecca Wolfe, who are planting a parish (cluster) of house churches with NEO-HCN in the southeast corner of the Cleveland Metro area and into Summit County.
The District always has church planting and training activities that rely on the funding and support of regional churches. Added to these activities, the District Director of Church Planting conducts annual church planter’s boot camps, participates in rigorous Mid-Western Church Planter’s Assessment Weeks, and also aids non-Alliance church planting efforts.
A. B. Simpson, a Presbyterian pastor in New York City, left a lucrative, prestigious pastorate to evangelize immigrant dock workers. He soon launched a Gospel Tabernacle and drew big crowds. The movement promoted the full gospel which included the fullness or baptism of the Spirit, often referred to as “sanctification”, and divine healing. This revival and renewal movement sought a restoration of apostolic Christianity.
The C&MA was founded in NYC as two separate organizations in 1887 and headquartered near Times Square for many years. These two organizations were: The Evangelical Missionary Alliance, which sent missionaries to the unreached peoples of the world, and The Christian Alliance, a non-denominational association of renewal-minded Christians who gathered in local chapters throughout the US and Canada. The two organizations merged in 1897. The Alliance did not formally become a denomination until 1974. There are 2,000 Alliance churches in the United States with over 500,000 members. Because of faithful missionary sending and giving worldwide, there are now over 25,000 Alliance churches with millions of adherents.
The C&MA is now headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Alliance is organized regionally in the US by Districts. NEO-HCN is part of the Central District which consists of the eastern half of Ohio and all of West Virginia. As of 2013, there are 27,000 active Alliance people in this district in approximately 90 churches. There are seven million people who live in this region of which more then five million are not Christ followers. Our work is cut out for us! Are we cut out for the work?
Early Alliance leaders also included Paul Rader, the successor to D. L. Moody; Carrie Judd Montgomery and F.F. Bosworth, leaders in the early healing movement, and A. W. Tozer, best known for the deeper life classic The Pursuit of God.
Well-known contemporary Alliance members are apologist Ravi Zacharias and Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada. Billy Graham was once a C&MA pastor. He preached his first sermons as an Alliance youth pastor.
The Four-fold gospel was introduced by A. B. Simpson in the 1890s in a book titled the same, and became influential for the deeper-life movement and for what would become the Christian & Missionary Alliance. After 1901, it had a formative impact on what would later become the Pentecostal movement, especially the Assemblies of God and The Foursquare Church. In Simpson’s short book, he unpacked four key doctrines that must be understood if we are to experience the full gospel.
- Jesus our Savior: Jesus is the only hope of salvation. His salvation touches every part of our lives.
- Jesus our Sanctifier: Jesus sets us apart in full surrender to His Lordship; as we yield, He fills us with His Spirit. This filling introduces us to the substituted life where Jesus lives through us. This filling, subsequent to salvation, is a distinct experience where we experience His power over sin and power to witness to His resurrection power. Gifts of the Holy Spirit, at times, accompany this filling experience. Sanctification continues to be progressive.
- Jesus our Healer: Jesus continues supernatural physical healing in His Church. God still operates in all His supernatural gifts and performs signs and wonders.
- Jesus our Coming King: Jesus’ second coming is literal and physical. He will return to resurrect, rule, and to judge. He is our blessed hope.
There are seven key values that summarize the heart of our Alliance. These motivate NEO House Church Network and shape how we think and live. It is our hope you will embrace these values as your own.
- Lost people matter to God. He wants them found.
- Prayer is the primary work of God’s people.
- Everything we have belongs to God. We are his stewards.
- Knowing and obeying God’s Word is fundamental to all true success.
- Completing the Great Commission will require the mobilization of every fully devoted disciple.
- Without the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, we can accomplish nothing.
- Achieving God’s purposes means taking faith-filled risks. This always involves change.
Alliance Missions, The Great Commission Fund
The Alliance has been sending missionaries since the 1880s. Millions worldwide can trace their spiritual heritage to missionaries sent and funded by the Alliance. Millions more will come to Christ if we continue to send. Alliance career missionaries are vetted, well-trained, supervised, and fully funded. Unlike many mission agencies, the Alliance frees missionaries from having to raise support. The fundraising is the responsibility of the local churches. This fnding frees international workers to concentrate on ministry. Missionaries, though, do have special projects that need extra giving. If you want to direct special project gifts to individual missionaries, ask that missionary how giving should be designated. Alliance Great Commission Fund giving may be sent directly or given through NEO-HCN’s offering in your house church. All missions giving is tax deductible.
Once per year the Alliance district supervises a tour of missionaries home on leave. Missionaries will visit our house churches, normally in the autumn, and report on their work. These tours allow you to connect personally with international workers and build a heart for the nations. After several years you will have friends all over the world. It is exciting knowing your giving is making a difference in the far-flung reaches of our world among people often quite different from you. The Alliance is concentrating on people-groups who are unreached by the Gospel. Please consider setting your regular giving and estate planning to include The Great Commission Fund.
The Alliance is a truth-oriented movement and, as such, has formulated a creed (from credo, “I believe”). This statement of faith is a broad evangelical statement of faith consistent with the Alliance’s history as a non-denominational movement committed to the full-gospel and the deeper Christian life. This statement of faith does not address many doctrinal details. Calvinism and Arminianism go unaddressed, as do fine points of end-times theology. The focus is on broad evangelical orthodoxy without honing in on many non-essentials.
NEO House Church Network is part of the Central District of the C&MA. The Central District covers the eastern half of Ohio and all of the State of West Virginia.