Recently when a group of ministers was discussing the need for conferences that gave motivation for world evangelism, the subject of an “unfettered pulpit” surfaced. By that description, the person referred to giving every speaker total liberty to speak his heart. The nodding of heads around the table indicated that many in attendance agreed with the concept. The idea of placing restraints on conference speakers was repugnant. It seemed more “apostolic” to allow people the freedom to share their thoughts and opinions without any restrictions by some leader or council.
Initially the idea seemed attractive, but upon reflection I wondered if we had really thought through all the implications and results. The motive to allow preachers freedom without denominational interference is noble. Most of us would chafe at receiving our sermons from some central office or being asked to avoid certain subjects in our preaching. We enjoy the privilege of preaching what we determine is the mind of God for a particular service. We want the ability to preach without fear or intimidation from any outside source. We are resolved to obey God rather than man in the apostolic sense.
All of that is laudable if we are making the distinction between preaching in our local church and speaking at a gathering of ministers and laymen from across a fellowship that recognized and preserves certain differences of opinion. A local pastor has a certain latitude within his local congregation to preach his convictions and lead the people as he feels God is leading him. Even within the local congregation, however, a pastor should “operate under a sense of accountability to others. To advocate total autonomy of a pastor is to ask for the possibility of excess and error. There is no pattern from the early church to advocate an autonomous pastor. Freedom without responsibility and accountability can lead to excess and abuse.
In the creation of the fellowship of the United Pentecostal Church there was a recognition of difference of opinion in areas considered nonessential to faith and unity. One does not have to be in fellowship long before becoming cognizant of divergent views. Although the principles did not agree upon several points they determined that there was more uniting than dividing them. Feeling that they could get more accomplished in evangelizing the world, brethren decided that the merged body of fellowship could tolerate some variation of conviction. Emphasis was placed upon unity and the principles of agreement that existed. In the Articles of Faith of the UPCI, the elders asked members of the fellowship not to contend for their various differences to the disunity of the body: “…We shall endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit until we all come into the unity of the faith, at the same time admonishing all brethren that they shall not contend for their different views to the disunity of the body.”
If we allow unlimited freedom to speakers without accountability, we open the avenue for some to contend for their differing views to the disunity of the body. In my opinion, the unfettered pulpit was instrumental in destroying the sectional fellowship meetings in certain areas. Pastors became reluctant to encourage their people to attend meetings where speakers often condemn a view taught by the pastor. People left the meetings confused and upset. In some localities, the unfettered pulpit destroyed the unity and emphasized the differences between brethren rather than the principles that united them. They did not feel they were one family of believers reaching a world, but a fragmented brood filled with internal strife.
The bottom line of all friendship, fellowship, or any other working relationship is that it must be mutually enjoyable over the long term. No relationship is without problems, tensions and occasion disagreements. But if the alliance is often unpleasant it will not
endure. If children were scolded every time the family sat down to dinner or listened to father and mother arguing over their differences, they would attempt to make excuses for not coming to the family table. The family gathering would become a source of tension rather than fellowship. No marriage or family will fulfill God’s intention if the parties find the relationship distasteful.
I am not advocating the muzzling of the ministry, but I see the need for liberty with responsibility in our conferences. The uniting message of our fellowship is contained in our articles of faith. It is the statement of faith around which we all gather in agreement. It recognizes and allows a certain tolerance. The implication is that some differences are even healthy in keeping us in balance. The statement of faith states the unifying principles. THERE IS MORE THAT UNITES US THAN DIVIDES US! I believe that we should implore all speakers in our sectional, district and national meetings to honor the articles of faith and not fracture our fellowship by emphasizing our differences. If a speaker felt too restricted by the limits of the articles of faith then he probably would not be in a position to minister to the body of believers at large.
We will always have differences. It is unlikely that public criticism of another view will create change in those holding that belief. The more probable outcome is that positions will be solidified and the public criticism will only serve to fracture fellowship rather than foster it. Verbal abuse rarely alters -thinking…it only wounds the spirit.
There needs to be ministerial forums where preachers, can responsibly discuss divergent views in a context of brotherly love and respect. It is probably necessary for our fellowship to redefine what differences we are willing to tolerate. But a public forum attended by people of various congregations is no place to accentuate our disagreements. In fact, it is cowardly for one opinion to be presented if the speaker intimates that anyone holding another view is not spiritual. That setting places an unfair advantage over the speaker cause the other view has no opportunity for expression. As ministers, we might be able to work through some of the arguments, but many lay people are hurt and confused by it. It can affect their sense of loyalty to a worldwide outreach.
The unity of the body should hold a high priority among us. It’s one of the keys to worldwide revival and the focus of Jesus’ prayer in John 17. It should be understood to be a unity with diversity under the umbrella of the articles of faith. We should be able to leave our general meetings with respect for one another and a greater determination to work together. I do not consider this appeal as advocating a restriction of liberty, but a call to responsibility and accountability.
I find ministerial accountability in the New Testament church. In Acts 1:1, Simon Peter, an acknowledged leader, was summoned before the other apostles to answer questions about his ministry to the house of Cornelius. In Galatians 1:15-2:2, the great apostle Paul referred to his visits to Jerusalem to consult with the other leaders because he felt a sense of accountability to work with them. In Galatians 2:11-21; Paul confronted Peter publicly before the Antioch church for his divisive behavior. The unity of the Antioch church was more important to Paul than allowing Peter to continue behavior that confused the people and contradicted Paul’s teaching. The instructions of I Corinthians 14:29 concerning the operation of the gifts of the Spirit called for elders to judge the prophecies uttered in the congregation. The apostolic church apparently did not see these actions as restricting the ministry. They were not allowed to do or say anything they desired. They were accountable to God and to one another in their fellowship.
I am not in favor of a denominational hierarchy with an overpowering bureaucracy that destroys the freedom to minister under God’s direction. But neither am I in favor of using the guise of liberty to destroy the unity of fellowship. The call is for responsible speakers that willingly minister to the national body under the constraints of the articles of faith.
It is my desire that this idea would create a sense of oneness and unity. I will not be offended if you would follow the thesis of this
article by judging its worth for your consideration.
Loren Yadon is the Director of External Studies and an instructor at Christian Life College.
He is also a published author with book sales in the top ten of those published by World Aflame Press.
Christian Information Service.
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The Landmark Paper, Stockton, California, Spring 1992, Page 6.