QUESTION: So to whom do YOU grant authority to bind and loose Drury? Who is YOUR small group? How much authority do YOU grant your local church, your denomination, church tradition? Your article is good and raises the questions—so what is YOUR answer? How do YOU give authority for binding and loosing?
Fair question. I suppose I see authority as a series of envelopes in envelopes as in the Wesley article and thus practice it pretty much the way Wesley did.
1. Inner envelope—small group. In the inner orbit is my small group—not me, I don’t trust me. My small group includes those who know me best and I trust most with binding/loosing. For me that includes four fellow professors I “live with” daily: Ken Schenck, Chris Bounds, Russ Gunsalus and Steve Horst. These four have the small group authority for me to do street-level binding and loosing. Fortunately they are also experts in the Bible, theology and philosophy so they are more then just “experts in me.” These men have power over me spiritually and I trust to help me know if a thing is sin or not. But in a way I think I do have an authority even inside this small group—my wife Sharon. She is probably on the “spiritual director” level in my life and she knows me best. I have no secrets I keep from her. When Sharon speaks spiritually into my life I grant her almost-supreme authority even over the small group (though I’d still check with them afterward).
2. Next envelope—local church IIt isn’t as simple as just saying “local church—there are three levels in my church who are “envelopes” correcting and informing what my small group and wife might say to guide me.
My class-within-a-class is a group of six of us from my Sunday school class who eat Sunday dinner every week together—this is my “church small group.” They would have the most authority in my local church for me.
My whole Sunday school class of 20 people meets after worship for an hour and a half to discuss and apply the sermon every week. This is the next envelope of authority for me, though the group is pretty large to ask anything too personal.
My pastor, Steve DeNeff. I grant to DeNeff considerable authority to bind and loose mostly because he is a prophet-preacher and refuses to be an “activities director for a cruise ship.” He really takes “speaking for God” seriously so when he does so I hear it as such. Sure he sometimes speaks for himself or lets his own opinions get into sermons—who doesn’t? But I give him extraordinary authority to speak for God unless the inner envelopes veto it.
My whole local church. I suppose all three of the above are wrapped up in an envelope of all 1,500 people who attend my church. For instance if my small group, my wife, my Sunday school class, and my pastor all told me abortion was not really wrong I’d check the outer envelopes of what all the people who attend my church thought about this and if they disagreed vehemently I’d open some of the envelopes still left.
3. All this is wrapped up in the next envelop—my denomination. My denomination—The Wesleyan Church is there to monitor me, my group and my local church—we could all be wrong about something. So I let my denomination supervise the binding and loosing of my local church and small groups. If everybody in my group and church thinks it is just fine to drink alcohol moderately I let my denomination superintend this. However when I say “denomination” I do mean (in this stage) just the written rules of my denomination (that comes later) but I mean the collective positions and opinions of all the people in my denomination—pastors, laity, leaders. If the vast majority of my denomination’s people reject the use of any alcohol at all then I would be wary of using it even if my small group, wife, pastor and my whole local church were unanimously for it. I don’t trust myself to make these decisions alone, and I don’t completely trust my local church—that’s why I need my whole denomination to be a “check” for me here. I am willing to let all the members of my denomination “bind or loose” things for me personally and for my local church collectively. If most all Wesleyans everywhere believe a thing is sin I am very wary of doing it—even if I am personally sure it is not wrong. I recognize their power to “bind” on me things that may not technically be sin at all. (I am not talking about opinions on matters that are not “sin” – I do not recognize my denomination’s authority to determine musical styles or which candidate to vote for in elections—I am speaking of binding and loosing sin here)
4. My big outer envelope is church tradition—Christians through history. What have all Christians through history said about drinking alcohol or abortion or whatever? This is my final outer envelope that provides a “check” on everything else. By “check” I do not mean it has an automatic veto over us, for sometimes we must reject the majority view of history, but I never want to do that lightly and would do it with fear and apprehension. Here is where I put my denomination’s “membership standards” –they are statements of past believers binding and loosing future generations of Christians, thus I consider them “church tradition.” So I suppose church tradition has several orbits of authority for me just like the local church:
My own denomination’s rules written by past generations.
The collective history of “pious people” through history
I especially submit to great teachers of the faith—Wesley, Luther, Calvin, Augustine and others.
I recognize the special authority to the church fathers—though not as much as Wesley or Bounds.
All of these combine to guard me, my church and my denomination in straying too far from what the Holy Spirit has been telling the church through the ages.
SO, there you have my envelopes within envelopes. It is a complicated process and once I’ve written it I see why it is so popular to choose one of the simpler solutions (e.g. “I decide for myself what the Bible now means” or “I just believe whatever my denomination says.” This series of envelopes is a far more complicated system of determining how the Bible applies to today and requires too much work to be practical for most people. But I am convinced that it is the best method and I try to do it as best I can—though I do admit that it leaves things in ‘flux” often and thus is not an attractive option for people who like simple and rigid answers to everything
Keith Drury November 29, 2005