Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Parachurch ministry

1. Are parachurch ministries biblically warranted? To begin with, what are parachurch ministries? Examples include apologetic/countercult organizations, publishing, campus ministry, athletic outreach, evangelistic organizations, Christian media, hospital chaplains, educational institutions, and Bible translators. We might include Christian blogging. 

2. Sola scriptura doesn't mean we need direct biblical authorization for everything we do. We don't need a special right to do what's right. We have a standing right to do the right thing. If I see a kid drowning, I don't need to text-message my elders for permission to rescue him. I don't need to thumb through the Bible for a specific command. 

3. We need to examine the unspoken assumptions that underlie this question. Is parachurch ministry supposed to be answerable to "the church". That raises a number of subsidiary questions. What authority do elders have over laymen? 

Unlike highly regulated religions such as Islam, Second Temple Judaism, and Hassidic Judaism, the responsibilities and activities of evangelical laymen are largely unregulated. If you're a Muslim or Hassidic Jew, there's a social blueprint that regiments your daily life in prying, excruciating detail. That, in turn, gives the clergy tremendous authority over laymen because the clergy are the experts on halakha or sharia, and laymen must consult the clergy to know what's commanded or forbidden. Their interpretations are binding. And they adjudicate ethical and religious disputes. To some extent, traditional Catholicism was fairly regulated.

By contrast, evangelical elders don't have anything like the same authority over laymen because there is no evangelical counterpart to halakha or sharia–although Puritans like Baxter and Ames produced textbooks on Protestant casuistry. In general, the ethical issues confronting the average evangelical laymen boil down to a few basic categories: deception, abortion, premarital sex, divorce and remarriage, military service, civil disobedience, capital punishment, end-of-life care, contraception, homosexuality. There's not as much occasion for laymen to consult their pastor. Moreover, there are books on evangelical ethics which laymen can read for themselves. 

Evangelical laymen don't submit a daily itinerary to the pastor for his prior approval. They don't generally seek the advice, much less the consent, of the pastor or elders, in making most of their decisions. In fact, they don't think that's anyone's business but their own. 

4. Assuming that a parachurch ministry should be subject to ecclesiastical oversight, what's the unit of supervision? The local church? Presbytery? Denomination? Interdenominational coalition? 

Take Bible translators. No denomination, much less a local church, has a monopoly on Christian linguists. Moreover, Bible translation committees are deliberately interdenominational to curtail sectarian versions. 

5. Some critics of parachurch ministry complain that it usurps the role of the church. But that reflects an envious attitude. Christians shouldn't be keeping score. Is my side winning? A competitive spirit is out of place. If someone is doing God's work, we should be thankful rather than resentful. 


  1. “Some critics of parachurch ministry complain that it usurps the role of the church.”

    I wonder if an assumption is that it’s a zero sum game.

  2. I've worked with and I guess I ran a parachurch ministry. When doing an outreach, I mandated that everyone working had to be accountable to a local church. So if a problem arose, we could at least notify them. Also, it's good for the elders to know things like that. Also, I got the approval of my session before doing my outreach.

    Whether I needed to or not is another matter. So, at bare minimum, each individual should be accountable to a church.

  3. I'm speaking from a congregational perspective here: even Reformed congregationalists recognize the benefit of cooperation outside the church. Ideally, the participants in a PO will be members in good standing of Christian churches of some reasonably orthodox stripe. What they lack is some guarantee other than the PO itself that this is indeed the case. That said, some POs are most outstanding Christian organizations. Other POs are terrible. That said, churches likewise run the gamut from outstanding to terrible. So it's not an excuse to criticize bad POs for not having the oversight of a church. Granted that the local church is the biblically mandated outworking of Christian life and faith. However, just as Paul used associated churches for the purpose of his mission efforts, we are right to do so as well.

  4. Might be some useful information here:


  5. everytime Carl Trueman knocks parachurch ministries, an angel snaps a harp string