Freedom of the Church

 “and all the brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:

(Galatians 1:2)

Galatians 1:2 “and all the brethren who are with me, To the churches of Galatia.”

When the apostle Paul wrote the letter, he did not do alone but wrote it with all the brethren who were with him, sharing the same heart. However, in this letter, he addressed it as ‘to the churches of Galatia’. In fact, using the expression ‘to the churches’ is significant. How many churches are there? There are several, but it is also said that the church is one. The church is one; as a result, we refer to the church as the universal church. When we speak of several churches, we call them local churches. As Jesus said, “I will build my church,” the church refers to the universal church, the church of Jesus Christ, without concern for how many churches there are. However, in this letter, he clearly acknowledged several churches by addressing them as ‘to the churches of Galatia.’ He did not consider all the churches as a single entity.

Galatians 1:2 “……. To the churches of Galatia.”

Paul was the one who said this. He established all these churches. He went to various locations, preached the Gospel, and established these churches. So, wouldn’t it have been easy for him to view them as a single church? However, he did not think in this way and anointed an overseer for each church. Paul acknowledged these overseers, who were made by the Holy Spirit, along with each individual church, and then wrote the letter to them. Paul did not claim himself as an overseer to supervise all these churches; instead, he recognized Jesus Christ’s presence in each individual church. Instead of exerting control over them, he supported their joy and encouraged them. If he had tried to control each church from the beginning, issues like the spread of another gospel or divisions might have been prevented. However, Paul respected each individual church and did not do in this way. Paul firmly accepted that this church was governed by the overseer whom the Holy Spirit established and each church only had one overseer.

In the case of our church, we have several pastors. They assist the overseer, and we do not consider them as individual overseers. Our church has worship centers in different regions. These worship centers were established because the regions are far from our main sanctuary. In other words, the gathering places are different for each region, but they are all part of one church. Therefore, the pastors assigned to each worship center are not referred to as overseers. However, the leader of the entire church is called the overseer. As a result, each church has one overseer.

In such a perspective, the nature of Catholicism is completely distinct. They consider all Catholic churches worldwide as a single entity. Their finances and their personnel management are centrally controlled. Consequently, the appointment of cardinals in different regions, such as Korea, is determined by Rome. The entire Catholic church operates under a unified system, resulting in a well-organized and financially stable institution. Therefore, when constructing a Catholic church, they do not build it awkwardly. Once it is constructed, great attention is paid to detail.

Especially when compared to this, Christianity has a tendency to spring up everywhere, with believers sometimes gathering in rented spaces. However, the appearance which is so huge and great is not always good. This inconsistency and lack of uniformity in Christianity stem from its freedom from control, which is a positive aspect. Each church enjoys its own freedom – the freedom of the church.

And, in the spirit of Baptist Church, this holds great significance. The Baptist Church has a different character compared to other Protestant denominations. While the Protestant Church underwent reform, it retained certain features of centralized control, resembling the practices of the Catholic Church. As a result, the Protestant Church operates in an organized manner. The Presbyterian Church and the Methodist Church have their own general assemblies. These General Assemblies hold authority over human resources and finances, allowing for changes to pastoral leadership. For instance, if a pastor in charge of a particular church is deemed unfit, they may be relocated to a rural area. Additionally, when seminary students in the Presbyterian Church graduate, some churches issue invitations for pastor positions within the Presbyterian denomination. Candidates then go through interviews and tests before being appointed or transferred to other locations. Typically, pastors serve in one church for about five years before moving to another. This organizational structure is not limited to a single church; instead, individual churches come together to form a larger organization. In the case of the Presbyterian Church, it is referred to as the Presbyterian General Assembly, regarded as one church. Therefore, when pastors gather in this assembly, they partake in the Holy Communion.

However, we do not view this assembly as the church. In a church, there is only one overseer for each, and above that, there is not a specific organization. Instead, each church receives guidance by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. So, all the pastors, regardless of the size of their churches, can meet, socialize, and cooperate as equal friends. No one can dominate others. However, when there is a denomination, the president, the moderator of the general assembly, holds all the rights, including the power over human resources and real assets. So, these rights are huge. We have heard of situations where individuals spend enormous amounts, even billions, during election campaigns to become the president. Such things come to happen now.

However, as described in the Bible, the Baptist Church does not have denominations. Instead, each church is individually guided by the Holy Spirit. These churches can have different characteristics. In the book of Revelation, for example, John wrote letters to various churches. While it might be easier to control and govern these churches as a single entity with standardized rules, this is not the approach taken. Instead, each church is encouraged to listen to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

It is similar to anointing pastors. In Acts chapter 13 of the Bible, there is a scene where Paul and Barnabas are ordained and sent on a mission. The individuals who laid hands on them were prophets and teachers. During a period of fasting, the Holy Spirit inspired these leaders and chose Paul and Barnabas for the mission ministry. From that time, the leaders ordained Paul and Barnabas and sent them away as missionary pastors. However, who laid hands on them? These were the prophets, preachers and teachers. It is not that several churches and pastors gather for laying on of hands in an organization, but within the church they were laid on hands. Compared today, pastors and deacons lay hands on individuals for ordination, anointing them as pastors.

Therefore, think about it carefully. The church is Jesus’ grapevine, the branches of Jesus. An unconnected branch cannot be considered part of the tree if it is not connected to the vine. You see, branches keep coming out of the vine and connecting. Likewise, the church is a branch of the grapevine, not a certain organization that someone has made. The branch that Jesus talked about only refers to the church. Is it right? The church. So, can the church grow and emerge from a different place other than the branch?

Therefore, whether we can consider the general assembly as the church is very important. The general assembly is not the church; it is simply a gathering of churches coming together to cooperate on certain projects. Therefore, is it possible for this assembly to ordain people or give birth to another church? No, I am saying that it should not. The church itself gives birth to another church, just as branches grow from the grapevine. No denomination gives birth to the church; it’s the church that gives birth to the church.

So, where should pastoral ordination take place? It should occur within the individual church. The message I’m conveying is not my own opinion; it’s based on what I heard directly from Semuon a few days ago. He emphasized this point strongly. He mentioned that ordination should take place within each individual church. It’s important to clarify whether a church is influenced or controlled by the Mother Church. Even though a church may spiritually originate from the branch of the Mother Church, it cannot be controlled by the Mother Church. Therefore, the Mother Church should refrain from referring to it as an “Affiliated Church.” Using such a term “Affiliated Church” implies that the Mother Church can exert control according to its desires. We should have a clear conception between the “Affiliated Church” and the “Branch Church.” Branch Church does not mean belonging to the Mother Church. The reason why it referred to as the branch church is coming out from the Mother Church as a branch. Therefore, the Mother Church cannot govern the branch church according to its wish. The church that emerging from the Mother Church also receives the guidance of Jesus Christ. Therefore, we can encourage them to receive Christ’s guidance. However, governance or restraint is not permitted.

Therefore, because we are conducting our ministry based on this principle, there are many churches in China, and we do not control or restrain them but encourage them. We offer encouragement, saying, “let us stand together and be willing to endure persecution together for the Berea Movement.” We encourage them to participate in the Berea Movement and become Bereans, but our approach is not to force them by saying, “You must become Bereans, or else we will impose disadvantages on you.” Instead, we emphasize the benefits of being Bereans, allowing them to make a voluntary choice. We do not take anything away from them or pressure them in any way. Despite this approach, they willingly express their gratitude by gathering and offering their tithes. Here, we serve them with humility, and there, they express their gratitude voluntarily, creating a beautiful relationship. However, if one day we take their gratitude for granted and start giving directives like, “You must send us offering,” it could lead to complaints and a miserable situation.

We are not a denomination; rather, we are a unified body. When churches come together to form a denomination like that, it is referred to as the General Assembly, but we do not refer to ourselves as the General Assembly; we call ourselves an association or union. Therefore, we are known as the Berea Church Union. Regardless of the size of a church, all churches are considered equal. No one can interfere with one another, and no one can give commands to other churches. We simply support each other. Additionally, can we say that we are affiliated with the Berea Church Union? Affiliation. We cannot use the term ‘affiliation.’ We are not affiliated with this union. The Presbyterian Church is affiliated with the Assembly. However, we are not affiliated with the Assembly; instead, we have joined the union. We have joined the union, but we are not affiliated to the General Assembly. This difference is greatly significant.

If not, a larger church, typically a central one, may attempt to exert control over smaller churches, ultimately leading to the downfall of the church. The issue can be traced back to the early days of the Roman Church in historical context. Even before Emperor Constantine officially exposed Christianity, such problems had already arisen within the church. The Roman Church, being powerful and located in the capital city of Rome, began to assert its authority over smaller churches. They introduced the term ‘pontiff’ and claimed that the overseer of the central church in Rome had a distinct position from overseers in smaller churches. This led to the use of the title “Pontiff.” Emperor Constantine later adopted this term. It’s important to note that the root of the church’s corruption lay within the church itself, not with the emperor. The corruption began within the church, and the emperor merely seized upon it. Infant baptism, the practice of baptizing babies, had already started within the church, not by the emperor. The Emperor later chose to employ this practice. Therefore, if Christians fail to discern correctly and go astray, it provides an opportunity for worldly individuals to exploit these situations and make them much worse.

We must clearly understand that each church is governed by its overseer and possesses its own independence. If we are not sure about this, confusion may arise later on. Our church does not assert dominance over smaller churches just because our church is large. Therefore, all of us must exert even greater efforts to maintain the freedom of our church likewise.

We also have the Berea Church Union, which is sometimes called the General Assembly. However, the term “General Assembly” has two distinct meanings. One refers to the highest decision-making organization, typically used in Presbyterian churches. The other meaning is a general meeting where everyone gathers and conducts a meeting. These two meanings are totally different. When we use the term “General Assembly,” we are referring to the meaning of a general meeting where everyone gathers and has a meeting. Although we use the same word, it can lead to confusion. However, we should not be confused, as our intention is to convey the meaning of a general meeting, where we gather and have a meeting, rather than the highest decision-making organization.

Therefore, it cannot be said that the denomination commands us to do this. Why? Because a denomination is not a single entity with its own personality. Only the church possesses its personality, and these personalities come together for discussions. A denomination cannot function as a single personality. Consequently, a denomination originally cannot own specific assets. In the past, we asserted that we needed to break away from the denomination and return to the Bible. However, what would happen if we were to return to the denomination? Therefore, it is crucial for us to have a clear understanding. Let us pray for the preservation of the church’s freedom.

God our Father, we pray that our Sungrak Church and all churches that work together for the Berea Movement may become the churches the Bible presents. As our influence grows, please grant us the humility to serve in accordance with the Bible, so that we can maintain the church our Lord desires. We pray in the name of Jesus, Amen.

Sermon by Pastor Ki-Taek Lee
The Director of Sungrak Mission Center
Sermon on July 26, 2013
Translated by Sungrak Mission Center English Team