I increasingly suspect both individuals and entities that seem unable to move beyond the one note they have perfected. Rather than engaging a wide range of options—theological, practical, or liturgical—these "same songers" seem content, even committed, to repeating over and over their one noise until the brassy clanging become so familiar that volume is valued over substance.
"For in fact the body is not one member but many . . . But now Cod has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased . . . And the eye cannot say to the hand, I have no need of you; nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you . . . there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually" (1 Cor. 12:14-27).
Recently, I have observed a few breakaway groups whose singular focus appears to be removing themselves farther and farther from the established body as they strive (and strife is typical of the process) to establish their independence. Unfortunately, those who embark on these ventures, typically slalom the same downhill slopes.
First, although they proclaim their intentions only to reform, they assert their own greater trustworthiness over established structures to manage tithes and offerings. In reality, their independence is from management and oversight by church leaders and policies rather than independence from the financial support by church members.
Then, in hopes of maintaining the initial surge of enthusiasm which seems to swarm like yellow jackets to warm lemonade, these groups begin to subtly distinguish their more pure theological views or enhanced applications of various doctrines or missions. The more convoluted their reasoning, the more successful they appear.
One such group, in the process of legally establishing itself as separate and independent from church structure has already abandoned the great commission of going to the world with the gospel and, instead, has begun to focus on going to various unions and conferences with initiatives to recruit the "already saved." Despite protestations to the contrary, these zealots, perhaps well-intentioned, are far more adventurers than adventists.
In addition, I also see the following dangerous deficiencies:
• No organizational or doctrinal unity among individual congregations.
• No organizational or doctrinal accountability. Heresy may freely develop in one congregation of such loosely-linked fellowships with no power by others to call for repentance or reform.
• No support for pastors except by local congregations.
• No security for properties, buildings, institutions, etc.
• No safeguarding of initial theological educational processes for ministers.
• No plans to professionally develop or continually educate the clergy.
• No equitably-balanced financial remuneration policies for pastors in large versus small assignments.
• No retirement system or healthcare benefits.
• No educational benefits for PKs and no parochial schools for any of the church's kids.
• No coordinated method for transferring, calling, ordaining, or disciplining workers. Everyone does what is right in their own eyes.
• No financial accountability to constituency sessions.
• No broad-based emphasis (i.e., laity training, family ministries, women's ministries, healthministries, publishing, etc.) in support of common values.
• Little stabilizing discipleship of new converts into responsible members focused on a world view more than local growth. This neglect of steady spiritual discipline in favor of that which is the most new and exciting venture of the moment metastasizes uncontrolled, spreading here or there but seldom creating a vision beyond the borders of local province.
Why the impetus to self-directed independence? Individuals will often more easily pursue a course of action which they would have previously eschewed if a root of bitterness over perceived slights is nurtured and allowed to flourish. Life is always unfair this side of God's new creation and the urge to separate and operate independently of the authoritative body flourished even in paradise with Lucifer's rebellion.
Perhaps the saddest reality of these self-determined ventures is the probability that they will self-destruct under the weight of their own lack of accountability. Not because either their original intention or their intended processes were evil, but because any narrowly-focused group, by definition, suffers from tunnel vision, unable to see beyond their self-established boundaries. That narrowed vision becomes the true selfishness of playing one note.
James A. Cress is the Ministerial Secretary of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.