holy_wood, the OP asked the following question:
“I’d love to hear how various protestant denominations deal with the issue of authority.”
I agree with much of what you say, holy_wood. But the OP wants to know about various denominations and non-denominational ecclesial communities. So at this point, I think it would be good to hear from a few others.
I know that I have described “autonomous” vs. “denominational” churches before on CAF, but it’s worth reviewing.
Churches that are autonomous have NO central denominational governing body. Each church operates on its own. Its pastor, elders, deacons, and other officers are selected or elected by the church itself.
Examples of such churches are the Christian church, the Evangelical Free Church in America, and of course, the non-denominational churches.
There may be a “loose” organization that these churches communicate with, but they are NOT accountable to these organizations. The organizations exist mainly as a clearinghouse to help the various churches find what they need, provide seminars, and sometimes, to run a college or seminary.
Churches that are “denominational” have organizations that are in authority over them. Sometimes these organizations actually appoint the pastors, and sometimes they don’t. But the pastors ARE answerable to the organization. The church is assessed for a certain amount of money to keep the denominational headquarters up and running.
Examples of these churches include the Methodists, the General Baptist Conference, the Southern Baptists, the Christian and Missionary Alliance (a VERY strong denominational organization runs these churches), and the various Lutheran denoms.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each authority style.
An autonomous church has total control over what they will teach and preach, and how their monies are spent. They can support whatever missionaries they please. They can start a mission or a school or a theater or a bar. No one will interfere with them or try to stop them.
On the other hand, there is no authority to stop a heretical or even criminal pastor. A member who has been wronged can’t appeal to a “higher authority” (other than secular authorities, like the cops if a crime has occurred).
Also, the church has only the monies that it takes in. If things get “slow,” often the church will have to shut down due to lack of funds. There is no denominational organization to send them an emergency check.
Finally, the autonomous churches sometimes (but not always) tend to be “pastor” centered, and when the pastor leaves or dies, the church shrivels up and dies.
A denominational church is often told by the denomination what to teach and how to teach it. There are Statements of Faith that must be adhered to, and certain programs that are allowed, while others aren’t allowed. (e.g., AWANAs is allowed in many denoms, but not in others). This may seem like a disadvantage, but it’s actually an advantage. All the material has been checked and re-checked for Scriptural accuracy. Many of the material are supplied by the denomination.
A denomination has more “money,” since the monies can be spread out among the churches. This means that the denomination can mount an organized “missions” effort, and pool resources to support career missionaries.
There are also other resources that a denomination can supply: seminars, conferences, mentors, etc.
And of course, the denominational headquarters is available for members who have grievances, and they have the POWER to do something about a grievance. For example, if a pastor is accused of sexual irregularities, the denomination can take away his/her ordination and forbid him/her to preach in their churches. They can also help the victim to file criminal charges, and stand behind the victim. And they will be there to support the church congregation that is rocked by this kind of horrible sin. They can supply an interim pastor, counselling and healing, and monies to keep the church afloat during a time when many members might quit.
It is very important for Christians to understand what type of church authority they are submitting to when they become involved with a church. I personally would NEVER, EVER get involved with an autonomous church again because of the lack of accountability of the pastors and church leaders. When we were kicked out of our Evangelical Free church, we looked for a “denominational headquarters” to file a grievance with over the way we were treated (cruelly). But there ISN’T a denomination headquarters in the EFree churches; each church is its own final authority. So we were s-c-r-e-w-e-d and this church continues to meet and these pastors continue to preach and destroy who knows how many other people? (We have spoken with a counselor who claims that many damaged patients come from our former church.) And there’s NOTHING we can do about it except pray!