The hotel meeting room was decorated like a hotel meeting room. Walls formed a rectangular shape, stiffening the room with a no-one-can-complain textured beige. Fake brass pots with fake plants faked life next to side tables for water glasses and centered before the one window. Darkly stained wainscoting and a complex pattern of gold, brown, maroon and green in the pile carpet suggested affluence. A suggestion that failed. Nonetheless, the meeting room filled our need and was among the best our small town offered. The heavy wood conference table spoke appropriately of the meetings weight and importance to us.
Around the table, I could make eye contact with the founding pastor of the sending Alaskan church, his expected replacement-an eldest son, and the head pastor's right hand man. From our side were the head pastor, and four other elders including me. The head-covering issue launched five years previously had zig-zagged through pulpit preaching in both churches and precipitated other issues of accountability and authority between the two churches. I had heard our side and understood the other side considered us loved renegades. Now the tension and pulpit jockeying would be confronted straight-up.
I listened mostly. Among the youngest of the men present and an elder longer than only two other men, I couldn't escape estimating myself as a novice in leadership matters and understanding the Bible. The discussion was cordial, even warm, and occasionally light-hearted. The exchanges across the table shared and analyzed scripture and perspectives on the same. In the end, the planting church ceased to be an over-seeing church.
I left the meeting a bit confused. Had I just witnessed a simple dynamic centering around group-held values versus local church autonomy as it was labeled in the discussion; or had I seen something broader and more far-reaching, a microcosm of what has shaped denominational differences for centuries? My view that Truth was a solid set of values revealed in the scriptures through hermeneutic study thus guiding practice was shaken. As a local church, we were freed to enter into a loose association of churches across North Carolina and Virginia, in which several also preached head-coverings among other shared perspectives.
Who is accountable to whom, for what reasons, and with what implications? In one night, my Christian experience of a body of believers responding to God-ordained authority had transformed from solid scriptural tenet providing me spiritual security into a giant Rubic's cube of who is right? Catholicism considered Protestantism a break away from the direct line of authority begun with Peter. Eastern Orthodox considered Roman Catholics a break away group. Protestantism was sub-divided almost unendingly.
Inside the splintering somewhere was my group, whose accountability to authority was now redefined in a few hours of talk. Furthering the complexity of my thoughts on the practice of faith lurked teachings that many of the older traditions included a scholarship suspect because of tainted theology built on man's knowledge (was scholarship really wrong?), while my group extolled revelation in the spirit. This included a strong emphasis on the practice of the spiritual gifts enumerated in 1 Corinthians 12, such as prophetic utterances and tongues with interpretation during meetings. These phenomenon we labeled the "power" gifts, and I held this as important truth to the Christian experience. How did all the conflicting ideas fit together? Was one group more of God than another? If so, why and what was the scriptural evidence? In the weeks that followed, no matter how I twisted the levels of this puzzle cube in my thoughts, none of the sides came close to forming a solid color integrity. Not even my church.