I just finished reading through the new 9 Marks Journal on Multisite church. I thought it was a fantastic and balanced presentation of arguments both for and against the concept. Ed Stetzer dialogued through the basic objection most have to multisite here, and I’m also asking a similar question.
The article by Jonathan Leeman titled “Theological Critique of MultiSite: Leadership Is the Church” (it starts on page 50 in the PDF or here) was one of the most clear-headed and incisive arguments against multisite, but there is something that is unsettling to me about his critique that I can’t quite put my finger on.
Perhaps it is because I have been reading things like The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch and Organic Church by Neil Cole, but it seems that Leeman’s answer dissociates the organic nature of the church from the biblical prescriptions about it. I know this is a very poorly supported answer both biblically and logically (Leeman would shred me in debate…), but like I said, I can’t quite put my finger on why his argument isn’t resonating.
The excerpt below highlights the basic theological argument that is the foundation of Leeman’s conclusions:
These three passages in Matthew tell us that he gave this authority to the apostles, who were uniquely commissioned with the apostolic message to establish the foundation of the church. Once that foundation was established and the apostles died, did that authority then pass along to every individual on the planet to determine whether or not he or she should be baptized into the body of Christ? Hardly. That authority is then passed on to the church. Only the apostolic church has the authority to baptize and distribute the Lord’s Supper. Now, the church does not have the authority to deny baptizing one who offers a credible profession of faith (Acts 10:47). After all, the church’s authority is mediated, not ultimate. Still, the church alone has the power of the keys, and the church on earth is, quite simply, particular churches.
He then continues to dialog about the institutional nature of church from Scripture, but I think this view ultimately dissociates the institution from the collection of individuals that encompass it. It is in effect establishing the concept of church as the authoritative body apart from what it is comprised of–believers. Basically, the church is defined as an external set of biblical prescriptions according to Leeman, while it would say it is both external biblical prescriptions AND the composition of the individual believers who compose the body living and applying those biblical prescriptions.
Logically, all of Leeman’s arguments are sound (they are a model of excellent thinking and clear argumentation), but I’m not yet ready to write off multi-site as he does based on the issue above.
Give the article a read, and then let me know what you think!