The annual May Week (or sometimes March Week, as in 2014) is the third rail of church politics. Touch it, and you are toast. Criticize it, or question its similarity to the Baptist Convention or any other religious body’s annual doctrinal meeting, and you’ll be promptly corrected, rebuked and/or withdrawn from—and perhaps all three. If your status is high enough in the “brotherhood” upon such an offense, history shows you probably won’t even get a chance to defend yourself. You need to be made an example of, quickly and decisively.
One would think that May Week, if the attempt is to truly follow the example of Acts 15, should be reserved for weighty subjects of earth-shattering importance to the unity of the brotherhood, i.e. the brotherhood is literally divided (separating from one another) over this issue, so we need to figure out what the Bible says about it. But here are some of the weighty doctrines discussed at past May Weeks:
- Whether women can wear pants with a zippered fly in the front
- What constitutes a Christian’s own “personal time” vs. the time he’s obligated to do “the work” (usually this means personal work/knocking on doors, but this phrase can be a catch-all to mean any church function).
- Under what circumstances does a Christian traveling to another town where there is a church have to “keep the calendar” of that local church instead of his own church’s “calendar” of “work.” In other words, if you drive to another town on a Friday to pick up a trailer for business (because your local church doesn’t have an obligation for you on Friday, but the congregation in the town your visiting does), do you have to join with them in their church function? Must you tell them you’re in town, or can you pick up the trailer and slip out of town with no one knowing?
- Must a woman wear nylons with a dress on Sunday or when door knocking?
- Are there 2 types of punishments the church can implement on disobedient members or just one. Withdrawal vs. mark and avoid… are they the same thing or separate punishments?
- Should Christians be allowed to attend 4 year colleges or should their children be allowed to attend 4 year colleges?
- When is a divorced person free to remarry?
- Where does the Church stand on spacing children/birth control?
- Should preachers use electronic devises while preaching? ie: laptop, iPad, etc.
- Should Christians have Facebook accounts?
- What is the most acceptable way to make confessions- face to face, by letter, by text, by email.
- Is it allowable in scripture to break the bread of the Lord’s supper more than once? (to break it into smaller pieces)
- Is is acceptable to use gluten free flour for the unleavened bread of the Lord’s supper? Can the Church use two different types of bread at the same time? (one wheat the other gluten free?) Can a gluten free christian take only the grape juice and not the bread?
- Is it acceptable to use grape juice that has vitamin C added to it? (for the Lord’s supper?)
Can Christians get together to discuss their opinions on questions such as these? I suppose, as long as we speak only where the Bible speaks and truly remain silent where it’s silent. It might be a pretty silent meeting. But is it wise to attribute such importance to matters of personal opinion, and to do so on an annual basis? Not at all. Sometimes wisdom is in not doing what one has the right to do.I’ll be the first to acknowledge we don’t need a Biblical precedent for gathering together as individuals to study and discuss any subject. It’s the binding of those conclusions on the “brotherhood” under the assumption that unanimous agreement is necessary and equals unity in the first place. That, and the ongoing annual nature of it give me a scriptural problem with. The honest truth is there is a tremendous social pressure to swallow the doctrines “brought back” from May Week, and the event has achieved near sacred status in the minds of followers.
The congregations listen to the recordings of the “proceedings” each year when the delegates get back, and discusses the subjects as a congregation. Each congregation is expected to come into agreement with the conclusions reached each year. There is intense pressure to agree with those conclusions, because everyone knows the consequences of disagreement. Depending on whom one disagrees with, and how vocally that dissent is expressed, one could end up withdrawn from easily.
May Week is an unscriptural tradition. That’s not so say it’s wrong in and of itself, I’m just saying it’s not in the Bible as a regular event the church is supposed to hold. Take from that what you will, but the tradition of holding this unity meeting every year to solidify the church’s stance on often downright silly questions is yet another tradition of men.
It’s one thing to randomly get together to discuss a pressing question. But the habit of doing it every year and funneling all doctrinal questions through it makes it take on a life of its own. It underscores the idea that May Week is “the place” where doctrine is decided. It also reinforces the anti-scriptural belief that unanimity of opinion is necessary to the unity of the church.
One of the most oppressing things about May Week is that people who have concluded that certain doctrines of the Stanton churches are wrong feel they must wait years, sometimes decades, for more influential teachers to change their minds and bring the subject up at a future May Week. Until then, it seems, the conscientious objector must continue violating his conscience. He must remain silent when unscriptural doctrines are taught and preached in his local church, for fear of being castigated for offending the delicate sensibilities of those who decided something differently at a previous May Week.
If the conscientious person is an official teacher, he is in even more of a moral quandary. Should he teach a doctrine which he believes is incorrect? If he does, he’s violating his conscience. This is the scriptural meaning of false teaching which really means disingenuous teaching. Yet if he doesn’t teach what came back from May Week, he’s not toeing the official line and can come under scrutiny and distrust from the “brotherhood.”
What’s a guy to do? Either continue teaching disingenuously, or step down from teaching. Hence, you find many older teachers no longer teaching, because they’ve tarnished their reputation, perhaps, by questioning various teachings for too long. They could never get enough momentum to persuade others of their changed opinion, so they’ve had to resort to keeping it to themselves for fear of being withdrawn from. Thus the teachers who remain are the “true believers” who accept the May Week conclusions and teach them wholeheartedly.
The antidote for May Week is to make sure the leadership of the local congregation is a scriptural eldership, as directed by Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. Under scriptural leadership, the congregation can function as intended as a local body of believers in unity with other believers, whether they agree with all the opinions of those believers or not. Remember, unanimity of opinion is not a requirement of unity.
Thoughts on Acts 15
If Acts 15 is supposed to authorize church meetings (councils) for the purpose of establishing unanimity and doctrine, then it is only fair to notice a few important points:
- In Acts 15, delegates from multiple churches were NOT sent to a meeting to decide the correct doctrine. The May Week practice is to send delegates from all congregations to discuss and agree upon doctrine, and bring those doctrines back to their home congregations. This is clearly NOT what happened in Acts 15. The attendees were the Jerusalem apostles and elders, possibly (but not definitely) the rest of the church at Jerusalem, and Paul and Barnabus from Antioch. That’s it. There were no delegates from the churches in Seleucia, Salamis, Paphos, Perga, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, or Attalia, which all were in existence after Paul’s first missionary journey in the previous two chapters of Acts.
- Antioch sent Paul and Barnabus to talk to the apostles and elders at Jerusalem. Merie taught that the whole congregation was present and participated in the deliberations in Jerusalem, and that we have as much authority and guidance from the Holy Spirit to decide doctrine as they did. However, this is making some assumptions that are not at all clear by a plain reading of the scriptures. What we do know is that the Antioch church appointed Paul and Barnabus to go see the apostles and elders at Jerusalem about the dispute.
- Paul and Barnabus conferred with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem to solve the dispute. Acts records that they met with the apostles and elders. Yes, they probably addressed the whole church at some point as well, but there is no evidence that the whole Jerusalem church was involved in deliberating about this question.
- The letter sent to the brotherhood was from the apostles and elders. It’s true that the whole church authorized their spokesmen (Judas and Silas) to deliver the letter to the other churches, but the letter itself was FROM the apostles and elders.
In conclusion, while I do believe that the church at Jerusalem was probably, though not definitely, present for some or all of the deliberations, it seems abundantly clear that the authority behind the doctrinal “proclamation” that went out from Jerusalem was the apostles and elders, not the supposed “church council.” If this was a church council, any two congregations can get together and issue their doctrines to the rest of the brotherhood, because that’s exactly what happened here if you don’t add the apostles and elders into the equation as the authoritative figures.