I have strong convictions about church ministry and worship philosophy. I also have strong opinions about certain applications of that philosophy.
But these are not the same thing. Neither are they equally important.
Philosophical convictions are judgments based on clear, biblical principles. Notice that I did not say that the convictions themselves are necessarily clear, but they are based upon clear principles.
Applications, however, are methodological opinions with much less clear, objective basis. They are based (hopefully) on wise consideration of the philosophy and how it works in real life. This means that although I think strongly about these particular applications, they are not as important as the philosophy, and I certainly do not insist that all churches should adopt them.
On the local church level it is important that all of the leadership agree philosophically when it comes to ministry and worship. It is also fairly important that the leadership come to agreement about how that philosophy will be applied in that ministry. This has been true of the churches in which I’ve served. The pastors under which I’ve served and I have agreed completely on philosophy and, through continual discussion, came to a consensus on how that philosophy would be applied (although the exact applications differ between churches somewhat). It seems clear to me that this must be how it works on a local church level.
Beyond that, however, agreement on particular applications becomes less important dependent upon the situation.
This is why, for example, when I am preaching in churches, I never make direct applications for those churches. I focus primarily on biblical principles and the important philosophy we should draw from these principles. It is not my job to make applications for autonomous churches; that is the job of the leadership of that church. When I’m preaching at a pastors’ conference (or writing on this site!), I sometimes express my opinions about applications, but never in church meetings. This actually frustrates some people who wish I would come right out and name names, styles, or other specifics.
I think that it is important to distinguish between these two categories as we discuss church practice. Both are important, but my biggest concern is always philosophy rather than particular applications.
I know some pastors with whom I share convictions about both philosophy and general applications. There are other pastors I know with whom I agree philosophically but who make applications of that philosophy that I woudn’t. I can find sufficient ground for most levels of cooperation with men in both of these groups. Differences in particular ways of applying a similar philosophy don’t necessarily affect much.
It is fundamental philosophical differences that will often limit cooperation. Differences in philosophy often result in significant differences in application, and it is usually these differences in application that are most apparent and that appear to be the primary reason for limiting cooperation. Yet in reality, it is the more important philosophical differences that are the real reasons for cooperation limits.
It is not always easy to keep these categories separate in discussions, but it’s critically important that we do.
Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is on faculty at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He has written several books, dozens of articles, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and two children.