The self-focus of Network unity (part 3)
Note: This article is part of a series which refers to the PDF transcript of a Network teaching. The parenthesized numbers or ranges refer to lines in it. Some of the words I quote might be different from the PDF. This is because the transcript differed from what I heard Sándor say in the audio recording. This is part 3 in the series. See also part 1, part 2, and part 4.
An entire article could probably be dedicated to the ways in which the Network focuses on its own existence and growth. This sermon is just one example. With respect to unity, the Network is incurvatus in se—turned in on itself—showing little to no concern about the universal church, or even paranoia toward it. Sándor urged people not to move to non-Network cities for work (1181–1183) and not send their kids to non-Network schools (1202–1204). He shared his belief about this being a multi-generational calling and how members might one day look down and see their grandchildren still being faithful members of the Network (1192–1195). He acknowledged that Christians are called to one body (1002), but the context makes it clear that he meant the body was the Network, not the global church.
Surely there is nothing wrong in desiring and hoping for your family to remain faithful to Christ throughout generations. Yet, this teaching emphasizes faithfulness to the Network instead. Sándor didn’t allow for any good reasons why one might leave the Network, even though this multi-generational calling is extrabiblical. The Network is quite happy to take in new members from other churches, but is less willing to let them go.
Sándor justified the case of college students by questioning the wisdom of letting them go to “some other place that’s gonna be different in significant things of belief and practice.” (1236–1237) One can see how a similar kind of logic would apply in the case of other members as well. Why would you take a job in a city that won’t have a church that has similar beliefs and practices? However, Sándor has already subjected “the top-tier, most important things” that members believe to the will of their leaders (1104–1106). Staying in the Network is important only because the Network says it is. This kind of unity includes a disunity from the broader church. Be wary when a church, in a zeal for its purity, isolates itself from other churches. It has no Biblical warrant, without claiming that churches outside of the Network are not part of the true church. A church that does this likely doesn’t look at its own purity critically enough.
Furthermore, the actual differences in belief and practice between the Network and other churches could be reasons to go to another church. In the case of beliefs, the Network’s public statement of faith expresses no difference in belief compared to many evangelical churches with a Reformed understanding of salvation. It’s the unstated beliefs that differ, and perhaps they are unstated for a reason. Outsiders not “getting” these beliefs is not a valid reason. Uniqueness of beliefs is not a virtue for a church. Why is adherence to the public confession of faith insufficient? Regarding the Network’s unique practices, they have resulted in a host of problems, documented in part by the stories on Leaving the Network and Reddit.
Finally, even though the Network doesn’t seem to give allowance for leaving its walls, the Network itself is a product of leaving. If Steve Morgan could, in good conscience, leave the Vineyard and form the Network, why can’t the Network bless members when they leave? How can Sándor be so certain of members' calling into the Network, yet deny that they might be called out of it? It’s not a calling to the Network that is permanent (1181–1182) but a calling to God.
Any local church that separates itself from the church at large should raise eyebrows. It’s like an eye that says to a hand, “I have no need of you” (1 Corinthians 12:21). It’s a church that may pay lip service to the universality of the church, but doesn’t really believe it. A church that tries to hold its members tighter than it tells members to hold their most important beliefs should sound alarm bells. A healthy church shouldn’t feel threatened by other churches, by members attending Bible studies outside of the Network, or by members who want to host their own Bible studies.
So far, I’ve covered three problems with this teaching about unity. It relies on verses taken out of context; individually, it demands submission to another part of the body, rather than the Head; and corporately, the Network treats itself as the whole body, rather than part of it. But how should we respond to this? I will give my closing thoughts in part 4.