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Merits and Limitations of Democratization

Before you hit the snooze button on this column’s title, or think Allan reads way too much, please permit me three minutes of your life to examine how that title affects you and your church.

Democratization is a fairly new word with little usage until the mid 1900’s. To a large degree access to information drives the process of democratization; when increasingly larger numbers of people have access to information apart from their “official” channels, societal and political upheavals usually follow. Think about the close overlap of the printing press and the Reformation as the Bible is translated into the vernacular of European peoples; the church and governments underwent enormous change when exposed to the truth. Fast forward to the 1980’s when the early stages of the computer and Internet made truth more accessible to Eastern European countries behind the then Iron Curtain and whole populations revolted against their Communist leaders, toppling governments.

Access to information sounds like a great leveler of the playing field in a job, a church, a society. I have often said this is the first generation in history that does not need to ask permission of any person for what was previously proprietary information; if you as my authority figure won’t give me what I want to know, click, click, click on my phone or tablet and I just circumvent you. It is causing gigantic ripples in how we conduct corporations, government, education, church, and even families.

Three news reports I heard this month cause me to think perhaps we have let democratization run amok: 1) S. Korea is experiencing a wave of privacy litigation and arrests because the miniaturization of surveillance cameras and their relative access make going to a public bathroom a nightmare for both sexes. Privacy is an obsolete concept. 2) Recent scientific papers suggest we are close to producing an embryo totally divorced from sperm and egg combinations. Normal cells coerced to become stem cells can be coerced further to become sperm and eggs to reproduce embryos. Every scientific breakthrough is hailed as helping some segment of society (those plagued with infertility would greet this news) but the future ramifications are staggering: what if a soft drink tossed by LeBron James in the garbage is retrieved and his saliva yielded DNA to produce lots of LeBron’s? What if gay couples could generate a child with their combined DNA? 3) Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine is producing organs for implants. While this bypasses the need for organ donors from other humans, what will it mean to society to have replaceable body parts? We do this with knees and hips, what about livers, stomachs, hearts? Where is the moral dimension when technology is given to the masses?

Too often information handled without wisdom can create undesirable outcomes; we most often ignore the moral nature of man (or should I say the immoral nature) and cannot agree on an objective source of wisdom. This is why our associational churches, which practice congregationalism (neither I nor any other official can tell a certain congregation how to vote or act on any subject; the congregation makes that decision), need to keep a balance of democratic principles and wise leadership. It can take the form or deacons, elders, church council, team, church staff, whatever you want to call it---I’m all for an informed faith and an informed church body (democratization), but somewhere wisdom has to be exercised. Our wisdom must come first and foremost from the Word of God as shared by godly men and women servant leaders. I’m all for one person/one vote for elections, but in matters of policy, decision making, allocation of resources, guidance of a body of believers we need wise and moral leadership rooted in God’s Word. (for more on this subject, see

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