Testing Our Commitment to Congregational Polity

February 8, 2016

Robert Hutchinson | Pastor
Faith Baptist Church, Harrisonville, MO

Congregational Polity – that form of church governance wherein the general membership of the church participates in governance by voting.

Suppose First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi, gave one million dollars to the Southern Baptist Convention and that the Convention accepted this generous gift. Subsequently, First Presbyterian Jackson asked to cooperate officially with the Convention so that her members could be sent as messengers to the SBC and could serve as committee members or trustees within the SBC. Should the Convention receive First Presbyterian Jackson as a cooperating church and entitle her to messengership and service because of her financial gift to the Convention’s work?

Article III, Composition, of the SBC Constitution says, “The Convention shall consist of messengers who are members of Baptist [emphasis added] churches in cooperation with the Convention.”[1] In the above hypothetical scenario, though First Presbyterian Jackson gave a generous monetary gift to the work of the Convention, the church would neither be given official cooperating status nor the privilege to send messengers to the Convention because she is not a Baptist church.

Baptists believe certain and definite things that make them Baptist. For example, Baptists do not practice infant baptism and hold that only those who can repent and believe should be baptized and made members of the church.

Congregational governance under Christ’s Lordship is another distinguishing mark of a Baptist church. A church may be baptistic in every other aspect, but if she does not have a form of congregational governance, she cannot be counted as a Baptist church.

The Second London Baptist Confession of 1689 is clear that the general membership of the church should participate in church governance by voting: “The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of bishop or elder in a church, is, that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage [i.e., voting] of the church itself.”

The Baptist Faith & Message 2000 upholds congregational governance: “Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes.”[2] A “democratic” process must include the ability for the general church membership to vote; otherwise, the process cannot be described as “democratic.”

Unlike the hypothetical gift from First Presbyterian Jackson, Harvest Bible Chapel in Elgin, Illinois, actually does give to the work of the SBC and is listed in the SBC directory of cooperating churches.[3] As a result, Harvest Bible Chapel is entitled to send messengers to the SBC and her members and leaders are eligible for election or appointment to various committee and trustee positions within the Convention. And while Harvest Bible Chapel is baptistic in various points of doctrine (she practices believer’s baptism and regenerate church membership), she does not practice a form of congregational governance.

The Harvest Bible Chapel Bylaws, Article 6.01, Membership, state, “Members of the church do not participate in governance by voting.”[4] Only the elders vote; never the congregation. This extends even to the election of other elders and the senior pastor, as demonstrated by Article 8.04, Senior Pastor, which reads, “The Elder Board will then make a final consensus decision [i.e., vote] on the candidate and if approved shall then direct the Executive Committee to proceed with hiring the nominee as the new Senior Pastor.”[5] The general membership of Harvest Bible Chapel can ask questions and offer feedback, but they never vote. In terms of church governance, Harvest Bible Chapel appears to practice a form of episcopal governance, which is in no way congregational. For this reason, Harvest Bible Chapel cannot and ought not be regarded as a Baptist church, which, based on SBC’s Constitution as cited above, ought to exclude Harvest Bible Chapel from formal affiliation and the from privilege of sending messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention.

Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville is another such church. She holds to some Baptist beliefs but does not practice a form of congregational governance, as stated in her membership packet: “…we are not congregational…”[6] Although she, like Harvest Bible Chapel, cannot be characterized as a Baptist church, she is currently affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention and maintains the privileges of sending messengers to the Convention and having her members and leaders elected or appointed to various committee and trustee positions within the Convention.[7]

In 1994, the Convention voted in favor of a resolution that began, “WHEREAS, As a people of God committed to congregational polity….”[8] Is this still true? Currently, the Southern Baptist Convention has allowed affiliation by churches which clearly do not practice any form of congregational governance. Harvest Bible Chapel and Sovereign Grace Church are merely two recent examples.

If it is true that we Southern Baptists are “a people of God committed to congregational polity,” and historically we have been, why, then, do we receive churches who openly reject that form of governance which we hold to be intrinsically Baptist, and above all, biblical?

Let us test our commitment to congregational polity at this year’s Convention by asking the Credentials Committee not to seat as messengers members of non-congregationally-governed churches. If the Credentials Committee fails the test and will not uphold that form of polity to which we say we are committed, then let an appeal be made to the messengers and let the Convention’s commitment to congregational polity be put to the test.

 

[1] http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/legal/constitution.asp
[2] http://www.sbc.net/bfm2000/bfm2000.asp
[3] http://www.sbc.net/church/2015091544/harvest-bible-chapel
[4] http://www.harvestbiblechapel.org/Content/10780/461636.pdf
[5] Ibid.
[6] http://s3.amazonaws.com/churchplantmedia-cms/sovereign_grace_church_louisville_ky/membership-packet-2015.pdf
[7] http://www.sbc.net/churchsearch/results.asp?query=sovereign+grace+
[8] http://www.sbc.net/resolutions/1011/resolution-on-trustees-and-administrators-of-sbc-entities

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available

William Thornton

No need to wait until June. SBC Today’s Traditional Statement has a thousand signers I’m told. Surely some of these stalwart defenders of traditional Baptist doctrine must be in the local associations and state conventions of these two churches. If both fail to adhere to the BFM then let a motion be made locally for an investigation. Either we hold to the BFM and expect cooperating churches to do so…or we do not.

    Rick Patrick

    William,
    I can affirm definitively that the Traditional Statement has 1,030 signers: http://bit.ly/1KAQduD

    However, this issue of policing BFM compliance is a very tricky one. There are now at least four sections regarding which some Southern Baptists find language that might reasonably be interpreted to exclude others.

    1. THE FATHER LOVES ALL (II-A)
    The statement that God is “fatherly in His attitude toward ALL men” (emphasis mine) is viewed as a disaffirmation of certain interpretations that disaffirm God’s love for all. A year or so ago, I met a Christian who said that God did not love everyone. I have been taught otherwise. Anyone who believes God chose the reprobate before the foundation of the world to be special objects of His wrath would seem to disaffirm such fatherly love.

    2. INHERITED SINFUL NATURE WITHOUT ORIGINAL GUILT (III)
    We inherit a sinful human nature and “an environment inclined toward sin” but are not born guilty as a result of Adam’s sin. “As soon as they are capable of moral action, they become transgressors and are under condemnation.” This notion that our sin precedes our guilt is disaffirmed by some popular views of Total Depravity.

    3. IMMERSION BAPTISM REQUIRED FOR COMMUNION (VII)
    The BFM affirms, at the very least, a “Close” Communion position. It states regarding immersion baptism: “Being a church ordinance, it is prerequisite to the privileges of church membership and to the Lord’s Supper.” All churches who practice Open Communion by serving, for example, the visiting Catholic, Presbyterian and Methodist relatives of church members, who have merely been sprinkled, are simply not enforcing this clear prerequisite.

    4. CONGREGATIONAL POLITY (VI)
    “Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes.” This is the section Robert has so clearly discussed in his excellent essay above.

    You concluded: “Either we hold to the BFM and expect cooperating churches to do so…or we do not.” I support Robert’s position here, by the way. But once we start examining one another for BFM compliance, we will find that the majority of our convention is not operating in strict compliance with these views—based on one provision or another. According to LifeWay surveys, enforcing the Close Communion position alone would disfellowship more than 50% of the convention.

      William Thornton

      You support Robert’s position…so are you saying that you support raising the issue with the credentials committee at the SBC annual meeting in June?

        Rick Patrick

        Yes, and I might add to the list those churches who admit into their church membership candidates who have not been immersed. (The Village Church, among many others.) That’s not Baptist, either.

        I’m just saying there are enough of these BFM Adjudication Cases that we *might* need to do a general clean up of the confessional statement first. It’s been 16 years and we now have a number of issues where we are not on the same page.

          Andy

          I agree on the problem, Rick, as became apparent a few years ago when the issue of close(d) communion came up. The BFM has NOT been used as a standard to determine SBC membership, nor can it be unless re-written.

          However, Robert’s point has a (slightly) better chance of action, because what he cited was not the BFM, but rather the SBC Constitution.

          Andy

          One more thought:

          WILLIAM: “Either we hold to the BFM and expect cooperating churches to do so…or we do not.”
          RICK: “this issue of policing BFM compliance is a very tricky one.”

          I would say it is not tricky at all, as it stands: We simply do not expect cooperating churches to hold to the BFM. The only removals I know of have been in cases of Female pastors or approval of Homosexuality.

Lydia

Or, they could stealthy take over the entities and then infiltrate churches by deception. Then they could build a vast movement by partnering and planting non Cal Churches using pew sitter money making sure all church plants are non cal only. All the while proclaiming they are not going against the BFM.

Nah. That would be duplicitous, authoritarian and deceptive.

    Scott Shaver

    Lydia:

    You forgot to add: Or, they could rewrite their official statement of faith (i.e. BFM 2000) to remove Christ as the criterion for biblical interpretation and replace him with the authority of the “collective” which by default makes popes of out seminary presidents and agency heads.

    Nah, that too would be duplicitous, authoritarian and deceptive. Banish the thought.

Lydia

Sovereign Grace is a shepherding cult. Trace its history. They have rebranded several times from “Take and Give” to “People of Destiny” and such to make themselves more palitable to the culture and possible partners. Dever initially brought them into the SBC world. Ironic since 9 Marx is about “healthy” church. But SG has a history of being a sick organization. Also, SGM fit his model of authoritarian church polity and the church rulers deciding your salvic fate as human mediators such as Leeman has written. SG has probably produced as many atheists as the Hyles Anderson followers. I come across some of their grueling stories on ex Christian net. One I read was about a woman who as a kid growing up in SGM had a step father molesting her older sister. SGM pastors at CLC told the mother to send the girl away so he would not be tempted by her and he could remain head of the home.
SGM is a sick world.
I doubt the YRR generation can even conceive something like soul Liberty or the priesthood as was understood by Bpatists after they moved away from determinism. They only understand power dynamics and a sort of caste system Christianity.

I am wondering if it is simply too late. Just look at the secular fascism making a comeback on college campuses. They want to silence the media and any dissent from their views.

dr/ james willingham

I hold to the Sovereign Grace Theology that has been a part of Southern Baptist life since the beginning> I also hold to congregational church government, and you, Rev. Hutchinson, are right. These two churches have no right to be contributing or participating in Southern Baptist institutions and activities. The ekklesia is a self-governing body as is clear from any study of Baptist history and from any study of the history of the Greek concept of the ekklesia, from which the understanding of congregational government comes. I would simply move the messengers of the churches not be seated until they come into compliance with our view of church government. One of the reasons why the Presbyterian suffered from a liberal take over is that once the doubters got control of the elders, they were free to do anything they pleased, I understand that there are congregational Presbyterian churche, but I might be wrong as the terms are apparently contradictory. In any case, there is no doubt that congregational church government is biblical, an d, historically, it is the only one Baptists have ever set forth as taught be our Lord. Since they wrote them in their confessions as the author of the above item has succinctly indicated, it is a wonder that any one should deny it.

    Robert Hutchinson

    Yes, Southern Baptists who differ on soteriology should be able to hold hands together on the issue of ecclesiology.

    How have Calvinist Baptists made known what they believe? They voted.

    How have non-Calvinist Baptists made known what they believe? They voted, too!

    How do we as Southern Baptists make known what we believe? We vote.

    This is what I mean when I say that congregational polity is “intrinsically” Baptist. Voting, under Christ’s Lordship, is in our Baptist DNA.

      Lydia

      They vote until bylaws are changed or they are elder ruled. It is not just voting but the truth of each individual has access to the same Holy Spirit, the preisthood and individual responsibility. No one is going to argue this is not extremely messy. It is. But few appreciate the advantages the reason and wisdom of this. Many are content to attend church and have a paid staff who does everything or a few elders who make the rules and decide the budget for them. They are spectators or worse, lemmings to the guru. This happens in non cal churches, too. The difference is Calvinism is inherently authoritarian. People do not grow in wisdom in these sorts of organizations.

      In another church stealth YRR takeover I am familiar with, the interim pastor just before the vote, told the voters the Holy Spirit had already spoken and chose this candidate so they really did not need the vote. Was he trying to steer the outcome? This is the stuff of cults. What is scary is that people believe it. My guess is that church will be voting less and less on things like the budget, etc.

        Max

        “In another church stealth YRR takeover I am familiar with …”

        Well, here’s how an SBC-YRR pastor in my area accomplished his mission to take a “traditional” church to elder-rule: (1) he gained the pulpit through stealth and deception (he lied to the search committee about his theological persuasion); (2) he lectured the congregation on the “true” form of church government (elder-rule, of course) over a period of weeks; (3) he took it to a vote, which failed; (4) he recruited new members from a reformed church in the area; (5) a few months later, he took the matter to vote again – it passed thanks to the new members; (6) he then abandoned congregational polity and recruited like-mined elders; (7) after much weeping and gnashing of teeth, the older traditional members left the church they had paid for in the hands of the young reformers and established another church. With the tithers gone, the old church is struggling to make ends meet.

norm

Acts 6:3
“Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.”
How is this to be interpreted in light of congregational polity?

    Andy

    1. EASILY: v2 “The twelve gathered all the disciples together…” The twelve then said (v3) “Brothers and sisters, choose seven men…” v5 “This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose…” So, the leaders gathered the followers of Jesus, and let them choose some deacons…sounds congregational to me.

    2. Even if my interpretation of this passage is incorrect, that is not the issue here. The fact remains that a large association of baptists have said that they want “baptist” churches as members. They get to define baptist and enforce this as they see fit, just as a bicycling club gets to exclude motorized bikes if they so choose, even if it can be proven that a motorized bike is still a bike. :-)

norm

Acts 6:3: “Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task.”
How shall we interpret this verse in light of church polity?

    Robert Hutchinson

    How might you interpret that verse in light of church polity, Brother Norm?

      Norm

      Candidly, brother, I asked you first.

        Robert Hutchinson

        My apologies, Brother Norm. I didn’t realize you were personally asking me the question. I was just curious what you thought. Personally, I’m not interested in answering the question.

          norm

          Most unfortunate, Robert. I would think you would have a comment on a verse that is oft’ cited as one that supports congregational polity (see the title of your blog post). However, I have studied others on this and seen that this verse cannot be so used. the people chose, but the disciples appointed. Clearly, there is a hierarchy in play.

            Robert Hutchinson

            After the apostles died, who became the de facto leaders of the church? The deacons whom the church elected?

              Lydia

              Robert, lets define “leader” NT style. We are not talking glam here. Or even power. Not even control. We are talking about “example”. Grueling, dangerous in the trenchs work. Their lifestyle and behavior was their main witness that gave credibility to their words. It was more about leader as “one who has gone before”. It was nothing like the young perfumed princes today who expect a stage, title and following instantly.

              In that environment, people would gravitate to the real thing. In today’s environment people fall for cult of personality. It is the responsibility of the body to encourage individual spiritual growth and wisdom. We now do it backwards and encourage people to remain spiritual pygmies who follow 20 somethings who are looking to become pastor rock stars on the speaking circuit.

              Defacto leaders in the early church? It was all over the place and then fell into the authoritarian rulers and state church trap.

              What we need are servants.

                Robert Hutchinson

                Yeah, when I think of a New Testament “leader,” Sister Lydia, a “young perfumed prince” who “expect[s] a stage, title, and following instantly” is not what I have in mind.

                Then again, when the Lord called in my twenties to preach, I wore deodorant and fully expected the Lord to provide me with a pulpit along with some folks who would affectionately refer to me as their “pastor” and happily return Sunday after Sunday to hear me preach. It didn’t happen “instantly” but I was praying for it to happen sooner rather than later. However, I’m pretty sure I’m not of royal lineage.

                I hear ya, sister.

                  Lydia

                  Robert, I don’t think pastors are immune from the problem of too much power or adoration too soon as we see in any walk of life from business to sports. Nothing can replace the lessons learned by toiling in the trenches or hinterlands when young and the price one must pay to earn wisdom. And some lessons are quite costly as I well know from business. :o) People who teach should be judged by a higher standard and questioned often.

                  We simply cannot equate age with NT characters. The environment and terrain is totally different.

            Andy

            Norm, the apostles were leaders, no doubt…but the people chose their own deacons. The apostles certainly could have simply chose and appointed deacons, but the called for wider involvement for some reason.

            Of course there was hierarchy…but hierarchy does not negate congregationalism. Our church Senior pastor, and me also as a lowly associate pastor, have some measure of leadership status just by being pastor, even though the congregation voted us in, and could kick us out at any time…

              Les

              Andy, I think you are right. And, I’m not sure you and Norm disagree.

              In my current church, a Presbyterian (PCA) congregation, deacons and elders are in fact nominated and elected by the congregation. And the congregation can vote to remove them. Some apparently think that a church that is elder led or elder ruled is defacto not in any way congregational. Those persons would be mistaken. All one needs to do is read through the PCA BCO (a sometimes sleep aid I might add) to get the truer picture.

              Troubling is a vein of thought I often see here that pastors/elders are not to have any authority at all…are virtually none. It’s a pendulum reaction to some past abuses or leadership/authority, but such a view is definitely not biblical.

              Ruling Elder Les (for you Lydia) :)

                Andy

                1. This is interesting Les. I suppose it means FPC Jackson COULD join the SBC, right? In fact, it sounds MORE congregational than a Harvest Bible Chapel or SGM church, or for that matter a Methodist church in which the higher-ups assign a pastor to a congregation. So for the purposes of this issue, Methodists, SGM, HBC are out, Presbys are in! (You know, if they give up that whole infant baptism thing…)

                2. Les, does the congregation decide other matters too? (Budget, purchase of buildings or vehicles, etc?) Or do they simply elect leaders who then make those decisions?

                Andy

                Also, Norm and I definitely DO disagree if he believes ANY of they following:

                …that any demonstrated hierarchy automatically excludes congregational polity.
                …that Acts 6 in any way proves congregationalism is unbiblical.
                …that congregationalism = the whole group makes EVERY decision.
                …that Acts 6 ANYWHERE says the apostles appointed the deacons. [The congregation of the disciples is not the same as the 12 apostles. The apostles gathered the congregation of disciples (learners/followers) who selected the deacons…in fact one could even argue whether it was the apostles or the congregation of disciples who prayed and laid their hands on them, not that it matters.]

                If Norm wants to disprove congregationalism, there are stronger passages than that…Like Paul telling Titus to appoint elders…that one is harder to argue against.

                Les

                I suppose that FPC Jackson could be seated as messengers if they were to jettison covenant baptism. Presbyterian name has more to do with governance than baptism. And as I have said, there is some level of congregational involvement. And in fact, I know for a fact that there are SBC churches which operate similarly. i.e. they have leaders (pastors and deacons usually) who decide matters and the congregation does not vote on said matters. The congregation by a vote of certain bylaws have deferred some decisions to the leaders and don’t require a vote on all things. Isn’t that a congregational prerogative too? To defer some decisions to their leaders?

                On other matters, yes…in some PCA churches. Ours for example…the budget receives input from ministry leaders and is presented to the congregation with opportunity for q/a at our annual meeting. But the congregation does not vote on it. There is some variance on other matters from congregation to congregation.

                Lydia

                It’s like anything else. Votes to put power in the hands of the few means you give them power to make closed door decisions. This is playing out in our march toward fascism. the incumbent always has the platform to influence. Elder for what? Overseeing the IRS tax status? The ecclesiastical requirements of Presbyterian polity? Please.

                I view elder differently. They would have been those recognized by the body as wise and courageous. They would have been the ones sacrificing themselves so the others could escape the lion eating arena. I don’t view it as what “tradition” turned it into….an office from which to be admired and followed. Be a ruling elder in Yeman and I might be impressed. :o)

                  Scott Shaver

                  The perspectives of Lydia and Les combined here conjure a variety of questions on SBC cooperative ….functionality (for lack of a better term).

                  If the existing Baptist Faith and Message statement is not “binding” on an any local church (save in cases of dis-fellowship for homosexual marriage or female pastors as demonstated), then FPC Jackson (Les’s example) should not be denied cooperative fellowship and endeavor in the new SBC even should it retain and not “jettison” practices like covenant baptistism.

                  My rationale is this: The new tier of SBC leaders has not only identified with the Presbyterian church in a lot of their theology, they’ve also become a haven for those of that particular denomination persuasion who want to play both sides of the denominational isle.

                  The new tier of SBC leaders has also publicly declared that both Calvinism and “Traditionalism” make up two important streams of SBC history. Solidarity with Calvinism and its Presbyterian spin-offs was a blood-brother relationship fueling the CR which booted the moderate/liberal “skunks” from family conversation or consideration.

                  The new SBC chose it’s cell-mate prior to the CR and in the original spirit of the Cooperative Program (mutual participation in world evangelization with local church differences) they should impose no limitations upon the ecclesiological, soteriological or local church governance preferences of their Calvinistic kin. This despite whichever side of the soteriological aisle ultimately prevails in the ongoing denominational tension.

                  Let the chips fall where they may.

                    Lydia

                    “My rationale is this: The new tier of SBC leaders has not only identified with the Presbyterian church in a lot of their theology, they’ve also become a haven for those of that particular denomination persuasion who want to play both sides of the denominational isle”

                    The joke in these parts is SBTS is the real Prebyterian Seminary in Louisville. (The Presbyterian Seminary is across the street.

                  Andy

                  “Votes to put power in the hands of the few means you give them power to make closed door decisions.”

                  Lydia, I’m curious how you see this playing out in real life. Should churches never agree to let give a few people responsibility over a certain area?

                  Our church has a few trustees that the people have put in charge of facilities. If something breaks, or needs replacing, If there is money in the budget, or in an appropriate designated account, the trustees can fix it and have the Heat, or toilet, or whatever, up and running for the next Sunday. They don’t have to call a church meeting to decide whether to fix the toilet. (If it is a large expense outside of budget, then the church will need to approve the extra expense.). Is this facism? Or wisdom in delegation?

                  Our church has also voted to appoint several pastors over various aspects of ministry, some paid pastors, some not paid. We actually DO Have some pastors meetings (behind a closed door) and decide some things: (what will the senior pastor preach after he finishes 1 Thessalonians? What week should we have VBS? Who will teach the senior adult Bible study this Thursday morning? We have a missionary coming back into town, should we have a combined Sunday school hour to let him talk about his ministry?…etc)

                  None of these things means we have absolute power, but it does mean that they have called us to do some kind of leading (both in function and in position). Nobody in our church would want to call a meeting a vote on every solitary decision. That would drive people crazy.

                  Far from being socialism, “Votes to put power in the hands of a few” is exactly what the US Constitution was founded on.

                    Lydia

                    Andy, or you can end up with a 15 year locked box of GCR meeting minutes. the SBC needs a freedom of info act in the BFM. :o)

                    Lydia

                    “Far from being socialism, “Votes to put power in the hands of a few” is exactly what the US Constitution was founded on.”

                    My goodness. Who taught you civics? It was never meant to be about “personal” power. We obey laws. Not rulers. They are to be “representatives”. The President was to guard the Constitution.

                    Get “power” out of your head and please don’t teach Romans 13 until you can differentiate between 1st Century Roman government and what ours was designed to be.

                    Sheesh! It is bad enough in public schools but church, too? Everyone is all about having power these days.

                  Les

                  Lydia,

                  “My goodness. Who taught you civics? It was never meant to be about “personal” power.”

                  Sheesh, who taught you civics Lydia. Have you read the constitution lately? Of course you added the word “personal” before the word “power.” As if that is what our government leaders are supposed to be about per the constitution. But make no mistake, the government of the US does have power per the constitution.

                  “All legislative Powers herein granted shall be vested in a Congress of the United States…”

                  “The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises…”

                  “The executive Power shall be vested in a President of the United States of America.”

                  “He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties…” etc.

                  “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court…”

                  Had enough? You should ask for a refund if you paid for your civics education.

                  I close with James Madison:

                  “All power is originally vested in, and consequently derived from, the people. That government is instituted and ought to be exercised for the benefit of the people; which consists in the enjoyment of life and liberty and the right of acquiring property, and generally of pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. That the people have an indubitable, unalienable, and indefeasible right to reform or change their government whenever it be found adverse or inadequate to the purpose of its institution.” James Madison

                    Lydia

                    “Sheesh, who taught you civics Lydia. Have you read the constitution lately? Of course you added the word “personal” before the word “power.” As if that is what our government leaders are supposed to be about per the constitution. But make no mistake, the government of the US does have power per the constitution.”

                    Go back and read Andys comment. He did not say the personal power at church he was discussing was actually the congregational churches agreed upon “Bill of Rights”. Again. Rule of Law. Representatives with consent. Not personal power ….although that is relative in today’s political environment.

                    You are twisting again cos you love that “ruling” power. Come on home to where the ground is level at the foot of the cross…..it is better for your soul.

                    Lydia

                    Les, you actually don’t agree when it comes to congregational polity or you would not dare be be a ruling elder. That is the irony. You do the same with words like grace, sovereignty, etc, etc.

                    You want your cake and eat it, too. You want to be people’s ruler in spiritual matters as if they don’t have access to the same Holy Spirit then quote Madison on governance as if you are not a determinist. Calvin and Madison are like oil and water.

                    Where Andy blew it was the idea we vote to put “power” in the hands of a few. No, we vote to represent us. You guys gotta get “power” out of your heads. Think servant function. It is not supposed to be glamorous or ego enhancing with “ruling” or power. Here, the agreed upon law “rules”. That way the ego and whims of rulers are kept at bay.

                  Les

                  Andy,

                  “Far from being socialism, “Votes to put power in the hands of a few” is exactly what the US Constitution was founded on.”

                  Exactly as I just showed Lydia. Whoever taught you civics did an excellent job. BTW, Presbyterianism, whether one agrees with it or not, is set up very similarly. Certain limited powers granted by the many to a few with a system of checks and balances.

                    Scott Shaver

                    Les:

                    Beg to differ but I’m afraid you’re the one who just got “shown”. Lydia is the last person in the world to which I would pose the question “have you read the constitution lately?”

                    It’s like asking an alligator if he’ll bite.

                  Les

                  “Go back and read Andys comment. He did not say the personal power at church he was discussing was actually the congregational churches agreed upon “Bill of Rights”. Again. Rule of Law. Representatives with consent. Not personal power ….although that is relative in today’s political environment.
                  You are twisting again cos you love that “ruling” power. Come on home to where the ground is level at the foot of the cross…..it is better for your soul.”

                  Lydia, you’re confusing things. Of course Andy didn’t say “the personal power at church.” You are the one who added the word “personal” to the word “power.” You seemed to be implying that Andy was referring to men wanting personal power. That’s par for the course for you…to manipulate what people say to try and make them seem to be saying something else.

                  Of course I nailed you kn your misunderstanding of civics. I understand why you dropped that thought.

                  And you think I “love that “ruling” power?” Ha. You so don’t know what you’re talking about. Now let me quote some more Lydia words from your next comment and deal with this altogether.

                  “Les, you actually don’t agree when it comes to congregational polity or you would not dare be be a ruling elder. That is the irony. You do the same with words like grace, sovereignty, etc, etc.
                  You want your cake and eat it, too. You want to be people’s ruler in spiritual matters as if they don’t have access to the same Holy Spirit then quote Madison on governance as if you are not a determinist. Calvin and Madison are like oil and water.”

                  “Where Andy blew it was the idea we vote to put “power” in the hands of a few. No, we vote to represent us. You guys gotta get “power” out of your heads. Think servant function. It is not supposed to be glamorous or ego enhancing with “ruling” or power. Here, the agreed upon law “rules”. That way the ego and whims of rulers are kept at bay.”

                  Lydia pay close attention. If possible for you, try to repeat back the essence of what I am saying without your spin on it. One of the marks of a good listener is being able to repeat back what someone says. Wether you agree or not, try to listen/read such that you can repeat it back.

                  Now, I’m just going to point out a few things to set your thinking straight.

                  You seem to think elders and in particular ruling elders “love power.” Not so. Lydia, “ruling elder” is used in the PCA and some other Presby denominations. How many PCA REs do you actually know? What are they like? Are they lovers of power? Do they lord their power and eldership over the flock? Do they treat people as if they don’t have the Holy Spirit?

                  Ruling Elder. You must think that we REs go around throwing that term everywhere with some sort of puffed up attitude of superiority and power. Fact is the term RE is rarely used. Like it or not, RE is based on the bible. Elder. Do you deny that is a biblical term? Ruling. That’s in there too. I know you and a few others like to redefine what the bible says about church leaders. But the terms are there. But even still, we don’t go around using the term. I hardly ever use the term (well here to sort of tweak you) except in denominational talk to distinguish the kind of elder I am referring to. See just below on our two kinds of elders.

                  Most pew sitters in the PCA probably don’t know that our BCO has terms Teaching Elders (pastors) and Ruling Elders (laymen). Most people think in terms of pastors and elders and deacons as officers in our churches.

                  Now back to how many PCA REs you know. Probably close to zero. That’s why I know you know little of what you speak. I happen to know hundreds all over these united states. I know younger and older ones. I’ve known some of them almost 30 years. Now, do we have a small % of elders who crave power and lord over people, etc? Surely. I can’t think of any but I’ll grant that we do. Guess what. So does the SBC. And not just Calvinists. I know from personal experience (and so do you if you’ll admit it) Trad churches where the pastor is a tyrant and deacons rule with iron fists. But you know of a relatively few Cal pastors/leaders/elders who abuse their positions and have behaved badly and you project that on Calvinism and on elders in general.

                  No. With most elders I know? It’s not about “power.” It’s not ego. It’s not about prestige. Rather, dozens and dozens and dozens of elders I know…it’s about loving on and shepherding people. It’s about walking with families through sicknesses and hospital visits and praying with people and helping people pick up their lives after tragedy strikes.

                  That’s why I say you don’t really know what you’re talking about. If you actually knew some elders, you wouldn’t say the things you say.

                    Andrew Barker

                    Les: “Do you deny that is a biblical term? Ruling.” ……. got it in one Les. Absolutely! Your attempts to ‘teach’ Lydia a thing or two serve only to highlight your own inability to grasp the difference between function and ‘position’.

                    Lydia

                    Les, if you believed any of the above you would not want the “ruling” elder title. It is that simple. You can present it in long form and insist all you want. Your world is the type of world that says, I am not a ruler even though I call myself one. It is the type of world that works to convince people they are not seeing what they are seeing or hearing what they are hearing.

                    Calvinism is theocratic just as Islam is. Calvinism adjusted itself enough to operate within an individual rights secular governance structure. It is ironic. The Founders rejected the Puritan structure which is all the rage with the current YRR.

                    The idea that we hand over power to others is exactly why our government is a big mess. It goes back a ways but the biggest handover was to FDR. The patrician of noblesse oblige who expanded government power over people to ridiculous proportions. Now our churches are just as bad.

                    The problem could be I know plenty of elders. :o)

                  Andy

                  Lydia,

                  I believe you are hung up on certain words that you believe are always negative, when in reality they are not:

                  -POWER is not inherently bad. The moderators of this site have a measure of power, they can use it for good or ill. The trustees have a measure of power so they are able to fix a toilet without calling a church meeting to approve the expense. We have put a limited amount of financial power in their hands. Please show me if this is somehow wrong.

                  -AUTHORITY is not the same as authoritarianism.

                  -LEADERSHIP does not exclude the idea of servanthood. Nobody on this site is arguing that leaders should not also be self-sacrificial servants.

                  -RULING ELDER is a term taken directly from scripture (as we have discussed before: “elders who rule well…”). My church doesn’t use it, but that doesn’t negate it’s validity. Even in a Presby church, a ruling elder does not have unilateral control…in fact we have been shown in this thread that there are elders in “SBC” churches that are actually MORE in control. “RULING” is not a bad. It is biblical. Ruling badly is bad. Ruling well is, biblically, to be honored.

                    Andrew Barker

                    Andy: It would appear that you’re taking a leaf out of Les’s book in reading things into scripture. “-RULING ELDER is a term taken directly from scripture (as we have discussed before: “elders who rule well…”)” We have indeed discussed this before, but discussing things before does not of itself mean that you can quote this as if it had been agreed!! It hasn’t.

                    What’s more this is a prime example of proof texting and treats the situation as though 1 Tim 5 is the only passage dealing with ‘authority’ and God’s people. There are at least two others. One in which Jesus specifically says that we are not to lord it over others Mark 10 and in 1 Peter 5. Add in Matt 8 if you want to see somebody who really understood that the kingdom of God does not operate on a power/authority basis in the same way that the world does. It would appear that the gentile centurion had a better grip on this matter than some of us ‘saved’ folks nowadays! No wonder Jesus commended him for his faith (aside it was the man’s own faith and not given to him as a gift by God!)

                    So, in a phrase, elders who rule well (function) does not sanction the use of the title “ruling elder” (position). The waters get muddied by the mixing up of the spiritual and the practical demands of church life. The early church tried to avoid this by setting up deacons who were responsible for the practical and elders were then able to devote themselves to prayer and teaching. Ideally they should remain separate but I understand this is not always possible.

                    The teaching function of an elder though still does not give them any spiritual authority over an individual christian. Teaching is a responsibility taken on voluntarily and is meant to be one of leadership and example NOT one of enforcement or dictating what others can and cannot either think or do. If you want to go down the route of saying that “ruling is not bad” or just that “ruling badly is bad” then you need to define more clearly what you’re ruling on. If it’s practical things like church fabric upkeep etc. fine. If it’s on spiritual matters, that’s a big no no in my book! Has it ever occurred to you what you are actually trying to achieve in ‘ruling’ over another person spiritually? Perhaps I’m missing something here, but I can’t see how anything much can be achieved in spiritual terms especially if the person who is being dealt with refuses to accept the authority! What in practical terms are you going to do?

                  Les

                  Andrew, good example of a “nothing” comment.

                  Scott, “Beg to differ but I’m afraid you’re the one who just got “shown”” Funny. She commented about civics exactly backwards and has left that discussion aside. For good reason. Maybe you need to brush up on your civics as well. Maybe you can demonstrate that delegated powers to people and offices in our government are a myth. I await.

                  Lydia,

                  “if you believed any of the above you would not want the “ruling” elder title. It is that simple.”

                  Not quite so simple. First, I didn’t make up the term “ruling elder.” God put it in the bible. Second, how do you know I “want” the title? I’ve already demonstrated to you we rarely use it save in situations about denominational business. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I or another elder I know used it in discussions with parishoners. Again, you simply display your ignorance of actual life outside your “ground zero” bubble.

                  “It is the type of world that works to convince people they are not seeing what they are seeing or hearing what they are hearing.”

                  But you have zero proof for your assertions in real life in my world. You are really coming across to thinking people as petty and blindly biased, in addition to ignorant of real life.

                  “Calvinism is theocratic just as Islam is.” Nice. Slenderly association hasn’t worked for you yet but don’t let that get in your way.

                  “The idea that we hand over power to others is exactly why our government is a big mess. It goes back a ways but the biggest handover was to FDR. The patrician of noblesse oblige who expanded government power over people to ridiculous proportions. Now our churches are just as bad.”

                  Displaying governmental ignorance again. You should just stop.

                  “The problem could be I know plenty of elders. :o)”

                  But you don’t. That’s your real problem. You’ve conjured up something that doesn’t exist to any large degree. And to the extent it does exist, it knows no soteriological boundaries, as I have stated and which you can’t credibly deny.

                    Andrew Barker

                    Les “First, I didn’t make up the term “ruling elder.” God put it in the bible”
                    Beg to differ Les. Once again this is something you are reading into the text. The term ‘ruling elder’ is notable only by its absence!

                    Scott Shaver

                    “Backwards” would be a matter of individual orientation and perspective on this issue, Les. From my perspective, she pretty much discounted the bulk of your treatise with the line about using public ecclesialastical titles which really “don’t mean” what they infer linguistically.

                    “Civics”, Les, is for high-school students, I graduated 1976. After high-school, “civics” becomes an issue of interpreting reality on the ground. I’m brushing up on my civics by discussing such with you and pondering the dearth of honesty and substance in the American public and parochial education systems for last 30 years.

                  Andy

                  Also, Scott and Lydia,

                  Lydia IS missing something if she thinks that even at the founding of the country, the president and other leaders did not have any power. What happened was this: The pre-revolution leaders used their influence to put forth a plan of representative government, in which the people’s vote invested the power to make decisions in a few leaders. Not absolute power, mind you, but real power nonetheless. The people in each state then voted to give them those powers, with the understanding that they were ultimately accountable to the people. The congress had power to pass laws without taking a nation-wide vote…the president had certain powers…the court had certain powers.

                  Now, I am NOT arguing that this is in any way a perfect analogy of they way the church should function…but there are similarities. Trustees can fix a toilet without calling a church vote…a pastor decides that his sunday school class will study Colossians for the next 5 weeks…The church has vested that pastor with the POWER to make that decision.

                  Someone (usually one person…in our church: ME) will likely decide what songs your church will sing this Sunday. Most people will be perfectly happy to stand and sing those songs without having had any input in their choosing. That means I have some measure of POWER. Of course, If i make very unwise decisions about those songs, I may recieve some “corrective criticism”, and if I am very very unwise, the church may decide it doesn’t want me making those decisions anymore. So my power is not unlimited.

                  –> In essence: the church has voted to put certain powers in the hand of a few.

                  If this can be shown to be incorrect in some way, I cannot see it. In fact I cannot see how a group of people past a certain size, church or otherwise, can function in any other way….except for dictatorial, top-down rule. The two are opposites.

                    Lydia

                    Andy, Are you familiar with the grueling fight a Bill of Rights? There was a good reason for it. The “power” you guys love to throw around to be invested in certain people was to be based on the rule of law. Not individuals. We do not give individuals the power to “be the law” Just because we have allowed elected government servants to become our masters (even through “procedure” where they allow 9 unelected judges to make new law for the entire nation) does not mean that was the intention or the way it was set up.

                    The “power” you talk about at church could be “responsibility” that is based upon certain policies or procedures agreed upon by the voting members. It could be as simple as Joe has responsibility for the facility. He can spend up to 1500 on any maint need without seeking approval first. Anything over that has to be discussed and voted upon. That sort of thingie.

                    The Body of Christ should not teach that individuals are the “the Holy Spirit” for others.

                    It might help if you guys try a different vocabulary from power, authority, leader (Western definition), ruling elder, etc. Try: servant, responsibility, function, accountability,. equality, example (definition of leader), etc. It might hurt the ego but save the soul. :o)

                    Scott Shaver

                    What “power” the founding fathers had, Andy, was due to having the respect and following of their peers, neighbors and fellow citizens. A far cry from the model being insisted upon today….both in church and in politics.

                  Les

                  Andrew you said, “Once again this is something you are reading into the text. The term ‘ruling elder’ is notable only by its absence!”

                  Reading into the text “ruling” and “elder?” Really? From the Greek-English interlinear: “The well ruling elders…” Ruling/rule is proest?tes, a perfect participle. Thayer: “2. in the perfect pluperfect and 2 aorist active and in the present and imperfect middle a. to be over, to superintend, preside over (A. V. rule) (so from Herodotus down): 1 Timothy 5:17”

                  Brother you really should back out now before your rep is soiled any further.

                    Scott Shaver

                    Lets go straight to your preferred definitions Les. Neither “superintend” nor “preside” are synonymous with “rule”.

                    I will step up….don’t give rat’s posterior about “rep”.

                    Andrew Barker

                    Les: Never been worried about rep and certainly not any comments coming from you! :-o
                    You appear still to miss the point. There is no translation given which uses the phrase ‘ruling elder’, despite all your protestations. Not only that but you don’t appear to understand what you’ve just written!! I’m going out on a limb here so if someone qualified in greek knows better please chip in but from what I can see you have from 1 Tim 5:17
                    proest?tes V-PPA-NMP
                    verb – so it’s about doing not being
                    tense – perfect – continuous action – there is no aorist tense used where did that come from?
                    mood – participle verbal adjective further defining action of verb
                    voice – active – the subject performs the action ie function

                    (The NMP do not alter anything just state exactly that NMP.)

                    To me, this is setting out the functions of an elder and is not describing the position of an elder. Elders may indeed discharge their duties faithfully and ‘rule’ well but that makes them elders who rule well. It does not make them ‘ruling elders’. No Bible translator has to my knowledge used the term ‘ruling elder’ hence I would suggest that it is not a Biblical term in the true sense of the word. Of course if you wish to write your own translation …..?

                    The interpretation I am seeking to use fits in with other verses found in Matt 8 and 1 Peter 5 where we are expressly told not to lord it over others but to be examples of leadership. Again, if you wish to insist on having this spiritual authority over other Christians, please provide corroborative evidence from scripture and not only that, explain exactly what you plan to do with this ‘authority’! For the life of me, I can’t see the attraction of this at all, or indeed how you’re going to manage this in practice.

                    I’ve known plenty of ‘elders’ who weren’t and quite a few ordinary Christians who were. Eldership is and always has been primarily a matter of function ie what a person does and not a label or title by which a person is known.

                  Les

                  “We do not give individuals the power to “be the law”

                  Neither Andy nor I have argued such. You’re trying to argue, in futility I might add, against something neither he nor I have said. Misdirection much?

                    Scott Shaver

                    The term “ruler”implies/means one with final and absolute authority.

                    You may not have power as a “ruling elder” to make laws, but you do have the power to convene and determine whether or not a congregant is theologically “out of touch” …for lack of better term and act accordingly without church vote. Correct me if I’m wrong.

                  Les

                  Scott,

                  Yeah there’s your preferred word for the Greek. Then there are all those translations down through the years with a multitude of scholars somehow missing the Scott preferred definition and coming up with rule or ruler. Same they missed out on your contribution to the translation committees.

                    Scott Shaver

                    If “all the scholars through all the years” can’t agree, Les, I guess to your chagrin the matter of correct interpretation is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the INDIVIDUAL BELIEVER.

                    That’s my PREFERRED translation/interpretation

                    And if that be the case (I truly believe it is) the BFM 2000 is ANTAGONISTIC to that particular ETERNAL truth. Its a good-ole-boy covenant of club membership covered with a quasi-Christian glue that won’t stick.

                  Les

                  Scott,

                  “You may not have power as a “ruling elder” to make laws, but you do have the power to convene and determine whether or not a congregant is theologically “out of touch” …for lack of better term and act accordingly without church vote. Correct me if I’m wrong.”

                  Depends on what you mean by theologically out of touch Scott. We have many members who do not agree with the WCF. We have some who are Arminian and some who are dispys. Those people will not come under condemnation by me or anyone else. Some of them usher, assist in communion preparation and such. See, one is not required to agree with Reformed theology to be a member. All that is required is a credible POF and having been baptized or get baptized. That’s it.

                  Now, if a member begins to make known that he/she denies a major doctrine such as salvation by grace alone thru faith alone in jesus alone or denies the virgin birth or such as that, then upon learning of this our group of elders (refereed to as the session) would have serous conversations with said person and try to make sure that these denials are in fact true for them and then we would patiently over some period of time seek to correct their heterodox beliefs. If after what would be a relatively long time the person persist in their error, admittedly a serious error, the situation could lead to excommunication. The elders would collectively make that decision and report it to the church. The person will have been deemed to no longer exhibit a credible POF. We do not take a congregational vote to excommunicate someone. And, the person can appeal the decision to our geographical presbytery, made up of pastors and elders in the geographical area, whereupon the presbytery will hear them out and review all the matter and either affirm the session decision or overturn it and reprimand the session. This is the case with any church discipline case. It can be appealed. This is a protection for the one who is disciplined to help protect them from a runaway, overzealous session.

                  The procedures are spelled out in some detail in our BCO and must be followed. Lot more I could say but it’s all online.

                    Lydia

                    ” I can’t see the attraction of this at all, or indeed how you’re going to manage this in practice.”

                    Indeed!

                    I did not even think this way when I had tons of employees. I just don’t get the allure on either side of the ruling equation.

                    Scott Shaver

                    Just curious Les, what if somebody like me stood up in front of the whole church, thumbed his nose at the elders and said mean things about their grandmothers or something. It wouldn’t take a church vote to excommunicate me would it?

                    Lydia

                    “If “all the scholars through all the years” can’t agree, Les, I guess to your chagrin the matter of forever interpretation is the responsibility of the Holy Spirit in the heart of the INDIVIDUAL BELIEVER.”

                    It’s very simple. In Calvin’s Geneva you were simply banished or burned if you dared disagree. (Such as Castillo who dared to attempt an unauthorized translation and embarrass Calvin when he went to minister to plague victims. He was banished and ruined. Almost starved to death)

                    The fruit of that thinking still lives except now the more drastic punishments are illegal. Thankfully.

                  Les

                  Andrew,

                  It seems to me that you line up with Lydia and Scott to hold an anti authority position on leadership in the church. I get that. It’s the default position that we’re all born with as sinners. None of us wants to have to answer to anyone. None of us wants to have someone over us in any way.

                  So this is rather fruitless at this point. We’ve each said what we think and are unlikely to change the other’s mind.

                  Have a good day.

                    Andrew Barker

                    Les: Your comments are priceless sometimes. “It seems to me that you line up with Lydia and Scott to hold an anti authority position on leadership in the church. I get that. It’s the default position that we’re all born with as sinners”

                    So we all have to agree with you because if we don’t that just confirms the fact that we’re all still in our ‘unregenerate’ state! What it really confirms though is that you still haven’t grasped the true nature of the structure of authority within the Church. There is none Les. You don’t have any authority despite your grandiose title of ‘ruling elder’. All of the Biblical pictures which are drawn of the Church use interdependence as the central theme. Hence ‘body’ or ‘building’. In all cases, Jesus is seen as the key figure and all the parts relate directly to him. This is where the priesthood of the believer comes in.

                    So when you come out with statements like “None of us wants to have someone over us in any way” I simply say, too true. I’d rather speak to the organ grinder thanks!

                    .Lydia

                    .” It’s the default position that we’re all born with as sinners. None of us wants to have to answer to anyone. None of us wants to have someone over us in any way.”

                    Ha Ha. We remain totally depraved because we don’t want to be under the authority of a Diotrephes? A CJ (who also loved to trot out clobber verses as the shepherding cult “Apostle”) or how about a Jimmy Swaggert? Or we could join a Hotel California church (9 Marks) where we have to get permission from the authorities to leave. We are just a bunch of rebels who are in sin for not being under the authority of a human mediator between us and Jesus. Got it.

                    What is authoritarian about “Do unto others as you would have them do to you”? Actual grown up Christians answer to Jesus Christ and are guided by the Holy Spirit. As American Citizens we obey laws, not personal authorities as in Monarchs or rulers. At work, we have contractural relationships not slave/master servitude. Didn’t you get the memo?

                    You were born a few hundred years too late, Les.

                  Les

                  Scott,

                  “what if somebody like me stood up in front of the whole church, thumbed his nose at the elders and said mean things about their grandmothers or something. It wouldn’t take a church vote to excommunicate me would it?”

                  In PCA polity it does not take a church vote to excommunicate someone. The session represents the congregation in such matters. And BTW if you stood up and said something mean about the elders’ grandmothers, you wouldn’t be excommunicated for something like that incident. On an elder’s bad day you might have to put your dukes up. :) But on an elder’s better days that wouldn’t happen.

                  Les

                  Scott,

                  Ok. You have YOUR translation. Cool. FYI:

                  “But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.”

                  “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.”

                  “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.”

                  But hey, people get pretty creative with these verses too to mitigate their obvious teaching.

                  Les

                  Andrew, I was already aware that sometimes my comments are priceless. I’m just that good. :)

                  Seriously though. You said, “So we all have to agree with you because if we don’t that just confirms the fact that we’re all still in our ‘unregenerate’ state!”

                  Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I did not say that if you don’t agree with me that you’re still in your unregenerate state. I said, “anti authority position on leadership in the church. I get that. It’s the default position that we’re all born with as sinners. None of us wants to have to answer to anyone. None of us wants to have someone over us in any way.”

                  Every believer has vestiges of our sinful nature even after salvation. Human sinners, which we remain after salvation, can and do still exhibit those natural, sinful traits sometimes. For instance, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. But you not I nor any other believer always exhibit perfectly these traits of those who have the Spirit in us. Sometimes we revert in attitude and behavior to our sinful patterns we are all born with. Same with authority. The bible calls us rebellious. And sometimes we rebel at authority. It’s that simple Andrew. But I did not say that if you are anti authority you therefore are unregenerate.

                    Andrew Barker

                    Les: Yeah blah blah blah. I’m not fussed by all this nonsense Les. Where are you on ‘ruling elder’ then? Still convinced you are one? And just what authority do you have and exercise if you say you are?

                  Les

                  Andrew,

                  “Yeah blah blah blah. I’m not fussed by all this nonsense Les. Where are you on ‘ruling elder’ then? Still convinced you are one? And just what authority do you have and exercise if you say you are?”

                  Yep I am. Look it up. You don’t need me to have to type it out. It’a all available online.

                    Andrew

                    Les: I get it now. You’re an ‘online’ authority!! lol

                  Les

                  Lydia,

                  ” Didn’t you get the memo?” Yep. I have the bible. And thank you so much. You are always good for a chuckle. :)

                Andrew Barker

                Poor old Les. Still can’t differentiate between function and position.

                Les

                “I view elder differently.” That’s obvious. There’s your view and there’s the biblical view. But you’re entitled to your view.

                “They would have been those recognized by the body as wise and courageous. They would have been the ones sacrificing themselves so the others could escape the lion eating arena.”

                Yep, I can point you to many REs who are wise and courageous and self sacrificing and servants. many. Not too many in lion eating areas these days.

                “Be a ruling elder in Yeman and I might be impressed. :o)”

                God has not seen fit to put me in Yemen. But shall I put you in touch with one of our elders serving in Pakistan? Where he faces incredible danger everyday because of his preaching the gospel? Probably not. It would ruin your false narrative. :)

                  Lydia

                  ” I view elder differently.” That’s obvious. There’s your view and there’s the biblical view. But you’re entitled to your view.”

                  I have looked for the formal declaration of polity for ALL NT assemblies in scripture. Perhaps the Presbyterians are too much like the Cretens. :o)

                  “Yep, I can point you to many REs who are wise and courageous and self sacrificing and servants. many.”

                  I doubt we are using the same definitions of such characteristics.

                  “God has not seen fit to put me in Yemen.”

                  Lucky you. He did not determine that.

                  “But shall I put you in touch with one of our elders serving in Pakistan? Where he faces incredible danger everyday because of his preaching the gospel? Probably not. It would ruin your false narrative. :)”

                  Pakistan or Yemen. I hope he is not preaching Calvinism. The Muslims might not see a big difference.

                    Scott Shaver

                    “Muslims might not see the difference”……touche

                  Les

                  “I have looked for the formal declaration of polity for ALL NT assemblies in scripture. Perhaps the Presbyterians are too much like the Cretens. :o)” Have you found that congregational polity for ALL NT assemblies as a formal declaration when doing your NT search?

                  “I doubt we are using the same definitions of such characteristics” probably not. I use the NT characteristics. What do you use for your definitions.

                  “Lucky you. He did not determine that.” Not luck at all. There’s no such thing. Providence.

                  “Pakistan or Yemen. I hope he is not preaching Calvinism. The Muslims might not see a big difference.”

                  He is a Reformed pastor who preaches the gospel in Pakistan. Has for about 40 years with a number of near death situations in his past. That can happen in that country when one preaches the gospel.

                    Lydia

                    “Have you found that congregational polity for ALL NT assemblies as a formal declaration when doing your NT search?”

                    Nope. There is no formal polity declaration for all that I can find. . I did, however, read that all true believers have anointing. There are about 58 one another’s in there, too. And that pesky passage of Jesus warning them off the Greek/Roman chain of being which is about the positional power the Gentiles loved.

                Les

                “Still can’t differentiate between function and position”

                Enlighten us dear brother Andrew. Show from the scripture the difference, and perhaps how pastors/elders hold no position…if that’s what you’re implying. Or what position means biblically.

                  Andrew Barker

                  I think you’ve demonstrated you know exactly what I was getting at Les. At least that’s as straight an answer as I’ve ever had from you in the past, so I’ll not expect anything more. :)

    Max

    “How is this to be interpreted in light of congregational polity?”

    The answer is found in the preceding verse: “So the Twelve called a meeting of all the believers” (Acts 6:2 TLB).

Debora Mann

Just to say, I learn a great deal from this site. SO thankful for articles posted; fundamental, informative, straight forward, with NO compromise! Dr. Patrick, I commend you for standing strong in your Faith in preaching/teaching The Truth of The Gospel and none other. There is NO other way we True Believers could have been saved, but through the Shed Blood of our
Lord Jesus Christ. When we stand before Him, it will not be because of any thing have done, but what He did for us and does through us. We’re called to obey God and NOT man.

Lydia and Scott, I always appreciate your comments of discernment. Lydia, it’s obvious you you much research, are well studied and well learned. In the process, you glean what’s true and what’s not!. God does not want we His Children to be caught unaware. Nothing catches Him by surprise. We must keep our lamps filled with oil, for such a time as we think not….

    Christian

    Lydia needs her own blog! I understand as much from her comments as the articles. Thank you Lydia.

      Lydia

      No Lydia does not need her own blog, Christian! Hee Hee. Been down that road years ago. :o) But thank you for your kind words.

Ben Stratton

Great article Robert! I hope it will make people think. I was continually amazing that so many Southern Baptists (even some of our good conservative leaders) think its no big deal that Harvest Bible Chapel and Sovereign Grace Church do not practice congregationalism or the Village Church doesn’t require immersion for membership. May Southern Baptists get back to standing for the biblical truths of the New Testament church!

    Max

    “I was continually amazing that so many Southern Baptists (even some of our good conservative leaders) think its no big deal that Harvest Bible Chapel and Sovereign Grace Church do not practice congregationalism or the Village Church doesn’t require immersion for membership.”

    That’s what you call stinkin’-thinkin’ as a Southern Baptist. Of course, Southern Baptists ain’t what they used to be. The old guard in many traditional churches (as well as some SBC national leaders) have grown open-minded and/or apathetic; evidently they don’t really give a big whoop about shifts in belief and practice as long as the young folks are going to church again.

Ron

My church votes on everything, AFTER the pastor and other leaders have so propagandized, manipulated and coerced enough people and gotten the “unanimous support from the deacons” that anything they put before the congregation is going to pass. Congregational polity? In form, yes, but in reality a farce.

    Les

    Ron, does your church have elders? And I’m curious. How do the pastors and other leaders manipulate and coerce? What kinds of ways do they accomplish this?

    Thanks Ron.

    Scott Shaver

    Thanks for sharing the comment about “AFTER” the pastor has circled wagons. It’s a very familiar story.

    Christian

    In a former church the deacons would take a vote, if not unanimous then afterwards ask for those who didn’t “win” the vote to vote again as the majority voted to show unity. I always thought this was more a show of dishonesty than anything else. If I believe something strongly I would never change my vote. LOL.

Andy

“The “power” you guys love to throw around to be invested in certain people was to be based on the rule of law. Not individuals.”

–> Yes rule of law was primary, but within that law, certain people (congress) had “POWER” to MAKE new laws, without a nation-wide vote. Power was not absolute, but it was real.

“The “power” you talk about at church could be “responsibility” that is based upon certain policies or procedures agreed upon by the voting members. It could be as simple as Joe has responsibility for the facility. He can spend up to 1500 on any maint need without seeking approval first. Anything over that has to be discussed and voted upon. That sort of thingie.”

–> Good, we agree completely here. That’ exactly my point, responsibility over a certain area is the same as having power in that area. They are synonymous.

“The Body of Christ should not teach that individuals are the “the Holy Spirit” for others.”

–> Good, we again agree completely.

“It might help if you guys try a different vocabulary from power, authority, leader (Western definition), ruling elder, etc. Try: servant, responsibility, function, accountability,. equality, example (definition of leader), etc. It might hurt the ego but save the soul. :o)”

–> all of the words you suggest are good, and in fact we use those too…We simply don’t try to jettison other perfectly good and accurate words because some in power and authority have abused their position.

    Lydia

    “> Good, we agree completely here. That’ exactly my point, responsibility over a certain area is the same as having power in that area. They are synonymous.”

    Oh dear. Here we go again. You want to make responsibility and power synonymous. You are trying hard to soft sell the word power. Make it always a good thing. The problem is, from a spiritual standpoint, this is dangerous for the one who believes responsibility is power. Best to keep a close eye on those types. :o)

Andy

ANDREW:

1. “RULER ELDER” – You yourself have said this: “Elders may indeed discharge their duties faithfully and ‘rule’ well but that makes them elders who rule well. It does not make them ‘ruling elders’. In English, there is no difference between the 2. One who Evangelizes can be called an evangelist. One who runs is called a runner. One who rules is called a ruler. My Point in bringing it up is simply this: The bible speaks of elders who rule. To call one of these a ruling elder is no violation of logic, language, or scripture. My church doesn’t use it, probably for some of the reasons you and lydia have put forward here: It “sounds” authoritarian, and is unnecessary…but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong or sinful to use the term, especially if one’s understanding of polity leads them to have 2 different types of elder: one that teaches regularly, and another that leads day-to-day church functions, ie “rules.”

2. In our church we use the term “pastor” based on only ONE passage in the entire NT (Eph 4:11) that refers to a Pastor/Shepherd as a noun, not referring to Jesus. That’s it! And yet we call our leaders pastors far more than the more prevalent biblical terms of “elder” and “overseer”. Just because a practice is based on only one so-called “proof-text” does not automatically invalidate it. It may mean we would be wise to not place too much emphasis on it, but does not require jettisoning it completely.

3. “The teaching function of an elder though still does not give them any spiritual authority over an individual christian. Teaching is a responsibility taken on voluntarily and is meant to be one of leadership and example NOT one of enforcement or dictating what others can and cannot either think or do. If you want to go down the route of saying that “ruling is not bad” or just that “ruling badly is bad” then you need to define more clearly what you’re ruling on. If it’s practical things like church fabric upkeep etc. fine. If it’s on spiritual matters, that’s a big no no in my book! Has it ever occurred to you what you are actually trying to achieve in ‘ruling’ over another person spiritually? Perhaps I’m missing something here, but I can’t see how anything much can be achieved in spiritual terms especially if the person who is being dealt with refuses to accept the authority! What in practical terms are you going to do?”

–> Very good question. Here’s some examples of how I would say a normal, healthy baptist (non-presby) church Pastor might biblicaly exercise leadership/power/ruling:
a. A pastor might select the songs the church sings each sunday, thereby strongly influencing (though not forcing) people to sing songs with a certain theology, even songs they may not have picked themselves.
b. A pastor might meet with a homosexual couple who wants to join the church, and tell them they cannot if they are set on continuing their lifestyle…even if the church has never voted on such things, and has no homosexual policy….but if the church has entrusted the pastor to interview prospective members, then they have given him the “power” to make those kind of decisions. Hopefully he will not abuse that power and exclude black people, for example, but he has the power none-the-less, to NOT recommend them for membership.
c. A pastor might meet with a man who is heading towards abandoning his wife for the church secretary, and urge the man not to do it, to re-commit to his wife in love…he may even warn the man that should he continue on this path, he will open himself to church discipline and possible exclusion. Now the pastor does not have the authority to remove the person by himself, but he does have the authority to initiate the process that leads to the church voting to remove him.
d. A pastor may stand up on a Sunday morning when there has been a large factory on strike in the area, in which a number of factory workers are church members. Hey may something like, “I cannot tell you whether you should strike or not, but I CAN tell you, on God’s authority, that you may not harass and show hatred towards those people (scabbers) who are going to work instead of you. God call on you to show love for them.”

–> What I hope you can see here is that it is, no doubt, a DERIVED authority: derived from God’s word, and from the congregation. It is not absolute authority, not absolute power, but it is a real measure of power and rule none-the-less. If the pastor stood up and said, “All of you with blue shirts on today are sinning, and need to repent and wear yellow shirts next week.” Then he is stepping outside his derived authority and has no ground to stand on, and the power he does have will likely be quickly taken away.

    dr. james willingham

    Peter was certainly a ruling elder, but his ruling as he says was as a ensample (KJV) and not as a lord.(I Pet 5:3).

      Andrew Barker

      Dr. James Willingham: I think we are all in agreement that Peter was an elder who ruled well by example. So why try and make him an example of something he wasn’t?

      Whenever you make a ‘title’ out of a function you run the risk of ending up with people who can’t fulfill the brief and make a nonsense of the position.

      Fuzzy wuzzy was a bear
      Fuzzy wuzzy had no hair
      So Fuzzy wuzzy wasn’t fuzzy wuzzy ! :-)

        Lydia

        “Dr. James Willingham: I think we are all in agreement that Peter was an elder who ruled well by example. So why try and make him an example of something he wasn’t?”

        Not to mention this was “ruling well” in a first century political context with no money or status. And they tend to leave out his gruesome end.

        Not great comparison to today’s power hungry perfumed princes in a free society. But they try to convince us otherwise.

        My dad used to to say that if you have to tell people you are a leaders, you aren’t.

        Les

        Lydia,

        “My dad used to to say that if you have to tell people you are a leaders, you aren’t.”

        Your dad was so right to say that. I love knowing the the men I serve with are recognized for their leadership rather than seeking it out. I’ve been around many godly ruling elders over the last almost 30 years. I could tell this same story over and over, but one elder first came to mind. Jack is in his 80s now and has served the church as an elder for I think over 50 years. He is the most humble servant in God’s church one could know of. He seeks no accolades and loves to be leading God’s people by his godly example and servant spirit and wisdom from above. Besides Jesus of course, he is one to emulate. And time and again when things are being discussed, others turn to him to hear what this servant of God thinks. Jack doesn’t have to tell anyone he is a leader. He never would do that. But people just know.

        Thanks again Lydia for that quote.

          Lydia

          Les, Humility is written all over the “spiritual” titles conferred today such as ruling elder or apostle. (Sarcasm alert) save it for those who buy into such things. Come on home where the ground is level at the foot of the cross and near the empty tomb.

          Les

          “Humility is written all over the “spiritual” titles conferred today such as ruling elder or apostle. (Sarcasm alert) save it for those who buy into such things. Come on home where the ground is level at the foot of the cross and near the empty tomb”

          Humility certainly is written all over those scriptural titles. Your argument is not with me but with God’s word. Oh of course I know you don’t buy into such things. After all, you live at ground zero. No one ever has witnessed such as you have. Got it. I’m home Lydia. The ground is level at the cross in a church with ruling elders, same as your Southern Baptist church. Jack’s example I mentioned (one of scores hundreds I can personally attest to) demonstrates that. It would indeed be fun to do a side by side comparison of actual tyrannical elders you could actually name with humble, servant elders I can actually name. Afraid you’d run short by comparison in pretty short order. But alas, we can’t do that. Then your narrative would be all shot to pieces. :)

Andrew Barker

Andy: Thanks for your measured response but you’re wrong to argue this is saying the same thing two different ways. In changing the verb for a noun you’ve turned an action into a status position and there are consequences when you do this. Instead of a ruler who rules well, where the emphasis is on the function of that post, you end up with a so called ‘ruling elder’ which concentrates the emphasis on that person. What happens if this person doesn’t fulfill the brief? You end up with a ‘ruling elder’ who does not rule well. Do you envisage creating the post of ‘badly ruling ruling elder’? Scripture doesn’t include the term ‘ruling elder’. It’s not necessary and I believe it is best avoided.

All this is before even considering what Paul means when he uses the word rule in context. Taking a broad overview I would suggest that example in leadership and doing things is what Paul has in mind. Not dictating to the ‘flock’ from the office or pulpit. The world we live in cannot function with this kind of leadership. It would fall to bits within a few days if that’s how things were run. But Jesus was clear in saying that his kingdom does not work along the same lines as the world. His kingdom works on serving people and that’s how it’s run. If you want to be master, says Jesus, you must be prepared to be servant to all. That’s why the term ‘ruling elder’ is an oxymoron, or at least is should appear so, if we are following Jesus’ example.

I’m glad you mentioned shepherd because the same thing applies here. It would appear the evangelical world is rife with ‘shepherds’ and yet there is little Biblical support for the use of the term as a ‘position’ of authority. The Biblical use of shepherding is very much one of setting an example. Not one of commanding the flock!

Church membership is an example of where the exercise of assumed authority can create absolute havoc in the lives of those affected. You only have to look at The Village Church and the way Matt Chandler got his fingers burned to see that. There are worse examples of bad management no doubt. But all the examples you gave relating to ‘authority’ have a common feature? Withdrawal of membership! But church membership is not a spiritual issue in itself is it. In fact, what this is really doing is mixing the secular with the spiritual. It’s not as though the person is in danger of losing their salvation. It’s very much a temporal issue. Withdrawal of membership demonstrates the limit of church authority! In practical terms all a church leadership can/should do is lead by example, teach and explain what they think is the truth and give advice and guidance if asked. What else is there to do? If a church has membership criteria, then I guess membership can be removed if a person fails to comply. But explain to me just what that really achieves? If that person still attends the church although membership has been removed, what else can be done? Sadly, some churches resort to shunning but this just goes to show how far away some have moved in practical terms in their thinking regarding how the kingdom of God is meant to operate.

Too many churches fail to distinguish between spiritual leadership and secular organisation and are run on the basis of exercising total blanket control. They like to control how people think, what they think, what they do, how much they give (money mainly) and everything is fine so long as the leadership is not questioned. This is not a good model and prevents growth and development of individual Christians. It certainly isn’t the model I see the apostle Paul championing in his epistles.

Andy

Andrew:

1. “It’s not necessary and I believe it is best avoided.” –> In general theory and practice I agree with this, as I am glad our church doesn’t use such titles…I simply don’t see it as necessarily wrong if another church does.

2. “But all the examples you gave relating to ‘authority’ have a common feature? Withdrawal of membership! But church membership is not a spiritual issue in itself is it.”
–> FIRST, only 2 of my 4 examples pertained to membership. SECOND, I agree that much of our list keeping for membership is not necessary biblically and is a more modern invention. Again, I don’t see it as necessarily wrong (based on my firm commitment to the Normative Principle :-)…it depends on how it is used. I would be curious about what you think Paul’s instructions in 1 Cor. 5 mean for today church? Some churches would have people physically bar the man from entering, or not speak to him if they encountered him outside of church, some churches would seek friendliness, but remove him from official membership, some would do nothing. I don’t really know what the answer is there. How would you say it is “meant to operate.”?

3. “Too many churches fail to distinguish between spiritual leadership and secular organisation and are run on the basis of exercising total blanket control. They like to control how people think, what they think, what they do, how much they give (money mainly) and everything is fine so long as the leadership is not questioned. This is not a good model and prevents growth and development of individual Christians. It certainly isn’t the model I see the apostle Paul championing in his epistles.”
–> Here again, like it or not, we agree :-)

    Andrew Barker

    Andy: I appreciate your amenable stance in one way, but it doesn’t really add up. First you say ” In English, there is no difference between the 2.” I replied and showed there is a world of difference between ruling well and being called a ‘ruling elder’. Now you say you agree with me, in theory and in practice but ….. you don’t see it as wrong. Well brother, if in theory and practice you agree with me, take it from me it is wrong! My comment that I “believe it is best avoided” was I admit a soft way of saying it was wrong. :-)

    Unless you count the selection of songs to sing as an authority issue (which I don’t) all of your examples had the theme of exclusion in them. This includes the last one although your hypothetical Pastor was encouraging his ‘flock’ not to exclude scabbers! This is definitely the only way churches have of exercising real power. The threat of isolation, withdrawal of privilege or naming and shaming. It all centres on the power of the leadership to control church members. In my opinion it is much overused.

    You seem to have a fixation about having to agree with people and letting them know eg “Here again, like it or not, we agree :-)” I’m not quite sure why I need to be reminded of this, but if you want to agree with me, I don’t have a problem with that. But you’re doing the same to Lydia as well eg “Good, we agree completely here. That’ exactly my point, responsibility over a certain area is the same as having power in that area. They are synonymous.” You say you agree, but in fact in this case it is quite clear that you don’t!

    So to make it abundantly clear, there is no such position as a ‘ruling elder’ in scripture. It’s a man made title and is wrong. There are no positions in God’s church where leaders should exercise spiritual authority over fellow believers. All positions are posts of responsibility and require leadership by example. The running of churches needs to be done by godly men and women who can administer well, following the examples shown in scripture. Like all aspects of the Christian life, they can and should be spirit led but they are temporal issues and not related directly to our spiritual well being. So if a person is gifted in teaching, they should teach. But somebody who is contentious and wants to come in to the church purely to get their point of view over should be refused the opportunity to speak to the church. This is not so much exercising spiritual power over that person as following the advice that everything needs to be done decently and in order. Different churches will have different rules and the membership has to live by these. But it is always wrong if these rules start to diminish an individuals’ relationship to God in such a way that the leadership becomes more important than what that individual decides for themselves before God.

      Andy

      Andrew, I’m more than happy to state where I agree and where I disagree:
      -I agree that there is no biblical necessity to have a position called “ruling elder”. I also agree that, given the choice, I would say it is better to not have that title, given it’s potential negative connotations. I disagree that having that title is somehow sinful, or in violation of Scripture. (normative principle). An analogy might be me encouraging a brother to not drink alcoholic beverages, because of the potential for abuse, even though I believe scripture permits alcohol in moderation. In fact I would defend a brother’s Christian freedom to drink in moderation…all the while abstaining myself.
      -To put it further, I simply don’t believe all man-made titles are wrong. (normative principle again). Our church has a “chairman of the deacons.” Not a biblical title at all, why have a chairman? why not just have deacons? Because it helps to have a leader to organize. At our church, “chairman of the deacons” means exactly 3 things: (1) He reminds the deacons when there is a meeting upcoming. (2) He makes sure communion juice and bread are ready, (3) He reads scripture and prays before each deacon’s meeting. Totally made-up, extra biblical title….totally not sinful.

      -I agree that leadership in the church should be marked by servant-hood, sacrifice, and example, and responsibility. I disagree that leadership in the church only applies to temporal issues and not spiritual ones, or that biblically there is NO authority in church leadership. Even in your example of a contentious person who should be refused the opportunity to speak, who would make that decision? It would likely be a small group of leaders who bring it up: “I think this person shouldn’t preach anymore.”

      -Regarding which songs the church will sing each Sunday, there are certain groups of Christians that see it very much as an authority issue. It is ONE OF the reasons some don’t believe in singing with instruments, or for some, singing ANY non-scriptural text: They would believe that by standing up and having people sing a man-made hymn with extra-biblical accompaniment, I would be, in effect, telling my congregation to do something that scripture did not command them to do (these are the regulative principle folks). How can I take it upon my singular self to decide that we’re going to sing some new-fangle hymn by a young irish couple (“In Christ Alone”). The answer in my case, of course, is that the church has agreed to give me that responsibility, that “authority”. They are not required to sing, of course, it’s not that kind of authority. But it is a real authority to shape the minds of our congregation through the songs I choose. And as you say, if I am not servant-minded and self-sacrifical when choosing those songs, and the way the are accompanied, I can do real damage to the church.

Leave a Comment:

All fields with “*” are required

 characters available