July 18, 2015
SHOULD 'THE PEOPLE' HAVE A SAY IN CHURCH GOVERNANCE?
My congregation in Hemet, CA
I do believe the Lord has ordained congregational rule in a local church because:
1. The Bible teaches it. In Acts 6, when the first deacons were chosen, the apostles, who possessed enormous authority before the canon of Scripture was complete, nevertheless, put it in the lap of early church to choose their own leaders. He said, "Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation..." (Acts 6:3). This is significant because they had every right to dictate who the men would be. They could have reasoned thus: You all are so new in the faith, and the church is in its infancy and we do have a high level of authority, therefore, let us with our superior knowledge and God-given powers, just point to the ones we think should so serve. But no, they gave the congregation that privilege.
2. The indwelling Holy Spirit allows it. 1 John 2:27 speaks of the anointing of the Spirit. All believers have this, receiving it at salvation. This verse proceeds to state that any believer can understand Scripture, without God given teachers, because of the Divine tutelage of the Holy Spirit. This does not mean the office of pastor/teacher is passe, but it does mean every believer is uniquely equipped of the Lord to rightly interpret the Bible. Having said all this, if lay people in the church are so advantaged, I believe they can be trusted with making essential decisions in the life of the church. This is a critical point. When pastors and deacons lead, it is a wise art to bring a congregation along with them, carefully laying out plans but understanding people can think and do want to be part of the process. It guarantees their involvement in prayers and finances, etc. Leadership must trust in the congregation's native abilities, let along the fact the Holy Spirit dwells within every believer. It is thrilling, really, to see all this work out in practice. It take time, prayer, explanation after explanation, but the entire experience can bring hearts together, enhance prayer, respect the people in the pew (giving them a sense of ownership) and promote a high view of the place and ministry of the Holy Spirit in the life of the church. The leader (pastor) serves like an orchestra conductor bringing all the players into the actions being taken. I saw this happen in Bermuda where it was necessary to take down an historic church building, full of God-honoring memories. It took several years to arrive at a vote, but all voted to do so save four individuals. It was really a great victory in the life of that church. The people made the decision. I would hate to think of the outcome had leadership foisted the action upon the saints.
3. Elder rule or that of a board of elders (plurality of elders) renounces the time-honored Baptist belief in congregational rule. Elder rule is Presbyterian. Advocates of both congregational and Presbyterian church government do reject the monarchical hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, and so the issue becomes whether the plurality in church government is with the pastor and the people (congregational) or with elders (Presbyterian). Get a copy of Edward Hiscox's THE STANDARD MANUAL FOR BAPTIST CHURCHES and read chapter 8 on what Baptists have believed through the years on Church governance. He writes about "the independent (form of church governance) in which the body is self-governing, each single and local church administering its own government by the voice of the majority of its members....The government is administered by the body of the members, where no one possesses a pre-eminence of authority, but each enjoys an equality of rights, and in which, in matters of opinion, the majority decides." He goes on to say, "the apostles treated the churches as independent bodies...They recognized the right of the churches to elect their own teachers and officers, a primary and fundamental right, which, when conceded, supposes all other rights and powers necessary to a self-governing community acting under divinely given laws." I had an interesting experience with my staff in California attending a special seminar by John MacArthur for larger churches. At a certain point we challenged their elder leadership model in bringing to the people an elders' self-conceived plan for a new large edifice. The people simply didn't give the monies needed, whereupon, I informed him how we, in a Baptist church, would have gone about the task. A most humorous moment.
I think Philippians 1:1 is a strategic verse on the subject. Paul writes to the saints (significantly mentioned first), bishops (overseers or pastors, 1 Peter 5 where the same group of leaders is referred to as pastors, bishops and elders) and deacons (significantly mentioned last). This seems to constitute what ought to be the typical listing of the major elements of a local church. The term "elder" is used in several ways in the New Testament, none of which counters what I've written, in my opinion. But, that's a subject for another day.-dc
Posted by MULLWITHME