On Diotrephes and biblical balance in Church authority

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Ted Bigelow's picture
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Kevin, challenges for

Kevin, challenges for congregationalists in 3 John are threefold. Not only is your article's claim of "dual authority" contrary to it, but Baptist autonomy and propensity to schism are reproved in 3 John as well.

Have you wrestled through its challenges to Baptist ecclesiology?

  1. The author, who is almost certainly John the beloved apostle, will not solve the church's problems through his apostolic authority, but as "the elder" (v.1). As the elder, he does not propose a solution to the congregation of the church by which they might exercise their "ultimate authority" (your words) but will of his own initiative and action remove the Diotrephes from the church (3 John 10). His evil (v. 11) is public and well documented even as Gaius' good is (3 John 6), and thus Mat. 18:17 comes into play immediately once John arrives. Yet your article claims the congregation has authority for "excluding members" while that is not even contemplated by John.
  2. Gaius, although under sinning leadership, is never encouraged to start another church or find another church. Had they all been Baptists in their ecclesiology, wouldn't that have been the better choice given the extreme severity of the problems? Under Baptist ecclesiology, wouldn't Gaius and all those whom Diotrephes had sinfully removed from the church (v. 10, perhaps the "friends, v. 14c) been encouraged to start their own church?
  3. The entire letter of 3 John features a church which is not autonomous. All involved (church, elders, Diotrephes, Gaius, those sinfully removed, the original missionaries from John's church) simply must wait for "the elder" to come, take action, and render his verdicts (v. 14). There isn't a wisp of a hint of congregational authority from start to finish, but instead, and only, the authority of eldership - both wrongfully used (Diotrephes) and rightfully used (John).

You wrote,

He [Diotrephes] had the preeminence, which is to say that he stood in first place within the congregation

How do you know that? Is the word "them" in v. 9 referring to the congregation, the ecclesia? If so, wouldn't it be feminine in form? Or is it masculine plural form? If the latter, then it may well refer to an all male elder board who is now discredited and unqualified, and like Diotrephes, needs to be removed from authority in toto. And again, in 3 John, who has the authority to do this, except "the elder?"

You wrote,

According to the New Testament, Christian churches ought to operate with dual authority. Ultimate authority for making decisions rests with the congregation.

How do you know that? Acts 15 is the only text you've offered and that has been disproved by Acts 16:4 which places all the decision making authority of the Jerusalem Conference in the apostles and elders in Jerusalem and none in the congregation. Beyond that there are explicit precepts in Scripture that require the congregation to submit to the leaders - and those commands are made without any suggestion of a "dual authority."

Wouldn't you have to disprove what those commands command in order to validate your claim that the NT teaches "dual authority?" Or is it better to do the Jehovah's Witness thing - like how when we show them a text that clearly asserts the deity of Christ they just dismiss what we say by turning to another text? And then when we show them that that text doesn't teach what they are convinced it does, they flee to yet another text. So they repeat the cycle, and in so doing, imagine themselves exonerated from the command?

pvawter's picture
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Ted Bigelow wrote:

Ted Bigelow wrote:

Kevin, challenges for congregationalists in 3 John are threefold. Not only is your article's claim of "dual authority" contrary to it, but Baptist autonomy and propensity to schism are reproved in 3 John as well.

Have you wrestled through its challenges to Baptist ecclesiology?

  1. The author, who is almost certainly John the beloved apostle, will not solve the church's problems through his apostolic authority, but as "the elder" (v.1). As the elder, he does not propose a solution to the congregation of the church by which they might exercise their "ultimate authority" (your words) but will of his own initiative and action remove the Diotrephes from the church (3 John 10). His evil (v. 11) is public and well documented even as Gaius' good is (3 John 6), and thus Mat. 18:17 comes into play immediately once John arrives. Yet your article claims the congregation has authority for "excluding members" while that is not even contemplated by John.
  2. Gaius, although under sinning leadership, is never encouraged to start another church or find another church. Had they all been Baptists in their ecclesiology, wouldn't that have been the better choice given the extreme severity of the problems? Under Baptist ecclesiology, wouldn't Gaius and all those whom Diotrephes had sinfully removed from the church (v. 10, perhaps the "friends, v. 14c) been encouraged to start their own church?
  3. The entire letter of 3 John features a church which is not autonomous. All involved (church, elders, Diotrephes, Gaius, those sinfully removed, the original missionaries from John's church) simply must wait for "the elder" to come, take action, and render his verdicts (v. 14). There isn't a wisp of a hint of congregational authority from start to finish, but instead, and only, the authority of eldership - both wrongfully used (Diotrephes) and rightfully used (John).

Ted,

I think you are reading more into the text than is actually there.

For instance, is it really that significant that John introduces himself as "The Elder" instead of "The Apsotle?" When Peter calls himself a fellow-elder in 1 Peter 5, does that mean he is now speaking as an elder and not as an apostle? Does he cease to become an apostle when he calls himself an elder? And what exactly does John mean in v.10 when he says, "if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does?" I don't know that he is necessarily saying that he will of his own initiative and action remove the Diotrephes from the church, as you put it. In fact, it seems as though he is planning to address the church and remind them of all of Diotraphes' sinful actions. And I'm also curious how "but I hope to see you shortly, and we shall speak face to face" in v.14 constitutes John com[ing], tak[ing] action, and render[ing] his verdicts, which is how you characterized it. Instead, it appears that John is planning to see Gaius face to face when (and if) he comes. 

As to your question #2, what is your point, other than to malign Baptist churches? Out of curiosity, however, I would like to know how you teach that a church should handle sinning leadership? If, as you say, the entire elder board is to blame for not rooting out Diotrephes, then who should root out the entire elder board? Must we turn to some greater hierarchy of authority outside the local congregation led by the Holy Spirit through the Scriptures?

Phil Siefkes's picture
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Agree with Dr. Bauder

My own independent research into the Biblical text results in the same dual-authority conclusion of Dr. Bauder. In our congregation often joke about the term elder-gationalism. The difficulty, as Bauder observes, is maintaining the delicate Biblical balance. Demonstrations of love and wisdom from both authorities go a long ways toward making it possible.

I have really enjoyed this series. Dr. Bauder's helpful book on Baptist Distinctives is a good resource for young and old pastors alike.
 

Discipling God's image-bearers to the glory of God.