Congregational Government: A Response to James McDonald

On June 9, 2011, James MacDonald posted a blog article under the title “Congregational Government is from Satan.”1 SharperIron provided a link to the article, thus I am replying through SharperIron.

MacDonald begins his message by saying:

NOTE: the tone of this post is intentionally aimed at engaging those who are engulfed in this system of church government that neither honors the Scriptures nor advances the gospel.

That’s right! It’s actually the title to a book I have had percolating in my mind for a long time. After almost 30 years in ministry I have come irreversibly to this conclusion: congregational government is an invention and tool of the enemy of our souls to destroy the church of Jesus Christ. So there, I have said the strongest part of the message first; now some commentary.

In his commentary MacDonald lists five arguments against congregational church government. They are:

1. Congregational meetings are forums for division. He says:

When church life is going well, the leaders of a church struggle to get a quorum for decision making. When things are going wrong, every carnal member lines up at a microphone to spew their venom and destroy the work of Christ in the church.

2. Voting is not biblical. MacDonald explains:

There is not a shred of biblical evidence for a congregation voting on what its direction should be, but many church members believe it is their “God-given right” to stand in judgment over the Pastors and Elders that are seeking to lead them.

3. Eldership is sometimes unpopular. The author elaborates:

Elders are responsible to “shepherd the flock” (1 Peter 5:2), which is often a very dirty job. Calling out sin, dealing with those who have fallen and seeking their restoration (Galatians 6:1-4), these responsibilities put Elders in positions where doing the right often means doing the unpopular. To then force the Elders to submit to a referendum on their actions is crushing to good men and destroys the work of God in a church.

4. Congregationalism crushes pastors. Brother MacDonald continues:

I could retire now if I had banked a hundred dollars for every time a Pastor wept to me on the phone or in person about the crushing weight of a local ‘church boss’ who would not listen to Scripture or reason or God’s Holy Spirit.

5. Priesthood, not eldership, of all believers. MacDonald makes this point by saying:

A significant plank in the platform of biblical protestantism has been the priesthood of all believers. This is the idea that all of us as followers of Christ have equal standing before God and do not need a clerical intermediary in our relationship with the Lord. Sadly, though, this has led in many congregations to the Eldership of all believers—where each person, regardless of training, giftedness, fruitfulness, experience, etc., considers their thoughts about the future of a given congregation to be of equivalent value.

Response

So far I have attempted to give a fair representation of Pastor MacDonald’s position in his own words. I seek to complete this article with brief personal responses to this popular pastor and teacher and then offer some biblical evidence for the biblical principle of congregational church government.

MacDonald’s first argument would be valid if divisions never occurred in churches that do not practice congregational government. That is demonstrably not the case. The Bible teaches harmony in a local church occurs when church members practice humility and selflessness (Phil. 2:1-4), “put up with” (ἀνεχόμενοι) one another in love (Eph 4:2),2 and seek to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). Divisions are not the result of a congregational form of church government (which, as we shall see, rests on a biblical foundation), but they arise out of the carnality of the human heart.

As to MacDonald’s second argument (that voting is simply not biblical) we shall shortly demonstrate that Scripture gives evidence of some form of congregational decision making and determination.

MacDonald’s third point has some validity, but I fear he overstates his case. Shepherding is hard, and often thankless, work. Several responses run through my mind, but one will suffice for now. It is true that in church discipline spiritual leaders are to confront those who sin (Gal. 6:1). But according to Scripture the ultimate responsibility for exclusion from the fellowship is always a congregational action. In the case of personal sins between brothers (Matt. 18:17), of gross public sin (1 Cor. 5:4), and of a sinning pastor (1 Tim. 5:20), the biblical evidence always points to public, corporate exclusion or rebuke. No doubt the pastoral leadership will have to take the lead in these difficult cases and will have to expose itself to criticism. But when the ultimate step of exclusion occurs, they should be free from such attack because that action is to be corporate.

Fourth, MacDonald argues that “congregationalism crushes pastors.” I doubt he would argue that no pastor has ever been “crushed” in an elder-ruled system of church government. I know of situations where godly shepherds were “shown the door” by a board of elders.

Fifth, our brother seems to misrepresent the concept of the priesthood of all believers. He says: “Sadly, though, this has led in many congregations to the Eldership of all believers—where each person, regardless of training, giftedness, fruitfulness, experience, etc., considers their thoughts about the future of a given congregation to be of equivalent value.” If that is the case, then pastors have miserably failed to teach believers the biblical truth of the priesthood of the believer. I will not outline the biblical teaching in this brief response, but that statement misrepresents the biblical evidence.

Scripture does give clear evidence that congregations were active in the government of their churches. This is only a synopsis of that material.

1. The congregation disciplines its own membership. When personal offenses (literally, sins) occur and brethren cannot resolve them, the local church, not the elders or pastors, is to resolve the issue (Mt. 18:15-17). When public sins plague the church, the church, when it comes together, is to discipline the sinning member (1 Cor. 5:1-5). When a pastor sins, he is to be rebuked before all (1 Tim. 5:20).

2. The congregation elects its own officers. When the church in Jerusalem needed men to assist the apostles with the material needs of the widows, the whole multitude of believers elected them (Acts 6:1-7). The apostles “called the multitude of the disciples” (Acts 6:2) and instructed them to choose men for the task. Luke records that “the saying pleased the whole multitude” (Acts 6:5). Once elected, the apostles detailed their work, and the seven were accountable to the twelve for how it was accomplished (Acts 6:3). But the choosing of the seven was a congregational act. We were not there, and we do not know the mechanics by which the action was taken, but an argument against congregational choice in this case will not stand up to the evidence.

3. Congregations apparently voted to elect their own pastors (Acts 14:23). The word for “ordain” in this verse points to corporate participation in the choice of elders. Lest you think this is a Baptist “spin” on the verse and the use of the word, please consult the Lutheran R. C. H. Lenski in his commentary on Acts or the Anglican Henry Alford in his Greek New Testament commentary.

4. The congregation commissioned Barnabas and Saul as missionaries (Acts 13:1-3). Barnabas and Saul reported to the church, not just the staff of prophets and teachers, when they returned from their ministry (Acts 14:27).

5. The church at Antioch, not the leaders, sent men to Jerusalem to resolve a doctrinal dispute (Acts 15:1-3). The whole church at Jerusalem responded with its advice (Acts 15:22, 23). “It is clear that the whole church, whether of Antioch or Jerusalem, was involved in this entire process. It was not the sole responsibility of a hierarchy, but the whole body was addressing these issues. It was ‘the whole church’ and ‘the brethren’ who endorsed the message and elected the messengers (vv. 22-23). And it was to ‘the brethren’ (i.e., the whole church), not just ‘the elders’ that this doctrinal communicating was addressed (vs. 23).”3

6. The Acts 15 passage reveals that no organizational ties existed between the local churches. They enjoyed a spiritual kinship and fellowship. They voluntarily looked to each other for advice in a time of need. But no authority outside the local churches governed them. No church dominated another. “The local church always acted in absolute SELF-DETERMINATION of its relations with other local churches—Acts 15:1-30.”4

7. The churches chose the messengers who took the offering to Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 8:19, 23). The churches gave the offering, and the churches chose their messengers to convey that offering to Jerusalem.

Many other issues need to be addressed on this subject, and this forum is not the place to do that. I hope to address the issue more comprehensively in a work on Baptist Polity.

Notes

1 http://jamesmacdonald.com/blog/?p=7552 Accessed June 11, 2011. All quotations of MacDonald are from this article.

2 See Friberg, Analytical Greek Lexicon, in Bible Works 8.

3 Douglas R. MacLachlan, “The Polity Issue” (Unpublished paper, Northland Baptist Bible College n.d.), 2.

4 Richard V. Clearwaters, The Local Church of the New Testament (Minneapolis: Central C. B. Press, n.d.), 37.

[node:bio/fred-moritz body]

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Ted Bigelow's picture

This elder-rule vs. congregational-rule issue is the equivalent of asking a Presbyterian to prove infant baptism. Since there is neither example nor command to baptize babies, they resort to Scriptural inferences and ignore the many texts that clearly teach believer baptism. And like congregationalism, it is central to their system.

So here’s the American Baptist equivalent to infant baptism – congregationalism. Is there example or command of a church having final authority over the affairs of a church? All that you are offered are a few inferences from select Scriptures that were written to teach something else (i.e., church discipline). Let’s go the other way. Are there Scriptures that teach the elders have authority over the congregation? Yes there are, and they are as clear as the believer baptism texts. Here’s a few: 1 Thess. 5:12-13, 1 Tim. 5:17, Titus 1:5-9, 1 Peter 5:1-4, Heb. 13:17. None of these texts are inferences – they explicitly teach the loving authority of the elders over the sheep in a local church. These texts were written to teach this doctrine.

Here’s a response to the writer’s use of Scripture:

Quote:
The congregation disciplines its own membership. When personal offenses (literally, sins) occur and brethren cannot resolve them, the local church, not the elders or pastors, is to resolve the issue (Mt. 18:15-17). When public sins plague the church, the church, when it comes together, is to discipline the sinning member (1 Cor. 5:1-5). When a pastor sins, he is to be rebuked before all (1 Tim. 5:20).

The only resolution in Mat. 18:15-17 is repentance. The congregation simply submits to the established evidence of the witnesses and like them, confronts the impenitent member. The congregation adds nothing new above and beyond the witnesses. The church in 1 Cor. 5 isn’t being called by Paul to discipline but to “put him out” (5:13). In congregational polity the Corinthian church had a choice – to either keep him or put him out. What if they had voted to keep him in? And the use of 1 Tim. 5:20 is clearly tilted – though the rebuke of the sinning elder (notice what the verse actually says) is before the church, the individual being rebuked is clearly in the context of an elder board.
Quote:
The congregation elects its own officers. When the church in Jerusalem needed men to assist the apostles with the material needs of the widows, the whole multitude of believers elected them (Acts 6:1-7). The apostles “called the multitude of the disciples” (Acts 6:2) and instructed them to choose men for the task. Luke records that “the saying pleased the whole multitude” (Acts 6:5). Once elected, the apostles detailed their work, and the seven were accountable to the twelve for how it was accomplished (Acts 6:3). But the choosing of the seven was a congregational act. We were not there, and we do not know the mechanics by which the action was taken, but an argument against congregational choice in this case will not stand up to the evidence.

Election? Luke must have forgot to write that in there. Yes, choice was there, but in a very limited manner. Could they choose 10 men? Women? Those with food service on their resume? No. Congregational choice was under the purview of the leadership.

Quote:
Congregations apparently voted to elect their own pastors (Acts 14:23). The word for “ordain” in this verse points to corporate participation in the choice of elders. Lest you think this is a Baptist “spin” on the verse and the use of the word, please consult the Lutheran R. C. H. Lenski in his commentary on Acts or the Anglican Henry Alford in his Greek New Testament commentary.

Greek Alert 1: Acts 14:23 says Barnabas and Saul appointed the elders, not the congregation. Look up the verb – is it masculine plural (referring to the men), or feminine singular (referring to the church)?
Quote:
The congregation commissioned Barnabas and Saul as missionaries (Acts 13:1-3). Barnabas and Saul reported to the church, not just the staff of prophets and teachers, when they returned from their ministry (Acts 14:27).

Greek Alert 2: Acts 13:3 says the men sent off Barnabas and Saul, not the church. Look up the verb – is it masculine plural (referring to the men), or feminine singular (referring to the church)?
Acts 14:27 says Barnabas and Paul called the congregation together and reported to them what had happened, not vice-versa. Who has authority to call your church together – visiting foreign missionaries, or those who are the church’s leaders?
Quote:
The church at Antioch, not the leaders, sent men to Jerusalem to resolve a doctrinal dispute (Acts 15:1-3). The whole church at Jerusalem responded with its advice (Acts 15:22, 23). “It is clear that the whole church, whether of Antioch or Jerusalem, was involved in this entire process. It was not the sole responsibility of a hierarchy, but the whole body was addressing these issues. It was ‘the whole church’ and ‘the brethren’ who endorsed the message and elected the messengers (vv. 22-23). And it was to ‘the brethren’ (i.e., the whole church), not just ‘the elders’ that this doctrinal communicating was addressed (vs. 23).”

Greek Alert 3: Acts 15:22 shows the phrase “with the whole church” is connected to “apostles and elders” not to the phrase “it seemed good.” Almost all recent translations affirm this by properly translating the Greek of Acts 15:23: “"The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.” That’s why Acts 16:4 says, “Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.” If the congregation was in on the decision, why did the letter’s emissaries misrepresent it?
Quote:
The Acts 15 passage reveals that no organizational ties existed between the local churches. They enjoyed a spiritual kinship and fellowship. They voluntarily looked to each other for advice in a time of need. But no authority outside the local churches governed them. No church dominated another. “The local church always acted in absolute SELF-DETERMINATION of its relations with other local churches—Acts 15:1-30.”

Point being…..? It’s not like MacDonald is Presbyterian, you know!
Quote:
The churches chose the messengers who took the offering to Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 8:19, 23). The churches gave the offering, and the churches chose their messengers to convey that offering to Jerusalem.

Great! Congregational involvement. Love it! But did any of those people chosen have ecclesiastical authority as a result of their selection? Umm, no.

Like a Baptist querying a Presbyterian, we say, “show us a clear text on infant baptism and we’ll embrace it.” But we know there aren’t any!
So too with Congregationalism. “Show us a clear text teaching the church has ultimate authority in the governance of the local church.” Anybody can build a Scriptural case for ANYTHING based on inference – including infant baptism, and yes, congregationalism.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Ted, not all "inference" cases are equally valid.
The doctrine of the Trinity is one we hold by inference.

So an argument cannot be dismissed on the grounds that it's inferential.

The question is whether the biblical data truly points to the conclusion that's being claimed. Obviously, quite a few of us believe that the data for congregational government results in a far stronger inference case than the data for infant Baptism.

(For starters, nothing in the NT encourages baptising infants. Plenty in the NT encourages congregations to be involved in decision making)

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

dmicah's picture

Would congregational involvement really be "decision making" or "decision implementing"?
Would the decisions be operational or macro level missional?

Masses of people can't make operational decisions. It's not feasible. But they can implement a shared missional vision that is fine tuned by the leaders. MacDonald is definitely oversimplifying and overstating his case. Yet, congregationalism in the classic American Baptist mold only works for small churches.

But of course, there is more than one way to operate a congregational government. There are some very large and influential churches that utilize a congregational government structure while still maintaining a plurality of elders in leadership. It's a hybrid of sorts. Capitol Hill Baptist - Dever, Summit (Durham, NC) - Greear, North Coast (California) - Osborne.

I think the fallacy MacDonald made is to assume an absolute dogmatism in an area where autonomy of the local church is key and Biblical directives are not explicit. Flip it over and congregationalists are wrong to assume that theirs is the sole biblical method for church operations.

Joseph Leavell's picture

Here is MacDonald's update to his article that he wrote. In it, he clarified some of the concerns that this post addresses (though not directly).

http://jamesmacdonald.com/blog/?p=7592

Ted Bigelow's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Ted, not all "inference" cases are equally valid.
The doctrine of the Trinity is one we hold by inference.

So an argument cannot be dismissed on the grounds that it's inferential.

The question is whether the biblical data truly points to the conclusion that's being claimed. Obviously, quite a few of us believe that the data for congregational government results in a far stronger inference case than the data for infant Baptism.

(For starters, nothing in the NT encourages baptising infants. Plenty in the NT encourages congregations to be involved in decision making)

Amen, Aaron. Congregational involvement - absolutely. Congregational governing? not once.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Ted: involvement in decision making is involvement in governing, isn't it?

Micah: operational vs. missional
... It is possible for congregations to be involved in both kinds of decision making. At the operational level, it depends on what sort of decision it is and your time frame. At Grace, for example, the congregation participates in forming the budget. Major purchases during the year require votes, etc.
I think operational congregational governance is overdone in a lot of Baptist/baptistic churches. Some of this administrative stuff would be much more efficient with less voting.

But "congregational government" has to do with where the authority ultimately lies and what direction it flows. So Dever says their church is congregationally governed, though it is "elder led." It would be interesting to discuss what the sine qua non of congregational government is. It might be that the congregation has the power to choose its leaders and hold them to what it understands to be biblical standards. Maybe the minimum would also have to include the ability of the congregation to control membership.

It could delegate any number of both operational and missional tasks to smaller groups or individuals. But you have to have authority before you can delegate it.
I think McDonald--and Ted here--are saying that the congregation does not have the authority to begin with, so it does not "delegate" any of it to elders or committees or whatever. Rather, for them, the authority flows in the other direction: elders --> congregation/individuals/groups.

I believe the pragmatic arguments for one or the other are pretty weak. As Dr.Moritz pointed out in the article, you can find plenty of examples of effective and ineffective execution of both models. In both cases, the horror stories are not really due to the system but to the quality of the people involved and their principles.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Charlie's picture

I apologize at the outset for not reading this whole discussion. As a Baptist turned Presbyterian studying at a Catholic school, I don't think I can handle one more serious discussion about polity. I'm intrigued by this idea, though. If Aaron has read this correctly, that authority flows from elders to the congregation, then where do we get the elders in the first place? Who appoints them? Other elders?

If so, it seems that such a system comes with two correlatives:

1) connectional church government - how else can elders authoritatively ordain elders for other congregations?

2) succession - you would need to know that your elders were lawfully ordained by elders who were lawfully ordained by elders ... back to the Apostolic era

Just as a sidebar, in American Presbyterianism, the elders are elected as representatives of the congregation. Also, teaching elders can be suggested to a church by a presbytery, but the church must "call" them before they can be installed. So, I find it interesting that a form of baptistic thinking has originated a polity that is more elder-centric than Presbyterianism.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Charlie wrote:
I apologize at the outset for not reading this whole discussion. As a Baptist turned Presbyterian studying at a Catholic school, I don't think I can handle one more serious discussion about polity.

I can imagine! Biggrin

I'm waiting for Ted on this... Ted, is my understanding of how you see the flow of authority accurate?
I may have it wrong. I don't recall how he has the elders being chosen to begin with. It seems logical to me that if they're chosen by the body, they are accountable to the body and ultimately under the authority of the body.. ergo "congregational government." But I think most people who use that term have a more active role for the congregation in mind. More than just electing the guys who will make all the decisions thereafter.
But if Ted's view is that the congregation chooses and removes elders, I would argue that his model is a form of congregational government.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Jeff Brown's picture

Good response to MacDonald's assertions, Fred. Glad to see that you would post on SI.

Jeff Brown

Ted Bigelow's picture

Hi Aaron,

Elders are chosen by the body under the application of Scripture. IOW, the legitimacy and full-charge authority of an elder is defined in Scripture and both elders and congregation are to submit to what Scripture calls elders to be and what to do.

When Titus was on Crete, he appointed elders by what criteria by qualification, not vote. When a man is qualified by Scripture a vote doesn't add or take away the reality of his rightful place in the body. It confuses things. In fact, men who are qualified may be voted down, thus suppressing Christ's will. Titus' example shows that elders appoint elders by Scriptural qualifications alone. After Titus left Crete the elders would have followed Titus' Mandate (both the what and how of appointment, Titus 1:5) from Paul exactly. The congregation is totally involved, but not determinative.

Charlie,

It goes like this: Christ through Scripture grants authority to qualified elders, such elders oversee the ministry of the congregation. Connectional government is unattested in the NT, but does have some strong appeal. The BCO exchanges the scriptural process for a vote and misses the simplicity of Scripture.

You asked, 1) connectional church government - how else can elders authoritatively ordain elders for other congregations?

By Scripture. If a church does use other elders for help, once the elders are appointed they are over autonomous churches. Titus on Crete was told to appoint elders in every city - but not to connect the cities. Jesus Christ didn't want Titus setting up presbyteries on Crete.

You also stated, "2) succession - you would need to know that your elders were lawfully ordained by elders who were lawfully ordained by elders ... back to the Apostolic era"

Why? Scripture is the authority of Jesus Christ and by faithfully applying it He tells us who and who is not elder qualified. Why do I need the process to pass some anachronistic sniff test when we're talking about godly men shaped by Scripture?

Charlie's picture

Ted Bigelow wrote:

Elders are chosen by the body under the application of Scripture.

When Titus was on Crete, he appointed elders by what criteria by qualification, not vote.... Titus' example shows that elders appoint elders by Scriptural qualifications alone. After Titus left Crete the elders would have followed Titus' Mandate (both the what and how of appointment, Titus 1:5) from Paul exactly. The congregation is totally involved, but not determinative.

So, Titus appoints elders. Then, elders appoint elders. So, when you say "elders are chosen by the body," you mean elders are chosen by elders, who speak for the body. I don't see how you can get away from either connectionalism or succession here. Really, successionism giving rise to connectionalism. Your position entails the proposition that biblically constituted elders must be appointed by other elders, who are themselves biblically appointed. The only way to know that is if you can trace them all the way back to the Apostles.

How do you know that you are a biblically appointed elder?

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Ted Bigelow's picture

Charlie wrote:
So, Titus appoints elders. Then, elders appoint elders. So, when you say "elders are chosen by the body," you mean elders are chosen by elders, who speak for the body.The only way to know that is if you can trace them all the way back to the Apostles. How do you know that you are a biblically appointed elder?

No, not quite. Both elders and congregation evaluate men based on the 26 qualifications of inspired and sufficient Scripture. Those who are tested (1 Tim. 3:10) are appointed by the elders - because Scripture calls elders to oversee the body. It's not my plan. It's Christ's. When a church rejects His polity it is only a matter of time before they lose the gospel. There are exceptions, but few. Most churches lose the gospel within 2 or 3 generations. Having compromised on Christ's qualifications for leadership they reap what they sow.

I believe Scripture is sufficient for the faith and practice of the church, and furthermore, possesses self-attesting authentication as to it's divine authority to the believer through the direct ministry of the Holy Spirit. God has given us a direct chain to the apostles in Scripture, not church polity. For example, I believe you can read the elder attributes in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1 and with some sobriety, and the help of some good study and godly men testing you - know if you are elder-qualified or not.

We ask our entire congregation to test men who are up for eldership. It isn't "elders v. congregation." We're all working from the same page and for the same goal. If even one person has a reason to question an elder's apoointment, and their concern is valid, the man is not appointed to eldership. We speak with the congregation, not against it. Compare to the BCO. Men who are voted against still get appointed to eldership.

JG's picture

If a Chinese student in the US is given a Bible, and he takes it home to China and reads it, and gets saved, and tells his family and friends, and they get saved, and they decide, "You know, we need to have a church, and there's none we know about within 50 miles."

So they all look at the qualifications, and unanimously agree, "Brother Lee is qualified, he will be our elder." Would that congregational action be Biblical or not? If not, what should they do?

Kevin T. Bauder's picture

There seems to be a bit of confusion over Greek usage here, particularly in the matter of agreement between subject and pronoun.

The normal rule is that pronouns must agree with their antecedents in gender and number. This might lead one to believe that a feminine, singular noun like ekklesia would always require feminine, singular pronouns. In fact, that is the point being made in the "Greek Alerts" above.

In the case of nouns that designate collections of individuals, however, plural pronouns often follow singular antecedents (and in the case of a mixed company, the pronouns are typically masculine). The focus seems to shift from the aggregate to the individuals. For example, in John 6:24, a crowd (singular) makes an observation about Jesus, and then they (plural) take action.

This being the case, Dr. Moritz's argument really does not depend upon the presence of feminine singular pronouns in the passages to which he is pointing. A reader might equally well expect masculine plurals, even if the church (i.e., the congregation) was making the decisions.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Kevin T. Bauder wrote:
There seems to be a bit of confusion over Greek usage here, particularly in the matter of agreement between subject and pronoun.

The normal rule is that pronouns must agree with their antecedents in gender and number. This might lead one to believe that a feminine, singular noun like ekklesia would always require feminine, singular pronouns. In fact, that is the point being made in the "Greek Alerts" above.

In the case of nouns that designate collections of individuals, however, plural pronouns often follow singular antecedents (and in the case of a mixed company, the pronouns are typically masculine). The focus seems to shift from the aggregate to the individuals. For example, in John 6:24, a crowd (singular) makes an observation about Jesus, and then they (plural) take action.

This being the case, Dr. Moritz's argument really does not depend upon the presence of feminine singular pronouns in the passages to which he is pointing. A reader might equally well expect masculine plurals, even if the church (i.e., the congregation) was making the decisions.

My point is not the agreement of nouns and pronouns but verbs and subjects. Several of Dr. Moritz’s arguments are based on participles in the book of Acts: (3. Congregations apparently voted to elect their own pastors (Acts 14:23).) (4. The congregation commissioned Barnabas and Saul as missionaries (Acts 13:1-3), etc.

That’s why I ask the reader to look up verbs (2x).

Ted Bigelow's picture

JG wrote:
If a Chinese student in the US is given a Bible, and he takes it home to China and reads it, and gets saved, and tells his family and friends, and they get saved, and they decide, "You know, we need to have a church, and there's none we know about within 50 miles."

So they all look at the qualifications, and unanimously agree, "Brother Lee is qualified, he will be our elder." Would that congregational action be Biblical or not? If not, what should they do?

No. God says "not a new convert" 1 Tim. 3:6.

Charlie's picture

Ted, I think I can clarify. I might have read you incorrectly, but your position seems to be that you have to have elders to get elders. Where do the ordaining elders come from? In the case of a congregation that currently has no leaders, the answer seems to be that they must get them from somewhere else. However, this is antithetical to the acknowledged basis of independent church government, that the local congregation has within it all the powers necessary for its functioning as the body of Christ, powers including ordination.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Jay's picture

I have to agree with Charlie on this, Ted...it does seem like this is a chicken and egg scenario here insofar as that you are arguing that no one can be an elder if they aren't appointed by elders.

Furthermore, I disagree with you that Brother Lee shouldn't be an elder if he's the only one in his church that has any qualification. Yes, elders should not be made quickly (I Tim. 5:22) - but if the whole church has said (in this example) that he meets the criteria in I Tim. 3, then I don't see why he should be barred on the basis of v. 6. Is it ideal? No, of course not. But I don't think that it's wrong to appoint someone to be an elder on the basis of JG's post. It's not like I Tim. 3:6 has "six months" in place of "recent".

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

JG's picture

Ted Bigelow wrote:
JG wrote:
If a Chinese student in the US is given a Bible, and he takes it home to China and reads it, and gets saved, and tells his family and friends, and they get saved, and they decide, "You know, we need to have a church, and there's none we know about within 50 miles."

So they all look at the qualifications, and unanimously agree, "Brother Lee is qualified, he will be our elder." Would that congregational action be Biblical or not? If not, what should they do?

No. God says "not a new convert" 1 Tim. 3:6.


Oh, didn't you know? They've been meeting for several years since they got saved. They know that "not a novice" is a requirement.

Please address the question. It's not hard. Option 1: Scriptures absolutely mandate that elders be appointed by other elders, and thus a fully qualified Brother Lee cannot Biblically be an elder until other elders hit the scene somehow or other. Option 2: Brother Lee can be an elder because elders are not required to make elders.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Charlie wrote:
Ted, I think I can clarify. I might have read you incorrectly, but your position seems to be that you have to have elders to get elders. Where do the ordaining elders come from? In the case of a congregation that currently has no leaders, the answer seems to be that they must get them from somewhere else. However, this is antithetical to the acknowledged basis of independent church government, that the local congregation has within it all the powers necessary for its functioning as the body of Christ, powers including ordination.

While I agree with local church autonomy, it shouldn't be the isolationist thing you want to make it. Only a proud man would never ask for help; same with a church. In my book I deal with this extensively - the appointing of elders, and merging of churches with no or few elders. I don't think that the local church has all the powers necessary for its functioning as the body of Christ. Look at Corinth. They had no elders and really, no one wanted to go shepherd them - not Timothy, not Apollos - and Paul had to lead them by letters (which I'm glad for).

BTW, I love the idea of connectionalism. Not church courts, but connectionalism. Problem is, its contrary to Scripture Wink . BTW, isn't this the the big week (or was it last week) - the G.A?

Ted Bigelow's picture

JG wrote:
Ted Bigelow wrote:
JG wrote:
If a Chinese student in the US is given a Bible, and he takes it home to China and reads it, and gets saved, and tells his family and friends, and they get saved, and they decide, "You know, we need to have a church, and there's none we know about within 50 miles."

So they all look at the qualifications, and unanimously agree, "Brother Lee is qualified, he will be our elder." Would that congregational action be Biblical or not? If not, what should they do?

No. God says "not a new convert" 1 Tim. 3:6.


Oh, didn't you know? They've been meeting for several years since they got saved. They know that "not a novice" is a requirement.

Please address the question. It's not hard. Option 1: Scriptures absolutely mandate that elders be appointed by other elders, and thus a fully qualified Brother Lee cannot Biblically be an elder until other elders hit the scene somehow or other. Option 2: Brother Lee can be an elder because elders are not required to make elders.

I like option 2 in cases where no elders are not available to help with the testing. We look for godly character over perfect polity. Its a scarce commodity.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Jay C. wrote:
I have to agree with Charlie on this, Ted...it does seem like this is a chicken and egg scenario here insofar as that you are arguing that no one can be an elder if they aren't appointed by elders.

Where did i ever argue that?

Quote:
Furthermore, I disagree with you that Brother Lee shouldn't be an elder if he's the only one in his church that has any qualification. Yes, elders should not be made quickly (I Tim. 5:22) - but if the whole church has said (in this example) that he meets the criteria in I Tim. 3, then I don't see why he should be barred on the basis of v. 6. Is it ideal? No, of course not. But I don't think that it's wrong to appoint someone to be an elder on the basis of JG's post. It's not like I Tim. 3:6 has "six months" in place of "recent".

JC, Titus could only men who met all the qualifications (Titus 1:5-9). Where do you get the authority to recommend appointing men who don't?

Shaynus's picture

I'm glad Paul wrote "not a novice" and not "a Christian for at least 10 years." The qualification is going to mean different things in different circumstances. Thank God.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Shaynus wrote:
I'm glad Paul wrote "not a novice" and not "a Christian for at least 10 years." The qualification is going to mean different things in different circumstances. Thank God.

Thank God? A novice appointed into leadership will likely "become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil" - in any circumstance, in any culture. Who gains the advantage - the church, or the devil? Its a horrible experience that hinders the gospel and puts Christ's sheep in danger.

JG's picture

Ted Bigelow wrote:
I like option 2 in cases where no elders are not available to help with the testing. We look for godly character over perfect polity. Its a scarce commodity.

Good. Let me see if I can describe your view in my own words.

The Scriptures do not require an elder to make an elder (or Brother Lee couldn't be Biblically accepted as an elder), but it is a wise course that is best followed where possible. A congregation can in such a case "choose" an elder consist with Scriptural qualifications without any elder guidance if necessary. Whenever possible, elder guidance from inside or outside the church should be sought.

Is that an accurate reflection of your view? If so, I'm in agreement.

I put "choose" in quotes because I believe any "choice" of an elder, whether elder-guided or not, is really only an acknowledgement of the evident choosing of God. I'm guessing you would agree with that, as well.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Ted wrote:
Elders are chosen by the body under the application of Scripture. IOW, the legitimacy and full-charge authority of an elder is defined in Scripture and both elders and congregation are to submit to what Scripture calls elders to be and what to do.

When Titus was on Crete, he appointed elders by what criteria by qualification, not vote.


About Titus. He was acting under direct apostolic orders to set up leadership in churches that had not yet done so. I think there is nothing there that argues for or against congregational government.

But the first part of your statement reveals an underlying congregational government structure.
If the congregation has the authority, under Scripture, to choose elders according to biblical standards, then it is also responsible to remove elders that no longer meet those standards. It has the authority to hold them accountable at least to some extent. This creates a flow of authority like this:
Scripture-->Congregation-->Elders

Admittedly, though, you also have Heb. 13.17 commanding churches to obey those who have the rule over them and not give them grief.
So there is clearly also a biblical mandate to accord elders with the authority to exercise leadership.
So in some matters you have:
Scripture-->Elders-->Congregation

The "congregational gov't" understanding of that leadership--in most places I've read--is that the elders have authority to direct obedience to Scripture but they are not empowered above the level of the congregation in matters that are not revealed. At least I think that would be a fair way to summarize it.
So an elder has the authority to tell me--as a church member--"Stop committing adultery," but does not have the authority to tell the congregation "We're going to sell this building and build another down the road."
(Though the congregation could choose to delegate these kinds of decisions to the elders. This would still be "congregational" government, kind of like America is still a "democracy," though it is ruled by law enacted by representatives).

Of course, there are all sorts of gradations in between those two scenarios ("Stop committing adultery" vs. "Sell this building") and the boundaries get murky, but the examples help illustrate a bit.

Ted, in your view, when the congregation "chooses" elders, does it vote?

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Jay's picture

Ted wrote:
Quote:
Furthermore, I disagree with you that Brother Lee shouldn't be an elder if he's the only one in his church that has any qualification. Yes, elders should not be made quickly (I Tim. 5:22) - but if the whole church has said (in this example) that he meets the criteria in I Tim. 3, then I don't see why he should be barred on the basis of v. 6. Is it ideal? No, of course not. But I don't think that it's wrong to appoint someone to be an elder on the basis of JG's post. It's not like I Tim. 3:6 has "six months" in place of "recent".

JC, Titus could only men who met all the qualifications (Titus 1:5-9). Where do you get the authority to recommend appointing men who don't?

[/quote]
Ted-

Where do you get the authority to tell a church that they can't appoint their own leaders if the proposed leader meets all the criteria with the exception of "not a new convert"? And how did you discern the length of time that Paul wrote about when he said "not a novice"? That's the point that Shaynus and I are making.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Ted Bigelow's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:
Ted wrote:
Elders are chosen by the body under the application of Scripture. IOW, the legitimacy and full-charge authority of an elder is defined in Scripture and both elders and congregation are to submit to what Scripture calls elders to be and what to do.

When Titus was on Crete, he appointed elders by what criteria by qualification, not vote.


About Titus. He was acting under direct apostolic orders to set up leadership in churches that had not yet done so. I think there is nothing there that argues for or against congregational government.

But the first part of your statement reveals an underlying congregational government structure.
If the congregation has the authority, under Scripture, to choose elders according to biblical standards, then it is also responsible to remove elders that no longer meet those standards. It has the authority to hold them accountable at least to some extent. This creates a flow of authority like this:
Scripture-->Congregation-->Elders

Admittedly, though, you also have Heb. 13.17 commanding churches to obey those who have the rule over them and not give them grief.
So there is clearly also a biblical mandate to accord elders with the authority to exercise leadership.
So in some matters you have:
Scripture-->Elders-->Congregation

The "congregational gov't" understanding of that leadership--in most places I've read--is that the elders have authority to direct obedience to Scripture but they are not empowered above the level of the congregation in matters that are not revealed. At least I think that would be a fair way to summarize it.
So an elder has the authority to tell me--as a church member--"Stop committing adultery," but does not have the authority to tell the congregation "We're going to sell this building and build another down the road."
(Though the congregation could choose to delegate these kinds of decisions to the elders. This would still be "congregational" government, kind of like America is still a "democracy," though it is ruled by law enacted by representatives).

Of course, there are all sorts of gradations in between those two scenarios ("Stop committing adultery" vs. "Sell this building") and the boundaries get murky, but the examples help illustrate a bit.

Ted, in your view, when the congregation "chooses" elders, does it vote?

Hi,

I do think the elders have the authority to govern without congregational approval or veto. I also think for elders to make large expenditures without a lot of congregational input is really dumb!, but that's sort of beside your point. 2 Major factors play into "full-charge eldership. First, as you mention, the congregation is always told in Scripture to submit to the leaders, and never granted veto power from God. Two, the leaders of the NT church are called to govern - they are "hegoumenoi" in Heb. 13:17 - governmental rulers - shepherds, overseers - and one term that I like to bring out in Titus 1:7 - "stewards of God" - and therefore accountable to Him, not to the congregation. IOW, they aren't the "representatives of the people (think Presbyterianism, Christian Reformed Church, etc.), or the "town-selectman" you might have seen in churches.

James MacDonald 's blog mentions that congregationalism, since the reformation, is a reaction to this "vulnerability under non-accountable leaders." Of course back then it was more of the threat of being under unregenerate priests (Catholicism) and bishops and prelates (Anglicanism) or a town council (in part - think Geneva). If that's true, Congregationalism is a view of church governance that's reactionary and protective.

In elder churches, elders are not elected - they are tested and appointed by recognition of godliness, giftedness, and conformity (to 1 Tim 3, Titus 1). Votes have some negative issues I've addressed in the middle chapters of my book.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Jay C. wrote:
Where do you get the authority to tell a church that they can't appoint their own leaders if the proposed leader meets all the criteria with the exception of "not a new convert"? And how did you discern the length of time that Paul wrote about when he said "not a novice"? That's the point that Shaynus and I are making.

Thanks. I view the church as under Scriptural authority, not as an alternative source of authority. Therefore I would look at 1 Tim. 3:6 as a "non-negotiable" qualification for each and every elder in each and every church that has elders. I see this as true of every qualification (there are 26 different qualifications in 1 Tim. 3 and Titus 1, by my count). The authority for this (if I'm correctly reading your's and Shaynus' query) is found in 1 Timothy 3:2, "he must be...." (dei oun... einai) which leads to a series of non-negotiable qualifications, beginning with "above reproach" (v. 2) and ending with "having a good reputation with outsiders" (v. 7).

As to the precise amount of time, I would say men who are already qualified elders will know by experience what makes a man no longer a novice. It takes one to know one. Wink

Jay's picture

Ted Bigelow wrote:
As to the precise amount of time, I would say men who are already qualified elders will know by experience what makes a man no longer a novice. It takes one to know one. Wink

But then you're back to the problem with the illustration...what happens when the church, who is a new church, decides that person X meets all the qualifications outlined in Scripture even though he is only a believer for six months? You seem to say, well, the ruling elders make that determination - but what if it's only one elder/pastor, and he has no objection?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

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