Elders Rule! But Congregations Decide

"They understand 'ruling' to mean that elders make decisions for the congregation, and they understand 'obeying' to mean that the congregation knuckles under to those elder-made decisions. The question is whether this construal really does justice to the evidence."
Elders Rule! But Congregations Decide

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pvawter's picture

GregH wrote:

I think the proof in the pudding is whether Ted is following his own teaching? He is in a city with lots of other churches. I am sure his church was not the first one either. Why is that? What is he doing to merge his church with others?

 

I was thinking the same thing. If Ted understands the Scriptures to teach one church per city, then why does he not simply dissolve his church and tell everyone to join a local assembly which existed prior to his. He could then travel the world shutting down schismatic churches. What a ministry opportunity!

Ted Bigelow's picture

Jay wrote,

 

then I'm not sure why you seem to think that we only need one set of elders per city for our religious institutions.  Can you expand a little more?  I'm not buying into what you're saying here.  

Hi Jay, hope you are well and richly blessed,

Yes, the principle is confirmed in that it is taught by both precept and example in the NT.

Precept - Titus 1:5

Example: Ephesus: Acts 20:17; Jerusalem: Acts 11:22, 30, Acts 15:4; Philippi: Phil. 1:1, 4:15. 

Blessings!

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Ted,

Titus 1:5 doesn't prove your point either. On the one hand, grammatically, it is not necessary that there have only been one church at the time of the writing. If there were three churches in every city, you would still "appoint elders in every city." Furthermore, there may have only been one church with one set of elders in each city at that time, but there is no prohibition against adding more as time went on and the church continued to grow.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Ted Bigelow's picture

it is not necessary that there have only been one church at the time of the writing

Indeed, and i would argue the context of the letter shows there to be a similar situation to today - multiple churches in every city, with Titus responsible to merge all of them into one church, under one set of elders.  Notice the greek preposition kata in Titus 1:5 - a distributive use of kata.

If there were three churches in every city, you would still "appoint elders in every city."

This goes against the context, brother. The present churches in every city are led by the "many" rebellious leaders - men who will be unsubmissive to Titus and who, in fact, are unsaved (Titus 1:10-16). For Titus to appoint elders in those churches would be reckless. Such men were heretics who would rebel against Titus' ministry of merging, and who he would reject from the Christian faith (Titus 3:10-11).

If you read the article I linked you to then you would have seen an early church witness to what I'm talking about from Justin Martyr. Here's an article on what Titus was doing on Crete.

Jay's picture

Ted Bigelow wrote:

Jay wrote,

then I'm not sure why you seem to think that we only need one set of elders per city for our religious institutions.  Can you expand a little more?  I'm not buying into what you're saying here.  

Hi Jay, hope you are well and richly blessed,

Yes, the principle is confirmed in that it is taught by both precept and example in the NT.

Precept - Titus 1:5

Example: Ephesus: Acts 20:17; Jerusalem: Acts 11:22, 30, Acts 15:4; Philippi: Phil. 1:1, 4:15. 

Blessings!

Ted,

Let me commend you for not interacting with roughly 95% of my previous post. That takes a special kind of skill or ability...not sure which. :/ 

Follow-up question for you, since you want to talk Titus - Titus 1:5 refers to the elders in Crete, which is both an island of approx. 3,220 square miles, according to Wikipedia, and it's own distinct country.  If you are arguing (as you seem to) that there should only be one set of elders for the Roman province of Crete, then should there be only one set of elders for the United States?  If not, where do you draw the line that a new set of elders becomes necessary for the nation?  Also, if there are elders in Crete, then why did Paul and others appoint elders in Jerusalem, Ephesus, Philippi, and Antioch?

 

"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

If you are arguing (as you seem to) that there should only be one set of elders for the Roman province of Crete, then should there be only one set of elders for the United States? 

 

Hey Jay,

No, just one set of elders in each city on Crete, as per Titus 1:5. The capital city was Gortyn, but Paul and Luke likely visited another, Lasea, as per their opportunity to spend considerable time there in Acts 27:7-9.

Crete's moniker in the ancient world was "Island of 100 cities," and there isn't any reason to suppose that Crete had any less than that when Paul gave Titus what I call The Titus Mandate

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Ted Bigelow wrote:
...Paul and Luke likely visited another...
Emphasis Added

Ted,

You are unwilling to grant anyone possibilities based on the text, but you make your own assumptions with the text when it is convenient. You did the same in your previous response to me. There is nothing there to presume Titus is being commanded to merge multiple churches into single churches per city. There is not even necessarily a situation where heretical elders need to be replaced with faithful ones. It is just as easy to assume new congregations are forming and leadership is needed to set things in proper order. You simply cannot make a case to only accept your personal choice of assumptions and categorically regect all other equally valid possibilities because they do not fit your assertion.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Rob Fall's picture

that we have different working definitions of schism.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Ted Bigelow's picture

Chip - I say "likely" for two reasons: 1) Luke mentions the city in Acts 27, and 2) because Luke says that while in Fair Havens, they spent "considerable time" there.

But I'm perfectly happy to concede the point - it matters not to the argument of the text in Titus 1:5, except to assert that part of Titus ministry was appointing elders in the city of Lasea.

You wrote,

"There is nothing there to presume Titus is being commanded to merge multiple churches into single churches per city. There is not even necessarily a situation where heretical elders need to be replaced with faithful ones. It is just as easy to assume new congregations are forming and leadership is needed to set things in proper order."

 

But Chip, by asserting that Paul ordered the appointing of elders in new congregations with new believers expressly violates 1 Tim. 3:6 and, well, implicitly charges Paul with ecclesiastical sin. It even appears you might be saying Paul (and Titus) would have left heretical churches alone. The implications of these assumptions are disastrous to Paul and Titus as servants of Scripture and leaders of churches. It assumes Paul, as an apostle, left some of Christ's sheep under heretics, instead of both confronting them and rescuing the sheep out from their clutches. It seems to infer that Paul's response to the unsaved men leading churches was to just started new churches. That's not being a shepherd, but a hireling and a schismatic.

I'm not sure, but you might also be assuming that the people from Crete saved on Pentecost did not come back to Crete with their faith intact.

I'm only addressing here what I see as the tip of the iceberg - please read "Paul Did not Sin on Crete!"

As well, I think you need to read Titus 1:5 again, friend. Paul doesn't say, "appoint elders in every church," as it seems like you may be assuming above. Consider that the connective "gar" in Titus 1:10 supplies the reason for why Titus is to appoint elders in "every city." Paul solution to the many rebellious church leaders is not to start new churches - he never says anything like that - but to appoint elders in every city. The apostolic NT pattern is always, and only, one church per city led by one team of qualified elders.

Again, it seems like might be assuming Paul would leave that pattern on Crete, but the distributive gk preposition "kata" in Titus 1:5 provides a better sense - one team of elders in each city.

 

Blessings,

 

Jay's picture

But Chip, by asserting that Paul ordered the appointing of elders in new congregations with new believers expressly violates 1 Tim. 3:6and, well, implicitly charges Paul with ecclesiastical sin. 

Only if you assume that every believer in the church was saved at the same time and that there weren't some Christians already in the cities before Paul arrived.  We know from Acts 2 and Acts 8:1-5 that there were multitudes of different ethnos in Jerusalem at Pentecost and who would have returned home from there.  We also know people went everywhere preaching the word from Jerusalem after Stephen's death.

So if you want to make a case from silence, you can.  But that's a little dubious to me, especially when it comes to reading the Acts record.

"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

Only if you assume that every believer in the church was saved at the same time and that there weren't some Christians already in the cities before Paul arrived.  We know from Acts 2 and Acts 8:1-5 that there were multitudes of different ethnos in Jerusalem at Pentecost and who would have returned home from there.  We also know people went everywhere preaching the word from Jerusalem after Stephen's death.

Jay, brother - exactly!

That's why I wrote to Chip:

you might also be assuming that the people from Crete saved on Pentecost did not come back to Crete with their faith intact.

Please read Paul Did not Sin on Crete!

Jay's picture

Consider that the connective "gar" in Titus 1:10 supplies the reason for why Titus is to appoint elders in "every city." Paul solution to the many rebellious church leaders is not to start new churches - he never says anything like that - but to appoint elders in every city. The apostolic NT pattern is always, and only, one church per city led by one team of qualified elders.

If this is true, then why are you the only person on SI that sees it?  

The Bible doesn't give us ideas and patterns that are new to the interpreter over 2000 years later - it's clear and understandable, so long as someone is a Believer and has the HS dwelling within.  Yet I've never heard of this position outside of your teaching.  Why is that?

"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

Rob Fall's picture

Jay that is a question I wanted to ask.  Ted's position does seem de novo.  I am reminded of something the late Dr. Weeks of MBU said in Church Administration.

Dr. Richard Weeks wrote:

Remember, men, God doesn't speak just to you.  So, if you present something to your men and you have no support, back off.  If God hasn't spoken to any of your men then it's not the right time.

 

Jay wrote:

Consider that the connective "gar" in Titus 1:10 supplies the reason for why Titus is to appoint elders in "every city." Paul solution to the many rebellious church leaders is not to start new churches - he never says anything like that - but to appoint elders in every city. The apostolic NT pattern is always, and only, one church per city led by one team of qualified elders.

If this is true, then why are you the only person on SI that sees it?  

The Bible doesn't give us ideas and patterns that are new to the interpreter over 2000 years later the face.  I've never heard of this position outside of your teaching.  Why is that?

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Ted Bigelow's picture

Jay - 

Yet I've never heard of this position outside of your teaching.  Why is that?

You have, Jay. Most every time you begin reading a letter in the NT, it reads, "to the church in __________" with the name of a city, and the word "church" in the singular. You just haven't taken the time to think through the implications of those words, or cross references from the glorified Jesus Christ and how He defines churches.

We are weak and liable to misunderstanding in part because we've never seen one church in a city and so assume it isn't prescriptive but only descriptive, but it was the context of the original recipients of those letters. Passages like 1 Cor. 1:10 tell us in no uncertain terms it is also prescriptive.

Why then do we exert unbelief at the theology? Perhaps because you, like I, live in the Age of Schism.

 

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Ted,

You are misusing 1 Cor 1:10. First you are ripping it out of context to talk about something you alone have manufactured. Second, you have to also show on what basis, if the text actually did mean what you say it means, we are to stop the "divisions" at city borders. Several have asked you about defining the sphere of your single-church context. You have failed to even answer the questions regarding why you yourself are disobedient to this principle by pastoring a "divisive" church in a city with multiple other like-minded churches. But, I would take the question to its logical conclusion. Why wouldn't it apply to all churches, simply eliminating the local church context altogether and pointing to a single, undivided, universal church? 

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Rob Fall's picture

interesting.  I think Jay's question is more like who has supported your view since the NT times.  From my reading of Baptist history, no one.

Ted Bigelow wrote:

Jay - 

Yet I've never heard of this position outside of your teaching.  Why is that?

You have, Jay. Most every time you begin reading a letter in the NT, it reads, "to the church in __________" with the name of a city, and the word "church" in the singular. You just haven't taken the time to think through the implications of those words, or cross references from the glorified Jesus Christ and how He defines churches.

We are weak and liable to misunderstanding in part because we've never seen one church in a city and so assume it isn't prescriptive but only descriptive, but it was the context of the original recipients of those letters. Passages like 1 Cor. 1:10 tell us in no uncertain terms it is also prescriptive.

Why then do we exert unbelief at the theology? Perhaps because you, like I, live in the Age of Schism.

 

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

TylerR's picture

Editor

Rob wrote:

Interesting.  I think Jay's question is more like who has supported your view since the NT times.  From my reading of Baptist history, no one.

I believe Ted's problem is even worse than that. From my reading in ecclesiology, and a perusal of historical theology texts, I am not aware of anybody in history who has supported Ted's position. If somebody has, I honestly want to know. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

josh p's picture

Tyler, I believe Watchman Nee held that position which is not much of an endorsement.

Rob Fall's picture

So, Watchman Nee makes one.  Are there any others?

josh p wrote:

Tyler, I believe Watchman Nee held that position which is not much of an endorsement.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Jay's picture

Rob Fall wrote:

interesting.  I think Jay's question is more like who has supported your view since the NT times.  From my reading of Baptist history, no one.

Yes, that is exactly my point.  I've been through both Bible college and Seminary, and I've never heard of this position.  Furthermore, the NT authors repeatedly refer "to the churches":

Galatians 1:2 - and all the brothers who are with me, To the churches of Galatia:

1 Corinthians 16:1 - Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are todo.

1 Corinthians 7:17 - Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.

1 Thessalonians 2:14 - For you, brothers, became imitators of the churches of God in Christ Jesus that are in Judea. For you suffered the same things from your own countrymen as they did from the Jews,

Galatians 1:22 - And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.

2 Corinthians 8:1 - We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia,

1 Corinthians 11:16 - If anyone is inclined to be contentious, we have no such practice, nor do the churches of God.

2 Corinthians 8:24 - So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.

1 Corinthians 14:34 - the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.

For me, there are two issues with this.  First is that this is a new(er) position in the development of theology in over 2000 years.  It's so new, actually, that more than a few of us - all of which have theological training - have never heard of it, with the exception of Watchman Nee.  Which is it's own kettle of fish :).

Secondly, this issue is bringing far more dissention and confusion on SI than unity or peace.  For whom does dissention and confusion flow?  

"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

josh p's picture

I have only heard of him and I would not claim him either.

Rob Fall wrote:

So, Watchman Nee makes one.  Are there any others?

 

josh p wrote:

 

Tyler, I believe Watchman Nee held that position which is not much of an endorsement.

 

 

Rob Fall's picture

Neither do I.

josh p wrote:

I have only heard of him and I would not claim him either.

 

Rob Fall wrote:

 

So, Watchman Nee makes one.  Are there any others?

 

josh p wrote:

 

Tyler, I believe Watchman Nee held that position which is not much of an endorsement.

 

 

 

 

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

josh p's picture

By the way. Ted is trying it out on Mark Snoeberger over on Detroit's blog.

Rob Fall's picture

how that works out.

josh p wrote:

By the way. Ted is trying it out on Mark Snoeberger over on Detroit's blog.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Rob Fall's picture

very Detroit.  But not as bloody as the Purple Gang, so far.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

pvawter's picture

Ted,

Sorry I didn't respond in a timely fashion on Dr. Sno's blog, but I was busy warming my feet as you held them to the fire. Here are the objections I raised to your argument:

"I don’t recall Scriptures which state the presence of only one local church in every city in the Roman empire in which the gospel was preached...The example of one city and one church does not make a case for a binding doctrine on all future cities and churches. So what if there was only one church in Corinth when Paul wrote his letters? Your point that there ought only be one local church in every city (a term which requires some definition if your position is to be understood, btw) does not follow."

"With respect to Titus 1, Paul speaks of disruption within the households of the churches on Crete because of greedy false teachers, but what does that have to do with your assertion concerning a Biblical requirement of one church per city?"

You responded by listing several verses which reference a dozen or so NT churches identified by city, but that still does not prove what you assert, namely, that the NT writings limit the number of churches in any given "locale" to one. You seem to confuse throwing out a list of verses with making an argument in favor of a binding principle from Scripture. And rather than asking me for my Scriptural documentation when I question the logical consistency of your assertions, why don't you respond to the questions I and others have asked? Listing verses and demanding that we explain how they fit or don't fit into your theory is like asking us to do your work for you.

Now, at the end of your last response, you said, "Since the body of Christ only tangibly exists in locales (1 Cor. 12:27) a church planter entering that locale could only be someone seeking to schism the body (1 Cor. 12:25; 1:10)." Finally, we are getting somewhere! Your argument, if I may try to summarize it is as follows:

  • The body of Christ exists tangibly in singular locales.
  • Any additional body of believers in close proximity is a threat to the unity of the original body. (This is an unstated assumption in your theory.)
  • Therefore, a church planter who enters a locale which already contains a local church must be intending to plant schism within the body.

On the first statement, I believe we are agreed. Every local church, made up of immersed believers who have joined together in covenant fellowship, is a tangible expression of the body of Christ in that locale. Of course, this does not include those Christians who have not joined themselves to that local body, nor ones who have joined another body of believers, which my also be rightly described as a tangible expression of the body of Christ in that locale (presumably those two local churches do not exist in the same space at the same time).

Now your second assertion does not follow from 1 Cor. 12, which is not speaking of church planting but of the exercise of spiritual gifts within the (singular) local body of Christ. Nor does 1 Cor. 1 apply since Paul is referring to the unity of the fellowship of one local body. Nothing in these verses says anything about the presence or impact of other local churches on the body to which Paul wrote.

If we grant for sake of argument that the first two statements are true, the conclusion does not follow anyway, because there is nothing in them about the motivation of the person who may or may not be planting a church in the same locale as another local body. To presume that a person is intending to plant schism in an existing church by doing ministry independently of said local church is a huge leap, and cannot be sustained by any of the verses you mentioned or by the process of logical evaluation.

As far as Paul's admonition to the church in Rome is concerned, if you are correct and there was always only one local church per city in the NT, then why would Paul have to warn them to watch out for those who would plant other churches with the intent of causing schism? Unless, of course, Paul is not speaking of rival church planters, but of those who were bringing division within the local church body of Rome? Of course, the verse I believe you were referring to speaks of those who refuse to obey the doctrine they have been taught, not those who are planting rival churches in the city of Rome.

And while I have you, Ted, why don't you offer justification for your own local church's existence. According to one website I found (churchangel.com), there are nearly 120 churches in Hartford, Connecticut. Why haven't you merged with one of them, since your church is necessarily causing schism to all of the churches that were before yours? Have you ever tried to apply your teaching in a city-wide church merging campaign?

Jay's picture

Any additional body of believers in close proximity is a threat to the unity of the original body. (This is an unstated assumption in your theory.)

I don't see this espoused anywhere in Scripture.  

Jesus clearly desires that all of our believers be and act as one (John 17).  Paul argues against unnecessary schisms in I Corinthians 1-3. Yet the presence of believers in close to proximity to another church is somehow a threat?  Doesn't that violate the teaching of Ephesians 4:1-5?

That makes no sense whatsoever.

"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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