MacDonald: Congregational Government is From Satan

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Pastor Joe Roof's picture

In this article, James McDonald did a great job nailing some of the problems pastors and congregations are facing. I believe he is overlooking the fact that churches with elder leadership do face the same issues of carnality and control if they have elders.

The problem is carnality in the flock. I have survived 17 years of serving as a Pastor of the same church. On a few occassions, we have had business meetings that started to show the problems James McDonald described. I simply rebuked the people for their carnality. It led to those people leaving.

I believe one of the problems is pastors running every 2-3 years. Too many cowards are accepting the position of Pastor. Stand up to carnal members and leaders that want business meetings to turn into some silly carnal meeting. I know one Pastor who disciplined the woman who had controlled their church for 30 years. Kicking her out led to all kinds of problems for a while but now that church is thriving.

Neither the elder or congregational polities will work as long as people are out of control.

When we have business meetings, I make it clear that disagreement is welcome but disrespect and carnality will not be tolerated. Several people who have come to our church have told me that our business meetings are some of the most refreshing ones they have ever been in. We strive for transparency, clarity, and unity.

Shaynus's picture

Non-Congregational elder rule tends towards elders leading without explaining or getting input. On a practical level Congregationalism forces elders to lead a congregation through a philosophy of ministry or difficult matter. My church leadership is meeting tonight in preparation for a members' meeting tomorrow so we can plan how to explain a project we're working on. I think this is good for the health of our body.

Jonathan Leeman nails the critique.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Pastor Joe Roof wrote:
In this article, James McDonald did a great job nailing some of the problems pastors and congregations are facing. I believe he is overlooking the fact that churches with elder leadership do face the same issues of carnality and control if they have elders.

The problem is carnality in the flock. I have survived 17 years of serving as a Pastor of the same church. On a few occassions, we have had business meetings that started to show the problems James McDonald described. I simply rebuked the people for their carnality. It led to those people leaving.

I believe one of the problems is pastors running every 2-3 years. Too many cowards are accepting the position of Pastor. Stand up to carnal members and leaders that want business meetings to turn into some silly carnal meeting. I know one Pastor who disciplined the woman who had controlled their church for 30 years. Kicking her out led to all kinds of problems for a while but now that church is thriving.

Neither the elder or congregational polities will work as long as people are out of control.

When we have business meetings, I make it clear that disagreement is welcome but disrespect and carnality will not be tolerated. Several people who have come to our church have told me that our business meetings are some of the most refreshing ones they have ever been in. We strive for transparency, clarity, and unity.

Joe - it sounds like you are a really good leader - which allows you to remain for years in the same ministry and uphold integrity.

What would have happened if the people you rebuked for carnality, instead of leaving, gained enough people in the congregation to charge you with wrongdoing, and used their authority to call for a meeting to assess your fittedness to the church? Would you still be there?

Ted Bigelow's picture

Shaynus wrote:
Non-Congregational elder rule tends towards elders leading without explaining or getting input. On a practical level Congregationalism forces elders to lead a congregation through a philosophy of ministry or difficult matter. My church leadership is meeting tonight in preparation for a members' meeting tomorrow so we can plan how to explain a project we're working on. I think this is good for the health of our body.

Jonathan Leeman nails the critique.

Jonathan does offer a critique, but his many corrections to MacDonald requires a super-pastor. Sure, a pastor ought to do all those things he says, and some can and live to tell about it - but few are able to do so. Thus the statistics, and the problems, remain. As a result, when a congregational church bounces out a pastor - its always the pastor's fault. He didn't do enough, wasn't patient enough, a good enough leader, etc., etc.

Eldership allows the pastor to operate as part of a trusting team of shared shepherding authority. This is more practical and totally biblical. Did you know there is no instance of a single pastor church in the New Testament?

Shaynus's picture

I'm for plural eldership and congregationalism, Ted. You can have both, and that's what my church has. (I'm sure you don't agree with this, and I'm OK with that.)

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

This probably sounds too simplistic, or even dismissive, which is NOT my intention but- don't we, at some point, have to do what is right and let the chips fall where they may? You can reason with reasonable people, and you can't reason with unreasonable people, so if they leave, they leave. If there are enough to stage a coup, then shake off the dust and move on.

A related issue is that of the full-time pastor. In my experience, when one's paycheck is on the line, it is very difficult to be objective. I've seen more than one full-time pastor worry as much about the bottom line as he did about Biblical principles. It seems there is an air of uncertainty in some churches that results in situations where pastor's wives are working full-time jobs as a financial 'net' in case the church can't support their family. Thus, you have decision making influenced by monetary considerations. It's tough- I don't envy anyone who is a full-time pastor and has to balance this equation.

In addition to Biblical examples, it makes a practical argument for the multiple eldership, IMO.

Larry's picture

Moderator

I think MacDonald's piece suffers from the same problems that other critiques have, namely, that it doesn't take seriously enough the passages of Scripture that do show congregationalism, allows the most carnal in the congregation to dictate what is done (the very problem that congregationalism is condemned for), and doesn't take into account that the exact same types of problems exists in elder run churches. Overall, I thought it was pretty weak.

I think there's a reason there are congregational churches of people who love God and his word ... It is not because they are Satanic. Otherwise, they wouldn't love God and his word. It is because there is biblical support for it.

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

[quote=Ted BigelowJoe - it sounds like you are a really good leader - which allows you to remain for years in the same ministry and uphold integrity.

What would have happened if the people you rebuked for carnality, instead of leaving, gained enough people in the congregation to charge you with wrongdoing, and used their authority to call for a meeting to assess your fittedness to the church? Would you still be there?[/quote]

I am a leader who still is a sinner who makes way too many mistakes and has a long way to go.

My leadership has been challenged on 2 major occassions. Each time, I did my best to answer their concerns, and I was blessed that my leadership and flock decided to stand with me. That does not always happen to every servant of the Lord. The last time it happened, I sent my family home after a Wednesday night prayer service and I spent most of that night at the altar in prayer humbly evaluating my actions before God. As I prayed, I even made a few phone calls to offer some apologies to some people for mistakes I made in the battle. God blessed that, and by His grace, I am still serving.

Ted Bigelow's picture

Shaynus wrote:
I'm for plural eldership and congregationalism, Ted. You can have both, and that's what my church has. (I'm sure you don't agree with this, and I'm OK with that.)

I am glad for you and your church.

But the vast majority of congregational churches do not have a team approach to leadership - especially the standard Baptist model of single elder with a group of men perhaps called deacon, or trustees, or elders, who are established constitutionally as a check on the pastor's power. I wonder what the percentages among congregational churches are - of the single elder model vs. the plural leadership model like your own. My own experience in ministry tells me it must be 50 to 1, if not higher.

In your church the pastor doesn't completely stand on his own because it has adopted a portion of the biblical witness regarding a eldership. Thus the blessings.

Alex Guggenheim's picture

Regardless of one's view of church government, the claim that congregational forms are "from Satan" is simply nauseating to read. But this is not surprising coming from the Neo-Reformed/Neo-Puritan quadrant where their theological views are often treated among each other and then articulated to those outside the camp as sacrosanct. And this is what you get with elitist mentalities in theology or any other organization which is nothing but more self-aggrandizing posturing which one will find in other locations such as the KJVO groups where all other translations are from the devil or Pentecostals who swear Lucifer invented pants on women.

There is such thing as doctrines of demons and it is a serious matter. In fact it is the seriousness of it's reality that belies this man's outrageous and downright juvenile claim of Satanic inspiration for congregational government.

And lest someone protect this foolish claim by pleading the man is simply overstating the case I would and do respond, shame on him for stating otherwise thereby lying in his opening paragraph, if that was his intention.

The rebuttal by Leeman at 9 Marks is very good.

* A side note worth considering. There is a thread http://sharperiron.org/filings/6-8-11/19175 ]"Why I Walked Away From Evangelicalism" . This author's approach in the article represents, IMO, the very kind of atrociousness in theological expression to which he was referring.

**This post is not intended to be a reflection of my own view of church government. It simply addressed the claim of Satanic inspiration for the congregational form.

Shaynus's picture

Ted Bigelow wrote:
Shaynus wrote:
I'm for plural eldership and congregationalism, Ted. You can have both, and that's what my church has. (I'm sure you don't agree with this, and I'm OK with that.)

I am glad for you and your church.

But the vast majority of congregational churches do not have a team approach to leadership - especially the standard Baptist model of single elder with a group of men perhaps called deacon, or trustees, or elders, who are established constitutionally as a check on the pastor's power. I wonder what the percentages among congregational churches are - of the single elder model vs. the plural leadership model like your own. My own experience in ministry tells me it must be 50 to 1, if not higher.

In your church the pastor doesn't completely stand on his own because it has adopted a portion of the biblical witness regarding a eldership. Thus the blessings.

So are we arguing about hyper-congregationalism or congregationalism? If I see passages that indicate congregationalism, I'll obey them. If I see passages that talk about being elder-led, I'll obey those too. I've never been involved in a church that wasn't 1) elder led and 2) congregational. These experiences range from conservative fundamental baptist churches, Bible churches, and even SBC churches. It's probably more widespread than you think, and healthy models like this are being promulgated all the more by groups like 9Marks.

Ted, I don't think it's fair to level constant criticism at congregationalism if you're only going to use examples where pure democracy is all there is. That's not congregationalism done well. In real life, it's almost always a mix of elders and congregations that make decisions together. I think that elder-led congregationalism does the best job at assimilating all the texts. Other views tend to have do something to ignore clear instances of congregational assent and decision making or passages that tell elders to lead and shepherd the flock. If you want to really attack congregationalism, attacked the balanced views first. They're more difficult to critique. I see you already started at 9Marks.

Jeff Brown's picture

I have heard this all before, only the argumentation changes. The first time was when I sat under a preacher who made this declaration, using Isaiah 14:14. His argument was that Satan said, "I will be like the Most High." Lucifer did not say he would dethrone God, he only wanted to be equal with God. That was the beginning of democracy and congregational government. Of course, it never entered the preacher's head that one cannot concieve of being greater than God. The entire sermon was taken up with the topic.

When I later asked him to use Scripture to explain his own version of church authority, as we came to the crucial passages he said, "I know it doesn't say what I am saying, but I am sure that is what it means!"

He was, of course, a Baptist. No one has more awful things to say about congregationalism than certain Baptist preachers (now add James McDonald). Wink

So there you have it folks, the ultimate argument against congregational government. Biggrin Although I wasn't laughing as I listened.

Jeff Brown

Ted Bigelow's picture

Shaynus wrote:

So are we arguing about hyper-congregationalism or congregationalism?

I've not seen those terms before in my reading on the topic. What do you mean? That single elder congregationalism is hyper-congregationalism?

Quote:
Ted, I don't think it's fair to level constant criticism at congregationalism if you're only going to use examples where pure democracy is all there is. That's not congregationalism done well. In real life, it's almost always a mix of elders and congregations that make decisions together.

Give a read to my 1st article in the Sharper Iron series - http://sharperiron.org/article/congregational-voting-biblical. From the get-go I used an example of a congregational church with elders. At least with plural-elder congregationalists you can use the word "elders" and not be looked at as an enemy to God Wink

Quote:
I think that elder-led congregationalism does the best job at assimilating all the texts. Other views tend to have do something to ignore clear instances of congregational assent and decision making or passages that tell elders to lead and shepherd the flock. If you want to really attack congregationalism, attacked the balanced views first. They're more difficult to critique. I see you already started at 9Marks.

I've done that in my book, although I would characterize it as expose rather than attack. Like MacDonald, I have no animus toward Christians in churches in a form of governance not attested in Scripture. The internet is a really bad place for sustained argumentation.

Jay's picture

Ted Bigelow wrote:
Joe - it sounds like you are a really good leader - which allows you to remain for years in the same ministry and uphold integrity.

What would have happened if the people you rebuked for carnality, instead of leaving, gained enough people in the congregation to charge you with wrongdoing, and used their authority to call for a meeting to assess your fittedness to the church? Would you still be there?


Ted-

While the one church that I've pastored wasn't nearly as bad as the example that you provided above, I was in a church where congregationalism went amuck. In my situation, I left the church, and they're still trying to build the church their way.

Sometimes God calls us to positions that are hopeless, not because He is a sadist, but because He has to demonstrate or show something to us. A lot of people love Isaiah 6:1-8, but they don't preach Isaiah 6:9-12 nearly as energetically. Or, for that matter, Jeremiah 12:5-13.

Besides, a doctrine's popularity doesn't determine it's truth or effectiveness.

"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

Greg Long's picture

Alex Guggenheim wrote:
Regardless of one's view of church government, the claim that congregational forms are "from Satan" is simply nauseating to read. But this is not surprising coming from the Neo-Reformed/Neo-Puritan quadrant where their theological views are often treated among each other and then articulated to those outside the camp as sacrosanct. And this is what you get with elitist mentalities in theology or any other organization which is nothing but more self-aggrandizing posturing which one will find in other locations such as the KJVO groups where all other translations are from the devil or Pentecostals who swear Lucifer invented pants on women.

There is such thing as doctrines of demons and it is a serious matter. In fact it is the seriousness of it's reality that belies this man's outrageous and downright juvenile claim of Satanic inspiration for congregational government.

And lest someone protect this foolish claim by pleading the man is simply overstating the case I would and do respond, shame on him for stating otherwise thereby lying in his opening paragraph, if that was his intention.

The rebuttal by Leeman at 9 Marks is very good.

* A side note worth considering. There is a thread http://sharperiron.org/filings/6-8-11/19175 ]"Why I Walked Away From Evangelicalism" . This author's approach in the article represents, IMO, the very kind of atrociousness in theological expression to which he was referring.

**This post is not intended to be a reflection of my own view of church government. It simply addressed the claim of Satanic inspiration for the congregational form.


I have no idea what "Neo-Reformed/Neo-Puritan" has anything to do with this. Just so you know, Jonathan Leeman and his church (senior pastor, Mark Dever), run in the same so-called "Neo-Reformed/Neo-Puritan" circles as does James MacDonald. Both Dever and MacDonald spoke/participated in panel discussions at the Gospel Coalition Conference. I could be mistaken, but I think Leeman's church is probably more Calvinistic than MacDonald's. (If not more so, than at least just as.)

-------
Greg Long, Ed.D. (SBTS)

Pastor of Adult Ministries
Grace Church, Des Moines, IA

Adjunct Instructor
School of Divinity
Liberty University

ElJ's picture

There is nothing new about Elder Rule. Its first major proponent was a guy called Cyprian - only back then it was called "Bishop Rule." The problems were centered on the humanity of the church back then too - pastors were not trained well enough, heretical teaching was growing, etc. In order to protect the churches, Cyprian developed "bishop rule," placing the authority of the church in the bishops in the local church. That developed into monarchial bishops - bishops overseeing numerous churches in a locality. That then developed into a single bishop - today we call him the Pope.

But this will never happen in evangelicalism! Oh, wait, how many churches is Mark Driscoll the bishop over? 11 now? and more to come?

Shaynus's picture

Greg Long wrote:

I have no idea what "Neo-Reformed/Neo-Puritan" has anything to do with this. Just so you know, Jonathan Leeman and his church (senior pastor, Mark Dever), run in the same so-called "Neo-Reformed/Neo-Puritan" circles as does James MacDonald. Both Dever and MacDonald spoke/participated in panel discussions at the Gospel Coalition Conference. I could be mistaken, but I think Leeman's church is probably more Calvinistic than MacDonald's. (If not more so, than at least just as.)

Having been a member at Dever's church, "Neo-Puritan" is a downright perfect term for Mark Dever. The man was born in the wrong century. He's one of the better scholars of the Puritans out there. Smile

Bob T.'s picture

Quote:
Alex Guggenheim wrote:
Regardless of one's view of church government, the claim that congregational forms are "from Satan" is simply nauseating to read. But this is not surprising coming from the Neo-Reformed/Neo-Puritan quadrant where their theological views are often treated among each other and then articulated to those outside the camp as sacrosanct. And this is what you get with elitist mentalities in theology or any other organization which is nothing but more self-aggrandizing posturing which one will find in other locations such as the KJVO groups where all other translations are from the devil or Pentecostals who swear Lucifer invented pants on women.

There is such thing as doctrines of demons and it is a serious matter. In fact it is the seriousness of it's reality that belies this man's outrageous and downright juvenile claim of Satanic inspiration for congregational government.

And lest someone protect this foolish claim by pleading the man is simply overstating the case I would and do respond, shame on him for stating otherwise thereby lying in his opening paragraph, if that was his intention.

The rebuttal by Leeman at 9 Marks is very good.

A side note worth considering. There is a thread http://sharperiron.org/filings/6-8-11/19175 ]"Why I Walked Away From Evangelicalism" . This author's approach in the article represents, IMO, the very kind of atrociousness in theological expression to which he was referring.

**This post is not intended to be a reflection of my own view of church government. It simply addressed the claim of Satanic inspiration for the congregational form.


I would have to agree with what Alex has said. This kind of language and conclusion actually undermines the authors credibility.

Joseph Leavell's picture

Here is MacDonald's update to his blog. I think it is helpful in clarifying his position...one that he thinks isn't really too different from Dever's as MacDonald believes in "congregational confirmation. Here is the quote:

James MacDonald wrote:
While I disagree with the 9Marks post’s rationale for congregational government, even in the moderated form they describe, I do deeply appreciate the exhortations for updated church membership roles, active church discipline by elders, and men who fear God more than man. Further, I think their “congregational government” under elders is not very far from our “congregational confirmation” at Harvest. What I am repudiating is not that, but as stated above, the Robert’s Rules of Order, “every man does that which is right in his own eyes” form of congregationalism that destroys pastors and divides churches.

Here is the link for the blog post:

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

Shaynus's picture

If something is from Satan, then isn't it still from Satan if it's in a moderated form?

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

is a good thing twisted. Even the temptation of Christ was a play for Jesus to do things that were permissible, but at that moment it would have been for the wrong reasons and at the wrong time.

Shaynus wrote:
If something is from Satan, then isn't it still from Satan if it's in a moderated form?

Shaynus's picture

Susan R wrote:
is a good thing twisted. Even the temptation of Christ was a play for Jesus to do things that were permissible, but at that moment it would have been for the wrong reasons and at the wrong time.
Shaynus wrote:
If something is from Satan, then isn't it still from Satan if it's in a moderated form?

But can something good be a bad thing twisted? I guess that's my point.

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Susan R wrote:
is a good thing twisted. Even the temptation of Christ was a play for Jesus to do things that were permissible, but at that moment it would have been for the wrong reasons and at the wrong time.
Shaynus wrote:
If something is from Satan, then isn't it still from Satan if it's in a moderated form?

I don't think this is exactly accurate. Everything? What good thing is twisted in murder? Rape (if you believe rape is not about sex)? Theft? I think the list could go on.

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

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:

I don't think this is exactly accurate. Everything? What good thing is twisted in murder? Rape (if you believe rape is not about sex)? Theft? I think the list could go on.

Well, I think we have to acknowledge that in some sense, the taking of a life (in the absolute sense) is not evil, otherwise the passages that mention that God "slew" someone would indicate that He is evil, which of course, He isn't. God indicates in scripture that He at times is jealous, angry, exhibits hate toward something, executes violence on humans, and so on, which means that those can't always be wrong.

I would argue that it would be difficult for a human to have righteous jealousy, righteous anger, righteous hatred, and so on, and God has made it clear that vengeance is for Him alone (though again, it must not be evil in and of itself if He can do it).

So you might be right that not ALL actions are twisting of something good, but it's a lot more than we would like to believe or are comfortable considering.

Dave Barnhart

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
Susan R wrote:
is a good thing twisted. Even the temptation of Christ was a play for Jesus to do things that were permissible, but at that moment it would have been for the wrong reasons and at the wrong time.
Shaynus wrote:
If something is from Satan, then isn't it still from Satan if it's in a moderated form?

I don't think this is exactly accurate. Everything? What good thing is twisted in murder? Rape (if you believe rape is not about sex)? Theft? I think the list could go on.


I agree with Bro. Dave, but I would take it further. If God is the only entity that existed in eternity past, then everything He created that was corrupted is by default a good thing twisted. Which is... everything.

Your examples- rape, for starters. If is it about sex, then a sacred God-created act reserved for marriage has been perverted. If it is about power and control- well, is there anything wrong with power or control until is it used inappropriately or excessively? Theft - I'm to rejoice in the blessings of others, not covet them, and theft is simply covetousness acted out. Also, it isn't wrong to own things, but it is wrong to obtain something by force or fraud.

What was the difference between Christ turning rocks into bread and turning water into wine- one would have been sin while the other wasn't?

The problems that eventually appear with any form of gov't are rooted in excess, IMO. Too much of one (authority) or the other (democracy) not balanced with each other and guided by Biblical principle - and Bob's your uncle.