Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Church Government - Part 6 The Plural-Elder-Led Church

The Plural-Elder-Led Church

As with the single-elder-led church, there is ample biblical evidence to support a plurality of elders in the local church. Also like the single-elder-led church and Congregationalism, the plural-elder-led church is independent and autonomous meaning that it is not governed by any denominational authority. In addition to leadership, decisions about membership, doctrine, worship, missions, facilities, finances, etc. are made within the local church. Biblical evidence for plural elder leadership includes Acts 20:17; Phil.1:1; and 1 Pet. 5:1-4 among other passages.[1]

Strengths of this form of governance are similar to single-elder-led congregations which include the inherent accountability of the elders themselves not only to the congregation but to each other. A weakness of this view of polity is the separation of teaching and ruling elders in direct contradiction to 1 Tim. 3:1-7 where clearly we see all elders teach and all elders also rule. Another weakness of this governance model is the concentration of power in the hands of a small, though plural, group of individuals.

[1] Brand, Chad Owen, and R. Stanton Norman. ed. Perspectives on Church Government: 5 Views. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2005), 272.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Church Government - Part 5 The Bishop-Led Church

The Bishop-Led Church

The Bishop-led church exhibits a loose hierarchy system where the decisions of the church made by its leader are observed throughout the denominational structure. An example of this is the United Methodist Church with the diocese operations.[1] Methodists, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans, including Episcopalians, all see the bishop as a superintendent with the unique authority to ordain presbyters and deacons.[2] This view is contrary to a reading of Acts 20:17-28; 1 Pet. 5:1-2; Phil. 1:1; and 1 Tim. 3:1-16 where clearly there was no difference between bishops and presbyters or overseers.[3] Still, in the case of Anglicanism the bishop’s ordaining power lays the validity of the church in its apostolic succession going back in an unbroken line to the apostles and through them, specifically Peter, to Jesus himself.[4]

One of the strengths of episcopal governance is the fact that a single individual can have a tremendous influence in directing the energies of a large number of the faithful. This is especially so, as an example, in terms of missions when the head of a diocese leads the charge on a particular area of concern. While inclusiveness in and of itself is not a bad thing, a weakness of this polity is the seeming attempt to be all things to all people.

[1] Welch, Robert H. Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2005), 66.

[2] Brand, 228.

[3] Easton, M. G. Easton's Bible Dictionary. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1966).

[4] Ibid.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Church Government - Part 4 The Congregation-Led Church

The Congregation-Led Church

At the center of congregationalism is the firm belief that Christ is the head of his church (Col. 1:18) and that there is a priesthood of all believers (1 Pet. 2:9). Further, it is fundamental in New Testament teaching that Christ is the living Lord among his people.[1] The church is under divine authority defined to mean the lordship of Jesus Christ and the leadership of the Holy Spirit.[2] The definition of Congregational polity offered by Garrett is that form of church governance in which final human authority rests with the local or particular congregation when it gathers for decision-making.[3]

Congregationalism has strengths such as flexibility in practice and the participation in the decision-making process of the laity. Further, unlike the defense of Presbyterianism offered by Reymond, Congregationalism is not an end in itself but is rather a means to other ends.[4] A key weakness of this polity is the seemingly minimized role of the offices of elder/overseer/pastor which are clearly ordained in Scripture.

[1] Ibid.

[2] Brand, Chad Owen, and R. Stanton Norman. ed. Perspectives on Church Government: 5 Views. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2005), 157.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid, 194.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Church Government - Part 3 The Presbytery-Led Church

The Presbytery-Led Church

Presbyterianism emphasizes the importance of elders, or presbyters, though adherents do not generally hold this polity is the only one in the New Testament.[1] Among the Sanhedrin were elders who supervised the observance of the law (Matt. 21:23) and the traditions (Matt. 15:2). The early Christian church followed the Jewish custom of granting authority to older people who had demonstrated wisdom (1 Tim. 5:1; Heb. 11:2). The book of Acts even recounts the influence of elders on the Apostolic Council at Jerusalem (15:6, 22) and beyond (16:4).[2] Governance by elders, or overseers, has a long history in the Bible. Moses, the kings of Israel, the judges, and the priests and Levites were assisted by the elders of Israel.[3]

Presbyterian congregations elect their elders but do so recognizing that those elders are not elected to do the will of the congregation thus it is not a democracy.[4] These congregations are also bound together by a connectional government (local “session”, regional “presbytery”, and “general assembly”). While the congregation elects the elders, those elders are elected from among those ordained by the presbytery.[5]

An inherent strength of this model would appear to be unity one would expect to flow from the connectedness each congregation has with others through the governmental hierarchy. Of course, this assumes no enmity exists between other congregations. Weaknesses of this form of polity include congregations forced to accept the interpretation of Scripture by others and decisions dealing with homosexuality, abortion, etc. that the congregation objects to through their individual understanding of the Scriptures. There is also a distinct lack of mention of the priesthood of all believers mentioned anywhere in the materials researched which is a key element of the Reformation from which Presbyterianism comes.

[1] Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 257.

[2] Myers, Allen C. The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987), 319.

[3] Brand, Chad Owen, and R. Stanton Norman. ed. Perspectives on Church Government: 5 Views. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2005), 93.

[4] Ibid, 95.

[5] Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 257.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Church Government - Part 2 The Single-Elder-Led Church

The Single-Elder-Led Church

Akin spends thirty-eight of his forty-nine pages describing congregationalism before arriving at a place where he begins to discuss the single-elder-led church, or as he puts it, a senior pastor who is first among equals among other elders.[1] Akin rightly reminds his readers that Scripture is silent in terms of how many elders a local congregation should have.[2] Akin describes a governance model in which the senior elder (pastor) may appoint others to assist with the ministry but those people serve with and under the senior leader, are required to meet definite spiritual qualifications, and the senior leader continues to be the primary teacher of the congregation.[3] This is similar to the way in which Moses was admonished by his father-in-law Jethro to select men to help him in Exodus 18. Moses later followed this guidance again in Numbers 11.

There is ample New Testament evidence to support a senior leader in the local church. First and foremost we see that Jesus called the Disciples to learn from Him but also to under and with Him. This model is also demonstrated with James, the half-brother of Jesus, in the Jerusalem church where he serves alongside the apostles and elders yet is also above them.[4] This senior elder is accountable to the congregation and other elders as he ought to be. In short, a single-elder-led, or senior elder led, congregation could be best described as one in which a representative congregational governance is in practice and is strongly defensible biblically.

The biblical support of this model and the inherent accountability that Akin assumes are strengths. Garrett points out that this model tends to reduce the role of the congregation to one of only calling and ordination of pastor and staff, purchasing property, and discipline.[5] Additionally, another weakness of this model is the tendency to drift towards autocracy that Akin himself warns against.

[1] Brand, Chad Owen, and R. Stanton Norman. ed. Perspectives on Church Government: 5 Views. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2005), 65.

[2] Ibid, 64.

[3] Ibid, 66.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid, 79.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Church Government - Part 1 Introduction

**This series began as an assignment for my studies at Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary**


Church government should be a topic of interest to every Christian yet in the experience of the author a rather small percentage of congregations actually understand different models of governance much less the model their own church utilizes. At first glance, there would seem to be only a few models of governance from which to choose. Morris offers a description of only three models, episcopacy, Presbyterianism, and congregationalism, which seems to be all encompassing.[1] Welch expands on this by adding the monarchial system of governance in which he sees the Roman Catholic Church.[2] For Welch’s purpose in discussing church administration, this is likely sufficient. However, ecclesiology is not so simple. Fortunately, the rubric for the current assignment only calls for a discussion of five models of church government. The following is a brief description of each as identified in Perspectives on Church Government; 5 Views.

[1] Elwell, Walter A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology 2nd Edition. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 256-57.

[2] Welch, Robert H. Church Administration: Creating Efficiency for Effective Ministry. (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2005), 66.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

REVIEW: The Necessity of Prayer

Bounds, E. M. The Necessity of Prayer. Baker Book House (1976), ISBN 0-8010-0659-7. Digitized by Harry Platinga, 1994.

Available: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bounds/necessity.toc.html.

Elwell and Comfort define prayer as the addressing and petitioning of God and describe it as a feature of many, if not all religions.[1] E. M. Bounds[2] was very much in tune with this and very carefully argues the case for the necessity of prayer in the life of the Christian with meticulous attention to detail. Bounds was a man of prayer and his commitment to prayer is well documented in the books he authored. The Necessity of Prayer begins with two chapters focused on prayer and faith. Bounds brings to our attention the fact that one must have faith in the existence of the Unseen before it is possible to attempt to reach out to Him in prayer. This reaching out must also be done on a daily basis. Bounds goes on in a logical progression spending extended periods on faith, obedience, importunity, and the Word of God in his treatment of the necessity of prayer. As he makes each point, Bounds is careful to support his views with Scripture and examples which serve to explain each point being made.

Of particular note is his brief treatment of character and conduct (chapter 8) in his book. Though the chapter only comprises about six percent of the work, Bounds powerfully makes the point that an active, vibrant prayer life greatly influences the character and conduct of the Christian. Citing Titus 2:14, Bounds makes the case that inward spiritual character is demanded of the Christian by God. Bounds also make the case for consistency of the Christian’s prayer life and claims that this will be evident.

Throughout his treatment of the necessity of prayer, it is evident that the author has at the very center of his life the notion of the supreme importance of prayer in the lives of God’s people. The urgency with which the author writes is also evident as Bounds successfully points out numerous key points that Christians should already be aware of. It is this urgency that leads this reviewer to believe that Bounds, at the time of his writing, was not persuaded that his readers were aware of these arguments. One might also conclude that Bounds may have thought that the Christians of the day were aware of the need for prayer but lacked the understanding of the importance of prayer in the life of the Christian. In either case as I have already mentioned, Bounds writes with a clear urgency to his readers.

Bounds work is obviously well thought out, well written, and relevant to the Christian community today. I would have preferred to have seen Scripture references included as a footnote or even in the body of the work itself though I do recognize that more formalized writing styles such as those employed by LBTS were not in use at the time of writing or publication. Still, the author certainly seems to have taken for granted that his readers knew their Bibles well enough to recognize the Scriptures being cited or to find them in the index which appeared to be limited.[3] Though the thought about a lack of a chapter addressing the structure certainly came to mind, this was quickly dismissed as Bounds work under consideration is not intended to be a how-to manual but rather a passionate attempt to convey to his readers the importance of prayer, real prayer. In this task, I commend Bounds on his success.

[1] Elwell, Walter A., and Comfort, Philip Wesley. Tyndale Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Ill.: Tyndale House Publishers, 2001), 1068.

[2] Edward McKendree Bounds (August 15, 1835 – August 24, 1913) was a pastor in the Methodist Episcopal Church South and author of eleven books, nine of which focused on the subject of prayer. Throughout his life, Bounds was known as a man of prayer, what we might today refer to as a prayer warrior, a title of which I believe he would approve.

[3] The limited index in the online version may simply be a feature of that version and not indicative of the print version. This is simply an observation based on the available information at the time of my writing.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

New Post

It has just occurred to me that I have not been a very good blogger of late! New posts coming soon!!!