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.

1 comment:

Pastor Dave said...

Good blog brother. I certainly appreciate your concern with the Presbyterian form of church government and I agree that one of the main weaknesses of it can be a lack of the priesthood of believers. One of the best books on biblical eldership (plurality of elders) is this one: I believe in a plurality of elders but I believe the elders should give a vision for what the church is to look like to the people. One of the more common complaints is that the people don't have a say at all. I think one of the best ways I've seen this handled is to have a congregational meeting where the people in the congregation can voice their thoughts and concerns as well as get answers to their questions. What I've just described is a much more modified version of what you were describing in terms of church government. As I said, I recommend you check out the book on biblical eldership its a very good examination of the biblical, historical and practical background regarding biblical eldership.