Wednesday, May 03, 2006

The rule of Scripture

Something has been on my mind lately. ( I know that's hard to believe!) I've been wondering just what is the place of scripture in the life of the 21st century church. Most of us would respond that the Bible is the authority of the Church, the life of the Church, the one true source of doctrine for the church; for most of us, we would say all the right things. But do our actions live up to our words? If Scripture is inspired and inerrent should it not rule how the church conducts itself? The whole issue of Church polity comes to mind. Where in scripture do we find the concept of a 'business meeting?' Especially one where the most carnal and unfaithful members of the church have the same voting power as the most godly and Spirit-filled. It seems evident to me that New Testament churches were governed not by the whims of the congregation, but by a group of faithful elders. Granted, there were issues that were decided by the congregation, the election of the first deacons in Acts 6 is a good example. Issues such as an annual budget, called staff, debt, or buildings probably should be handled in a large forum, with congregational input. Yet, the daily business of the church would best be handled by a godly group of elders. The elders would be charged with keeping the church doctrinally faithful, spiritually revived, and morally pure through the careful and biblical administration of church discipline.
However, mentioning elder governance in a Baptist church is almost grounds for dismissal! I go back to my original question. What happened to the rule of Scripture? Elders and elder rule are clearly taught, but we don't practice it. My opinion is that we love tradition more than we do scriptural clarity. As a Baptist pastor, the most frustrating aspect of ministry is our tendency to treat the Bible like an all you can eat buffet at Ryan's. We'll take a little of this, and some of that please, but no, not that - I don't care for any of that! I think it's high time for us to get back to the Bible!
Okay, I'll get off my soap-box now!


Average American Christian said...

There you go with the Bible again.
Don't you understand that God is an American and he believes churches should be democracies?

You probably think that Christians ought to pray, study the Bible, witness to the lost, serve the needs of the community, and actually try to become like Jesus.

Don't you understand that church is just something we do? Heaven forbid that we get too excited about this church stuff. It is just part of our culture, like NASCAR or Monday/Friday night football.

Your problem is that you think too much about the Bible. You should be thinking about other things... more practical to everyday living.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 (NLT)
1 And so I solemnly urge you before God and before Christ Jesus—who will someday judge the living and the dead when he appears to set up his Kingdom:
2 Preach the word of God. Be persistent, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.
3 For a time is coming when people will no longer listen to right teaching. They will follow their own desires and will look for teachers who will tell them whatever they want to hear.
4 They will reject the truth and follow strange myths.
5 But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at bringing others to Christ. Complete the ministry God has given you.

kcs said...

"We teach the traditions of men as if they were the commands of God"
Malcolm Ellis

I never will forget that statement from one of his sermons.

Jason E. Robertson said...

I feel your pain.

Mark Dever is probably the best model for traditional Baptist churches trying to make a change.

Scott Hill said...

KCS who are you? I don't hear many people quote Malcolm. Do we know each other?

Colin, Jason and I talked about doing some posts of stories on this very issue. He recently ran into an old friend pastoring a church of 500 hundred, and he had no authority to make decisions in the church.

LeeC said...

My heart is so grieved reading this.

I attended a congregational Baptist church that after the first four years of being there our pastor became convicted by the Word that Elder based rule was the Scriptural method.

He preached this gently and faithfully for seven years and the congregation was politely attentive. Until he tried to apply his teaching. The deacon board after some wrestling with Scripture agreed to write a new constitution implementing biblical guidelines rather than the rather pragmatic legalist one they had before. For instance you could not be a member if the company you worked for sold alcohol in even the most oblique fashion such as a grocery store, or shiping company.

Everyone who was a part of the new constitution was confident it would go through. We strove very hard to avoid the "political lobbying" that is usually needed to get anything passed in a congragational chuch, relying instead upon the clear teaching of the Word.

Then the pastor had a Q&A night.

That night two of the deacons (or deacon elder hybrids as I see it)stood up and in spite of their earlier assurances of support denounced the concept and justified congregational rule by numerous hypothetical instances of graft and power mongering from the pastor and other elders that would happen if we went this way. This was promptly followed by some very viscous accusations of power mongering and greed ascribed to our pastor (Who by the way very graciously had pastored there for less than minimum wage for many years and he had a large family that he worked a second job to support).

It nearly broke our pastors heart.

We then discovered there was a very active "behind the scenes" campaign to win votes against the proposal that was being led by these two deacons, which included bringing in "members" that we had not seen in over a year including some who should have left due to church discipline, but that never seems to get enough votes to happen in a congregational church (in my experience).

The vote lost to three votes because some of our members who wanted to be there could not, and there was no proxy vote allowed, but the votes of people who have not fellowshipped with us, or any other church in over a year held the same sway as the pastors...

One of the biggest objections was "So you are saying this church has been in sin all these years? I cant accept that!"

Eventually our pastor left and is quit blessed where he is now. I, my family and twelve other families that I know of are very happily under the authority of some wondeful undershepherds at the churches we went to.

I am not one to choose my church like a consumer at a store, but personally the main thing I want to see in any future church I attend is a desire to be constantly changing in accord with the Word of God realizing that just as we as individuals must be constantly in the process of sanctification so must the church always be struggling to become the spotless Bride of Christ.

There are many wonderful and fruitfull congregational churches out there. That does not mean that they cannot improve though, and it is no insult to say so. I cannot see any biblical justification, or spiritual benefit for the sheep to be leading the shepherds, or for that matter even democratic elections.

Elections are a means of one group forcing its will over other group by majority vote. This breeds cliques and power struggles, and winners and losers. Or more often simple flaccid business meetings where nothing is ever challenged, the pastor has all the responsibility to God, but no authority over the flock,and purifying biblical measures like church discipline can never get a strong enough "voting block" to be effective.

I hear you Brother.

Vile Blasphemer said...

My best estimate is that human nature will eventually overcome what is theorized as morality and we'll all be destroyed.

Oh... and interesting read.

4given said...

no... please, hop back on that soap box. This stuff needs to be said.

Gavin Brown said...

I agree with you 100%-sola scriptura. however, your defense of biblical polity turned a bit pragmatic in the middle of your post:

"the daily business of the church would best be handled by a godly group of elders."

sure, it is the BEST way, but thats no reason for doing it (church growth strategies come to mind), but instead simply b/c its the NT way. i know thats picky...very good post though. enjoyed it.

collin wimberly said...

I think a series of posts on this issue would be great. Studying and discussing it from a biblical and historical angle would probably be enlightening to everyone. Early Baptist churches commonly had elders. In fact, I think you can argue that elder governance is compatable with congregationalism. Baptists don't have to become presbyterian to follow the Biblical model.
And for that I am thankful.


LeeC said...

"Baptists don't have to become presbyterian to follow the Biblical model. "

That was the other main argument, that we would cease to be Baptists if we went that way, but there is nothing in the Baptist distinctives that say so, and if after honest searching the Bible actually did ask us to go against a Baptist distinctive (Ido not think it does)...well where is our loyalty?

Keith said...

You have expressed some of the same sentiments I have had for years. Two years ago, our church went thru a horrible split as a result of a "business meeting" where "the most carnal and unfaithful members of the church [had] the same voting power as the most godly and Spirit-filled." On a Wednesday evening, where average attendance was around 150, we had 350+ show up, many who had not graced the door in years--one couple that had publicly stood up and denounced the current pastor only two weeks before. The "vote" never took place due to the shouting and name calling that ensued; ultimately the broken Pastor resigned. A couple of weeks later, the Elders that started the whole mess resigned and left the church as well. Subsequent investigating revealed multiple violations of Scripture/Biblical qualifications by the Elders who have started their own church across town.

By God's grace, our church has survived and is growing. God is blessing, the Gospel is being preached, people are being saved.