Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Should Congregations Vote, or Should Elders Rule?...Part II

Even before the articles by James MacDonald, and the various web responses, I had been thinking through issues of church polity. Although blogs tend to be more brief and less thought out than books, the few articles I've read on the blogosphere have helped me as I continue to wrestle with these issues. In my last post, I recommended that everyone read James MacDonald's two posts that argue for elder rule and against congregationalism (with links provided). Now I want to recommend that you all read a very thoughtful response by Jonathan Leeman of 9 Marks (i.e. Mark Dever's group). He is respectful of James MacDonald (as James is respectful of 9 Marks), and he interacts especially with Matthew 16 and 18 as key passages which he argues, mandate that the congregation is the final authority and not just the elders. Whether you agree or disagree with him, you should read his post (found here). I think that even more important than where one lands on this issue (although that is enormously important), is the nuanced way they will practically apply their position. I heartily agree with Leeman's final paragraph, but I'm afraid that many (or most?) congregational churches would strongly disagree. If you are going to argue for congregational church government, I believe you must follow this counsel or you are surely being unbiblical, and in turn, are heading towards being a nightmare church. Leeman writes:

Finally, one more word about the nature of congregational authority: it’s a passive and narrow authority. It’s not the authority to lead, per se, it’s the authority to VETO bad leadership. If the elders compromise the gospel, the congregation should VETO the compromise. If a member’s life becomes compromised, the congregation should VETO (metaphorically speaking) that person’s profession of faith through excommunication. By implication, yes, I think that means the congregation also has authority to choose leaders and affirm members. But still, the mantel of day-to-day leadership and oversight falls to the elders (e.g., the congregation should seek out the elders’ leadership when it comes to new members and new leaders). The abuse of congregationalism to which MacDonald objects occurs whenever congregations try to lead: “Pastor, you need to listen to us, and do what we say!”

Remember, if God has mandated that a Kingdom of Priests be the final authority in all church matters, then he has certainly not ordained that a Kingdom of Kings operate with no leadership but their own. Within the kindom of priests there are leaders, kings if you like, who must lead, initiate, and be trusted. The question MacDonald and Leeman are asking is not whether this is the case, but rather, within an elder-led church, whether congregations should vote. In both models, congregations may interact and be brought into the decision-making process, but in Leeman's model alone, do congregations vote. I'm afraid that most of MacDonald's first post deals with congregationalism gone horribly wrong, and not with Leeman's position at all.

But again, read, think, and wrestle to be Biblical in all things!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Should Congregations Vote, or Should Elders Rule?

I dare say that most Christians have never even considered this question. Christians tend to assume that the tradition they were raised with is Biblical, and may not even know that the other position exists. But it is a fact that many churches believe that the final locus of authority in a church rests with the congregation, and many others believe that the final locus of authority in a church rests with the elders. Now, there are extremes in both instances. On the one extreme is the congregational church with a consensus mentality, that functionally holds that no member should ever disagree with any decision made by the church; if one member disagrees, then the decision will be made to do nothing (effectively offending many others, who supported this direction, but I digress). On the other extreme is the elder's board that operates alone, without ever consulting the congregation, stomps around showing displays of power, and is not afraid to offend the most wise church member. Somewhere in the middle are elder-led congregationally ruled churches (e.g. Mark Dever), and elder-ruled, congregationally loving/listening/caring churches (e.g. James MacDonald). Ignoring the presence of a continuum, here are some denominations that hold to one or the other position:

Congregational Rule:
- Baptists
- Associated Gospel Churches
- Pentecostal Churches
- Christian and Missionary Alliance Churches
- Many others

Elder Rule:
- Brethren Churches (various streams)
- Harvest Churches (think, James MacDonald)
- Sovereign Grace Ministries Churches (think, C.J. Mahaney)
- Many others

Whatever your position, it is useful to think through the issue, especially if you have never considered other sides, or if you have never thought through your own position through a biblical lens (but rather, your traditional lens/cultural assumptions). Love him or hate him, James MacDonald has recently provided two blog posts that seek to refute congregationalism and argue for elder-rule.

In his first post, he uses hyperbole and anecdote to show how congregational church government can hold churches captive (i.e. when it goes bad).

In his second post, he interacts with various Biblical passages, arguing that elder-rule is the Biblical model, and also fills out what elder-rule practically looks like in the Harvest family of churches (i.e. they seek to be balanced in their use of authority and he gives many examples of how this plays out).

Again, whatever your position, you would probably benefit from thinking through MacDonald's articles. (And please, do not leave a comment attacking me for supporting MacDonald. I'm supporting thinking through this issue, and I'm not necessarily supporting even the titles he gave to his articles. But they have helpful content to those who want to think critically through this issue, so I commend them to you!) Here they are again:

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

What should John MacArthur do, now that he has preached microscopically on every single verse of the New Testament. I like the advice of this admiring blogger (note: no, I'm not dispensational, but I do like the rhyme at the end):
If I were John MacArthur, I’d keep doing the only thing I know how: dream big and preach the word. And I would start in the Old Testament. I’m not kidding. I don’t mean I’d ask God for 130 more years of life to go wormy again. I’d go bird’s-eye-view, chapter by chapter til the Rapture.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ministry and Tears

From Justin Taylor:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews. . . . Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears” (Acts 20:18-19, 31).

“For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you” (2 Cor. 2:4).

“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ” (Phil. 3:18).

Rethinking Seminary, Especially For Canadians

I really enjoyed my buddy Clint's thoughts on Canadians, Seminary, and Pastoral Training in the following two articles:

Should a Seminary Be a Pastor Factory?

Where Should I Go to Bible College or Seminary: The Canadian Question

Clint seems to be hinting that like-minded local churches need to band together in the practical training of men for pastoral ministry, even as they piggy-back on some of the academic resources that Seminaries and Universities have to offer (e.g. if the group of pastors in a given context don't know Hebrew well enough to teach it to future pastors, send the man away for that aspect of his training). I agree with this analysis, and would add that a more grass roots movement needs to rise up where PhD graduates with a heart for the church need to forgo glory in the academic guild, and focus their efforts on small-scale training and mentoring in the context of a local church. Their scholarly output may not end up being cutting edge, but the fruit of their labours will be greatly multiplied through trained pastors who can handle the Word of God correctly, apply it penetratingly, and lead congregations practically.

Do such movements exist in Canada today? Or, who will be the first to begin such a work?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Contending (for the Faith) and Communing (with God)

Two quotes from John Owen’s preface to Vindiciae Evangelicae ["Mystery of the Gospel Vindicated"] (1655), Works vol. 12:

“When the heart is cast indeed into the mould of the doctrine that the mind embraceth,
—when the evidence and necessity of the truth abides in us,
—when not the sense of the words only is in our heads, but the sense of the thing abides in our hearts
—when we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for
—then shall we be garrisoned by the grace of God against all the assaults of men.”

“Let us . . . not think that we are anything the better for our conviction of the truths of the great doctrines of the gospel, for which we contend with these men, unless we find the power of the truths abiding in our own hearts, and have a continual experience of their necessity and excellency in our standing before God and our communion with him.”

HT: Dane Ortlund, via Justin Taylor