Congregational, Elders, Deacons, Reformed, etc.

Discussion in 'General Baptist Discussions' started by mercy4all, Dec 17, 2008.

  1. mercy4all

    mercy4all
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    Thank you in advance for any insight provided on this thread.

    While I'm sure that this topic has probably been discussed before in this forum, I am relatively new and have not read any discussions on it so please be patient with me if this seems redundant for some of you.

    Our church is currently reviewing the church government set in place. During the past year, after several church-wide surveys, the idea of having an "elder board" has been discussed.

    Recently, I was provided with two documents -- each with a different point of view on the matter. I have only read the document that does not think an "elder board" is something that should exist in a Southern Baptist Church. The biggest reason the author had for this opinion was that it contradicts a congregational government. It would seem to me this does not have to be so, though in some churches it very well might be.

    I would like to know what others think about the office of "elder" and how it is different from "deacon" in the church models you mention. I am aware that many churches declare there is only one "elder" of the church and that is the Sr. Pastor.

    I would like to hear how elder boards have worked (or haven't worked) in your church (or churches you know about). Also, can a church still maintain a congregational gov't and have an elder board.

    Last, this same article referenced that the only "known" (by this author) SBC churches that had an elder board were those of the reformed theology. Do you find this to be true, or are there known churches out there with an elder board that do not adhere to reformed theology?
     
  2. Tom Butler

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    We can get some guidance from Acts 20:28. Paul has called the elders at the church at Ephesus to Miletus, to say goodbye to them. FBC Ephesus has more than one elder, probably several.

    In v.28 He instructed them "Take heed, therefore unto yourselves and all the flock over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood."

    The mention of a flock suggests sheep, which suggests that the elders have the role of shepherd, which is another word for pastor. He then called them overseers, or bishops. So we have each elder described as a pastor and a bishop.

    Elder, Pastor, Bishop. Each one is all three. Elder is the man. Pastor and Bishop describe their responsibilities.

    The plurality of elders may have been necessitated by the presence of several preaching places (such as homes). The didn't have a central church building back then.

    Those who favor elder-led congregations can make their own argument.
     
  3. Jerome

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    There is nothing new under the sun.

    Be prepared for those pushing elder rule to misrepresent the old Baptist confessions.
    Those recently pushing a "plurality of elders" on Baptist churches often cite the confessions' (and the Bible's) use of the term elders, presumptively suggesting that their own modern-day Presbyterian-influenced concept was what was meant back then.

    Here is commentary by a prominent signer of the 1689 London Baptist Confession, revealing what they meant by "bishops, or elders, and deacons":

    Benjamin Keach, Gospel Mysteries Unveil’d (1701), p. 217:
    “Moreover, the Deacons are to be helps in Governement. Some think Paul calls the Deacons Elders, when he speaks of Elders that rule well (as our Annotators observe) tho others judg he means Ministers who are aged, and not able to preach the Word, yet capable to help in ruling or governing the Church ; but some others think there were men ordained Elders, that were not gifted to preach, but to be helpful in Discipline, or in the Governement of the Church : but we reading neither of their Qualifications, or how to be chosen (nor of their peculiar Work, distinct from Pastors, nor any such elders chosen in any particular church in the Apostles days) can see no ground for any such an Office, or Officers in the Church.”
     
    #3 Jerome, Dec 17, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 17, 2008
  4. webdog

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    It matters not what the confessions say...the Bible mentions elder led churches.
     
  5. Jerome

    Jerome
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    Yes, they misrepresent what the Bible says as well.
     
  6. webdog

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    ... or obey it.

    I know we live in a self entitlement society, where democracy is the norm, but there is no democracy in God's plan, only Theocracy. The thinking that everyone should have a vote and a say is not the biblical model of how the church should be governed. People tend to get mad when they are not held up as important, and begin throwing the accusations or "misrepresentation" around.
     
    #6 webdog, Dec 17, 2008
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  7. Jerome

    Jerome
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    I heartily agree that there is no oligarchy in God's plan:thumbs:
     
  8. Pastor Larry

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    Why is church governance being subjected to church-wide surveys? It seems to me that the elder should lead the church to study the Bible on this matter.

    Of course, if he does, they will see that the NT church is congregationally governed and led by an elder, or more than one depending on the situation.
     
  9. Jerome

    Jerome
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    The new Reformed Baptist movement has experimented heavily in elder-run polity, resulting too often in authoritarianism, as described in John Reisinger's essay here.
    "a hybrid system that adopts a Presbyterian view of eldership and then denies both congregationalism and a Presbytery has, even if unknowingly, created an eldership that has all of the unchecked authority of an infallible pope. Eldership rule without a Presbytery is Roman Catholicism."
     
  10. Jerome

    Jerome
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  11. Tom Butler

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    I realize that just because Southern Baptists have used the congregational mode of governing, generally with one pastor, for at least a couple of hundred years, that doesn't automatically make it correct.

    But it ought not to count for nothing. Before one declares that a practice that has existed for at least four hundred years is no longer scriptural, and something else is better, I would think that a close examination of the 400-year-old rationale would be useful.

    It would also be useful to examine the elder-led system of governance with an eye toward the downside of concentrating power in a few hands. We've seen what happens when the deacons forget their servant role and function as a board.

    The congregational rule system, with deacons, committees and paid staff accountable to the entire church and serving at its pleasure, gives the members not only a voice, but a sense of ownership.

    Yes, it can get messy at times. And yes, the elder system can be efficient. But let's don't jettison congregational government just because some young pastor is impatient and wants things done faster.

    Finally, beyond the practical reasons, the system is based on adequate scripture.
     
    #11 Tom Butler, Dec 17, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 17, 2008
  12. gb93433

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    In scripture there were several different kinds of government practiced. From the time a church is planted it undergoes many different changes.

    To have anyone with a title can be very counterproductive especially if they are immature and cannot lead.

    I have always said that leaders are recognized because they have followers and do not need a title to lead. They are already leading. The qualifications listed in the Bible are in the present tense.

    Elders can be good or bad depending on the elders. Because decisions and leadership is led by just a few peope it gives control to a few people. That can be good if they are godly and terrible if they are not.

    I have seen almost anything work and almost anything fall apart.

    I saw an elder run church that at one time was a godly church and growing to become ungodly and dying. The majority of elders were the same people and lost their focus of from doing evangelism and making disicples to self preservation. It was the pastor from years ago who kept them focused and doing ministry. When the current pastor came he had the elders agree that all them would resign. They did, and he wisely placed them in ministries where they really belonged. Today the church is on the road to recovery.

    I have also seen a church that had a very limited form of church government. The leaders worked hard and wanted the pastor to work hard and preaching, teaching and leading. They did theri part and the pastor did their part. It is still working well over 25 years later.
     
  13. Tom Butler

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    I mentioned in post #11 that there is adequate scripture to support congregational government. Here's one:

    Acts 15:22 Then it pleased the apostles and elders, and the whole church to send chosen men of their own company, to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas...."

    Here's another one:
    Acts 9:26-31 "When Paul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples, but they were all afraid of him and believed not that he was a disciple.

    27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus.

    28 And he was with them, coming in and going out at Jerusalem.

    So here we have Paul going up to Jerusalem, seeking to join the congregation at Jerusalem, but the members said no. Only after Barnabas had vouched for Paul before the Apostles was he allowed to join them.
     
  14. drfuss

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    drfuss: This below website gives good material in favor of the plurality of elders. It was written by Dr. Wallace at Dallas Theological Seminary.

    http:www.bible.org/page.asp?page_id=414.
     
  15. webdog

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    I think "whole church" is not the correct rendering. That would have been 5000+ people, highly unlikely.
     
  16. Pastor Larry

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    You mean all doesn't mean all?
     
  17. Dr. Bob

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    The Bible calls us "elders". In the 20 times it is used of the church (singular) in a location, the word "elders" is always in the plural. Hmmm.

    God knows a group left to themselves (democracy) is NOT a good thing and will always degrade to anarchy. In government and in churches.

    So leadership (NOT dictatorship) of a group of elders in a local church is both wise and biblical polity. Who selects these elders to lead? The congregation. We find many examples in Acts and the early church.

    So I believe plural eldership leading in the context of congregational government is both biblical and correct for today.
     
  18. webdog

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    Alber Barnes states...

    With the whole church - All the Christians who were there assembled together. They concurred in the sentiment, and expressed their approbation in the letter that was sent, Act_15:23. Whether they were consulted does not particularly appear. But as it is not probable that they would volunteer an opinion unless they were consulted, it seems most reasonable to suppose that the apostles and elders submitted the case to them for their approbation. It would seem that the apostles and elders deliberated on it, and decided it; but still, for the sake of peace and unity, they also took measures to ascertain that their decision agreed with the sentiment of the church.

    I agree...it was not the 5000+, nor were they the ones who made the decision, they agreed with leadership's decision, as is the case with elder led churches.
     
    #18 webdog, Dec 18, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 18, 2008
  19. Jerome

    Jerome
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    These early Baptists understood the Bible term “elder” to mean pastor, not the Presbyterian-style ruling elder envisioned by the current “plurality of elders” fad among some Baptists:


    John Gill, A Body of Practical Divinity, vol. 3, 1770, pp. 252, 273:
    “there may have been, where churches were large, more bishops or pastors in one church, Phil. i.1.

    “an unpreaching pastor, bishop, or elder, is a contradiction in terms”

    “give themselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word; do not preach a sermon only now and then, but preach the word constantly”


    Andrew Fuller, “On Church Government and Discipline”:
    “…for a small church to have more pastors than one is as unnecessary as to have seven deacons. Such a rule must favor idleness, and confine useful ministers from extending their labours. To place two or three in a post whch might be filled with one, must leave many other places unoccupied. Such a system is more adapted for show than for promoting the kingdom of Christ.”

    “If..a plurality of [elders] be required, why is not a plurality of them supported? The office of elder in those churches which are partial to the system is little more than nominal: for while an elder is employed like other men in the necessary cares of life, he cannot ordinarily fulfil the duties of his office.
     
  20. Jerome

    Jerome
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    In the early 1800s, Baptists were under fire from what is now the Restorationist movement (Churches of Christ, Disciples of Christ, etc.), who claimed that a true church was to be governed by lay elders.

    On the Founder's site, Greg Wills documents southern Baptists' experimenting with, and rejecting, ruling elders in the years prior to the the founding of the Southern Baptist Convention:

    "The churches that practiced plural eldership on this principle [ruling elders] had difficulty sustaining it."

    "...they doubted the scriptural precedent for the office."

    "By 1820 most churches had dropped the practice."

    "Most churches agreed with Georgia’s Powelton Baptist Church, whose members concluded in 1811 that lay elders were "unnecessary and not sufficiently warranted in scripture." Many of these held that the pastor and deacons jointly constituted the eldership. South Carolina’s Tyger River Baptist Association, for example, judged in 1835 that "the eldership of the church" consisted of "the ministers and deacons.""


    In the North, Baptists concurred with this biblical understanding of elders:

    History of the Shaftsbury Baptist Association, 1853, pp. 97-98
    [1804] It appears to us that Bishops, or teaching Elders and Deacons, are the only standing officers to be ordained in the Church. These are both called Elders, I Tim. v.17. Let the Elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour ; especially they who labor in word and doctrine. By this we learn, that there were some Elders whose special office-work was not to labor in word and doctrine. Paul directed titus to ordain elders in every city ; and it is said of Paul and Barnabas, Acts xiv.23, that they ordained them Elders in every church : and when they had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. By these Elders, we understand Bishops and Deacons ; and we have not learned from the scriptures, but that these two are the only officers to be ordained in the Christian Church. One principal reason why we thus think, is, the the apostle, I Tim. iii. hath particularly delineated the characters suitable both for Bishops and Deacons; but we cannot find either the character of work of any other officers described in the New Testament."

    American Baptist Magazine, 1829, p. 237
    "The term elder was, probably, a general term equivalent to our word officer; and thus it could be applied to a pastor, or to a deacon ; and the elders of a church included the pastor or pastors and the deacons."
     
    #20 Jerome, Dec 18, 2008
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 18, 2008

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