03 January 2015

Church Government, Regular and Provisional

These essays are providing quick summaries of our position. They're not exegetical papers. We're not trying to make the Scriptural case here, rather just explaining where we're coming from for those who are interested in figuring out what we're about.

As far as Church Government goes, we're convinced of and committed to Congregationalism. We don't believe in larger denominational bodies and yet in no way does this mean that we believe individual congregations should act in isolation.

Ideally congregations should be in fellowship with and eager to aid, assist and encourage one another. Congregationalists are often viewed as schismatics because they have not joined with some larger institutional bureaucracy.

In fact it is the denominationalists who are guilty of schism. They have drawn the lines that divide and find themselves largely unable to function alongside of congregational bodies because of the man-made bureaucratic barriers they have erected. Pulpits cannot be shared, prayers cannot be made, and monies cannot be joined due to the boundaries they have erected. The local congregation is free to act, while the denominational body has tied its own hands.

This is not merely a pragmatic issue. We think it's a Biblical one. The Scriptures speak of individual congregations and while it addresses regional groups of churches nowhere does the New Testament provide a structure that would tie them together.

At this point one's view of Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone) plays a significant part. Are the Scriptures sufficient? Do we have what we need to know how to function? Or are the Scriptures merely a starting point? Do they give us foundation stones and then through deduction and tradition we build forms of Church government to fit our needs and context? Most have answered the last question in the affirmative.

We don't believe the latter position is faithful to Scripture and in fact carries the seeds of what later would become the Episcopal hierarchy that developed in the latter stages of the early Church. The early Church was plagued with false claims of authority and as a pragmatic measure turned to Apostolic Succession in seed form. This minor deviation eventually led to Metropolitan Bishoprics and ultimately the Papacy. We believe Presbyterian government is basically the same creature, just at an earlier developmental stage.

Acts 15 is often cited as an example of a regional or denominational Church body. But this argument fails on several key points.

This assembly was Apostolic. The declarations of the Jerusalem council were stamped by the approval of the Apostles declaring that it seemed good to them and to the Holy Ghost.

No assembly can make that claim today and thus to some extent, at the very least, this council cannot be declared as normative.

That said, individual congregations can work together to address and solve problems. They can issue statements but since we have no council of Apostles, and the New Testament does not prescribe any kind of regional body the declarations are not authoritative.

Just as with many other issues, unity cannot be found in creating man-made forms. Having everyone sign on to documents or put the same symbol on their outdoor sign or even having every teacher 'approved' by some kind of contrived ecclesiastical body does not guarantee unity either. That is brought about by the Holy Spirit.

The New Testament teaches that Congregations are independent but not isolated.

They are to be ruled by a plurality of elders assisted by deacons. The New Testament knows nothing of our modern notion of a pastor. This is essentially a leftover from the old Roman Catholic system of having a parish priest coupled with the retention of the false clergy-laity distinction.

The New Testament does teach that we should have ordained officers, but they are not 'clergy', they are not a spiritual aristocracy. Elders should do the bulk of the teaching and certainly have authority within the Church body. It is to be expected that some will labour in the Word and Doctrine to an extent that others do not. This does not mean we have two classes of elders...Ruling and Teaching. Rather we have elders, some who are more gifted at administration and some who are more gifted when it comes to teaching. There's no warrant for the creation of separate offices. They bear the same office and possess the same authority.

Unlike clergy, they are leaders by example and only wield the power of discipline when necessary. They are not life coaches, micromanagers or congregational spouses that 'head' the congregation as a husband to a wife. Many such analogies have been used in the past.

Deacons which function as elders in many Churches.... while Elders/Bishops are referred to wrongly as pastors.... hold a non-authoritative office, one of service and assistance to those in need in the congregation and possibly the larger community.

The words Elder (Presbyter) and Overseer (Bishop) are used synonymously in the New Testament and the office is restricted by the Apostles to qualified men. Churches that have women engaged in public teaching and/or are ordained have functionally denied Scripture as their authority. Some Charismatics have found ways to circumvent the New Testament norm, but their position at its foundation opposed to Scripture Alone as the ultimate authority.

Paul in Titus suggests that congregations can be established on a provisional basis with things left wanting as it were, things not yet fully ordered.

This is our present situation. We are establishing this congregation and in due time we hope to formally ordain officers and better establish our order and practice. That said, we have no intention on pursuing affiliation, incorporation or producing by-laws or even a constitution.

The teaching is overseen by the elders but beyond that men may contribute to the meeting. They can share and teach as long as they are under the authority of the elders. As we don't have a fully established presbytery (council of elders) at this time, we are trying to work together and be in constant communication.