Perspectives on Church Government
A model may sometimes be referred to as “polity”, the definition of a polity is “the form of government of a nation, state, church, or organization. ” (The Free Dictionary n. d. ) Each model will be discussed and defended by an author, and later that chapter is rebutted by fellow authors, stating their opinions and rebuttals. (Brand and Norman 2004) The 5 Models of Church Government Single-Elder-Led Church This model is discussed by Daniel Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. What does the Scripture say about the number of elders in a congregation?
The Scripture didn’t specify whether there should be only a single elder in a congregation, but it has been noticed that the word is usually addressed in a plural manner, telling us that elders ruled as a collective body. Akin stated that it doesn’t matter how many elders there in a congregation, what’s important is who they are. So what is a single-elder-led church, if elders ruled as a collective body? A single-elder-led church is a congregation where an elder is elected, not in rank, age, or importance, but rather in recognition by his people. He is recognized as a leader among other elders.
An example given in the book is the book of Numbers Chapter 11, where Moses was directed by God to gather a group of elders to share the burden of judging the people. Akin noted, the elders shared the work with Moses but yet remained under him. (Brand and Norman 2004) What then is the strength of this polity? The elders’ authority is not based by their appointment from above, but by the people who recognized his leadership, moral standing, i. e. he was deemed worthy of leading by the people around him. This should bring a worthy and capable leader for the congregation.
One who they know would be capable. The weakness I see from this model is the chance for an elder to implement an authority through autocracy. (Brand and Norman 2004) Presbytery-Led Church This chapter was written by Robert L. Reymond. The word Presbyterianism means governance by the elders. A Presbyterian church is led by a group or council of elders elected by their congregations. It is noted that when elders or overseers are elected, they will not carry out the congregation’s will but rather, rule in agreement with the Word of God, not primarily in agreement with the will of the congregation. Brand and Norman 2004, 95) Presbyterians have urged that there is evidence that the elders of local churches act together with other local congregations in the same area, forming a network like form of leadership.
An example given by Reymond is the book of Acts 15:4, where the elders of Jerusalem acted under the name of “the church of Jerusalem”. This showed a connectional manner of leadership. So what is Connectionalism? It is where all leaders and congregations are connected in a network of loyalties and commitments that support, yet supersede, local concerns. (dictionary. sensagent. com n. d. This makes each and every congregation reflect mutual accountability, dependency, and submission among them (Brand and Norman 2004, 95).
Reymond, the author, firmly believes that Presbytery-Led church model is “the most trustworthy, just and peaceful way for the church to determine its principles, its practices and its priorities and to resolve its differences. (Brand and Norman 2004, 135) How effective is this model? It is, at most times. It provides the most trustworthy, just, and peaceful way for the church to settle or determine its principles, practices, priorities, and resolve its differences.
Looking at it this way, it seems to be really effective, where fair decisions are made by discussions and arguments on the assembly held and attended by different elders of local congregations. But one must think that different people hold different views, understandings or beliefs on some issues. For example, some of the elders may or may not agree on contraceptives. Once a decision is made about an issue, those who had a different view will be forced to accept the decision made by the council. (Brand and Norman 2004) Congregation-Led Church
This model was discussed by James Leo Garrett, Jr. He begins the chapter by describing what a congregational-led church is: “that form of church governance in which final human authority rests with the local or particular congregation when it gathers for decision-making. This means that decisions about membership, leadership, doctrine, worship, conduct, missions, finances, property, relationships, and the like are to be made by the gathered congregation except when such decisions have been delegated by the congregation to individual members or groups of members. (Brand and Norman 2004, 157)
Simply said, unlike the Presbyterian form of polity, the Congregational-led church’s decisions were made by the whole congregation, where each member expresses their opinion on each decision-making. Democracy, this is the strength of Congregational-led form of church government. Each and every member of a local congregation can express his or her own opinion on decision-making.
Although they can voice out their opinions on the decisions being made by their local congregation, these ecisions only affect their congregation, therefore may cause minor differences between local congregations, this is the weakness of this polity. (Brand and Norman 2004) Bishop-Led Church The Bishop-led church, as the name suggests, is simply a polity by which the church is under the authority of a bishop. In this chapter, Paul F. M. Zahl, Dean and President of Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, defended this polity by presenting the readers a thorough discussion about this polity. Unlike how the other polities were presented with the use of scriptures, Zahl used old traditions and logical structure of different churches around the world.
He used this information as an argument to point out the truthfulness and the bene essse of churches governed by bishops. The strength of this polity is the “One individual, one man, can do it”. Because of this, Spain became successful of promulgating Christianity among to the whole nation because one good officer is sufficient to take charge of a whole mission. (Brand and Norman 2004, 231) On the other hand, the weakness of a bishop-led church is Prelacy which means the authoritarian “personal rule” of one man.
This means that the bishop, instead of performing what is written in the doctrine, becomes overpowered by his self-centered ambitions thus, in turn becomes a tyrant on governing the church. (Brand and Norman 2004, 232) Plural-Elder-Led Church This model was defended by James R. White. This model has similarities to the Presbyterian form of church polity; both have local congregations led by a group or council of elders. The difference is, the Plural-Elder-Led church is independent, unlike the Presbytery-led church where they answer to higher council of elders.
James White emphasizes the importance of self-sufficiency when it comes to governing local congregations. If a church cannot function independently or has to answer to a higher power, then the offices established in that church are seen to be unfit to govern the congregation. (Brand and Norman 2004, 259) It is also similar in many ways to the single-elder-led and the congregational forms of church government, such as being independent and making decisions within the local congregations, difference is in leadership.
As the name suggests, the local congregation is led by a group or council of elders. Unlike the single-elder-led church, the plural-elder-led church is led by elders of equal ranks. (Brand and Norman 2004) The strengths of this kind of polity is that it seems to be supported by events or instances were written in the Scripture, one would think it would be the right form of church government because of this. An example would be from the book of Hebrews 13:17, the verse started with the words “Obey your leaders”. The weakness I see is that, would these elders always agree with each other?
How would they deal with elders who fail to uphold their duties? How about the local congregation? Don’t they any say on matters being settled by the elders? They weren’t clear about this matter. My Church My church is Grove Missionary Baptist Church which is located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The polity followed by our church is Single-Led Church since the pastor is elected by the Church body as the leader of the Church in both spiritual and administrative, and different deacons are assigned to different tasks such as financial records, cleanliness of the church, etc.
For the Organizational Structure, since the current Christian Education Department serves as the foundation for teaching, Bible Study, Sunday School, Missionary Department, First Aid, Department, Usher Board, Newsletter, Media Ministry, Fitness Ministry and Deaconess Ministries. Since the department has 10 different ministries in it, it somehow hampers the development of the department and its ministries, so I would recommend they be separated into auxiliaries so that they may recruit more and further develop themselves as separate departments.
I would also consider reviewing the need of the Church Council in the structure of a Baptist Church because it is open for members from other Ministries and they might not be a good fit for a Church Council Member, meaning sometimes it can get a little political. As for its form of government, I’d recommend not changing into another form or polity. I believe it may only cause confusion or unnecessary changes to an already effective church. Changing the form of government won’t necessarily improve what we do or want to teach.
Conclusion “Christians do not all agree on just how churches are to be governed or structured” (Brand and Norman 2004, 11) says Stanton, one of the editors, because the New Testament doesn’t specify exactly how the church should be organized or managed. Thus, each model argues and claims to be the most authentic through Biblical authenticity, citing Biblical verses and events. (Brand and Norman 2004) One thing is for certain though, the Lord clearly stated in the Scripture how He wishes His churches to be managed.
First, Christ is the head of church and its supreme authority according to Colossians 1:18, and second, these local churches will be governed by elders. The Lord gave specific instructions or qualifications for someone to be an elder according to Titus 1:5-9. (Got Questions?. org n. d. ) What matters is that every church, no matter the form of church government or polity, to remain true to the Scripture. And every elder, bishop, overseer, deacons, and believer will respect and follow the Word of God and that they would always worship and praise the Lord.