Anonymous Thoughts

Posted by Andrew Groves | Posted in | Posted on Monday, October 01, 2007

The following are some thoughts concerning the Presbyterian structure of church government. The author of these thoughts shall remain anonymous...

The crux of this improper understanding of the church government rests in two areas: a failure to recognize the local church as an autonomous body and the false dichotomy of "teaching" and "ruling" elders. The first is the result of a fear that left to themselves, churches would run amok, and therefore they need to be governed by an outside agency (the Presbytery). Unfortunately for Presbyterians, it is clear in the New Testament (particularly in the writings of Paul) that local congregations were not subject to the oversight of anyone. This does not mean that the could not be rebuked or challenged when they were unfaithful, but it does mean that they and their pastor bore the responsibility for maintaining fidelity to doctrine and theology. If a pastor or a member of the body is driven out, Paul does not come and exercize some "authority" in removing them, but he implores them to take their own action to expel unbelievers. Ultimately, the shepherd of the flock is responsible for his sheep, and in that responsibility he should be teaching them in a way that makes a Biblical reaction involuntary when issues occur.

Sam [Lamerson] claims that a strong argument for Presbyterian government is, "First, this seems to be the kind of government that the early church practiced in the book of Acts and the Epistles of Paul. The early churches were ruled by a plurality of elders and these elders came together to rule on theological issues." While it is true that Paul and others came together and often called churches out for unfaithfulness or sin, they did not ever exercize authority over a church by removing members or a pastor. They were calling for reform, not forcing it upon an autonomous local church. He also suggests that total depravity requires accountability to keep it in check. I wholeheartedly agree- and it's clear in the New Testament that accountability rests with the church itself. It is the responsiblity of the congregation to rebuke or expel their pastor if he is in unrepentant sin, and likewise with any brother or sister in the same situation. Appealing to an outside authority is both unnecessary and extemporaneous; the church should be equipped (by the pastor) to handle any such incidence.

The other side to this coin is the false dichotomy between "ruling" and "teaching" elders. It's very unclear in the New Testament that there exists a separate class of "ruling" elders. Much of this comes from the "Overseer Qualifications" passage in I Timothy, but the "ability to teach" is clearly delineated in that passage. Additionally, all of what the Presbyterians would call "ruling elders" at the Jerusalem council taught, so which were they, ruling or teaching? The bottom line is that to be an "elder" or "overseer," it is clear in Scripture that you must be able to teach, which seems to make you a teaching elder. There's also a strong argument from Greek here, however, I'm not proficient enough to state it yet. Ruling elders are pastors, teaching elders are pastors, overseers are pastors. If you are not a pastor, you have no authority over a church.

A few closing comments: Baptists have a book of church order as well- it's called the Bible, and it contains all we need to understand government, discipline and "trials" (if you want to call them that). Second, as I read through the "levels" of church government, it occurs to me that none of this is clearly (or even vaguely) laid out in Scripture. They are clearly constructions of expediency and practicality. There is no session, board or presbytery in the New Testament, there are local churches and pastors. I find it odd that the "reformers" are so in love with a book of church order, a book that is essentially just tradition. The Catholics and and Anglicans have books of church order too, and for that matter, so do the Methodists, though they don't follow it much anymore. All that said, the Presbyterians are my brothers and sisters, but they need to get their act together on Baptism and Ecclesiology.

Comments Posted (3)

  1. Wow,
    I don't know who wrote this, NOT!!!
    But I'm wondering what brought this large
    argument against Presbyterian church
    government? It appears to be out of the
    blue. Although, I am on the other coast;
    this news doesn't always travel the quickest.
    What's the deal? What's the story?

  2. There's been some controversy at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church... click on the link to Pastor Sam's blog and find the post titled "Knox Seminary and Dr. Warren Gage: What Happened?". Then read the post titled "How Does Presbyterian Government Work?". These anonymous thoughts are in response to the second post. Enjoy!

  3. I'm not sure where you personally are concerning these thoughts posted here. And I don't want to respond to the points within.

    What I do want to say, as a Presbyterian Pastor myself, is that whoever wrote this does not demonstrate an accurate understanding of why the presbyterian structure is what it is-- which presbyterians tend to cherish as faithful to what the Bible calls for.

    I recognize that there are differing viewpoints on these things, but this post assumes many things that are not true or accurate, and demonstrate little desire to investigate why presbyterian do things like they do.

    It seems to me that any structure or form of "doing church" that has existed for multiple centuries should not be dismissed out of hand. Its a pretty presumptive posture to take concerning church history across multiple centuries and continents. Surely presbyterians pastors are maybe just a little bit more thoughtful than the writer here supposes.