I am extremely concerned about a sinister back-door popery which is being foisted upon Independent Baptist churches as a means of neutralizing the priesthood of the believer and consolidating power amongst an initiated few. Exclusive elder rule, apart from congregational participation is dangerous, elitist, and romanist. In my last post on polity, I included remarks from Baptist Theologian, Augustus H Strong, in this, I provide a few notes from Wayne Grudem‘s Systematic Theology.
Chapter 47: CHURCH GOVERNMENT
B. How Should Church Officers Be Chosen
- There are two major types of process – selection by a higher authority (Roman, Episcopal, Methodist) and selection by a local congregation (Congregational and Baptist).
- Promotes a strong distinction between clergy and laity
- No explicit/definitive Biblical text
- We should be patient with diversity on the issue
Higher Authority Model
Although the congregational model is not explicitly commanded by Scripture, there are several reasons why it is most appropriate.
- In the NT, there are several examples of church officers being “chosen” by the congregation
- Acts 6:3 – whole church picks deacons
- Acts 1:15,23 – whole assembly narrowed field of candidates for Apostleship
- Acts 15:22,25 – whole church chose/sent messengers after Jerusalem council
- 2 Cor 8:19 – church appointed a delegate to travel with Paul
- Governing Authority in the NT rests with The Church
- Matt 18:17 – “tell it to the church…”
- 1 Cor 5:4 – excommunication by the assembly
- Epistles are written to ‘churches’, NOT bishops
- Congregational Accountability (1 Tim 5:19)
- Protection Against Heresy
Note: Even though Paul and Barnabas “appointed” elders in every town (Acts 14:23, Tit 1:5), it does not exclude congregational participation as in Acts 6:3. The Greek word underlying “appoint” may very well mean install – see BAGD, pg 881.
Historically, false doctrine often seems to be adopted by the theologians of the church first, by the pastors second, and the informed laity, who are daily reading their Bibles and walking with the Lord, last. Therefore, if the leadership begins to stray in doctrine or in life, and there is no election by the congregation, then the church as a whole has no practical means of getting hold of the situation and turning it around. But if the officers are elected by the church, then there is a system of “checks and balances” whereby even the governing authority of the church has some accountability to the church as a whole.
Grudem is careful to note that a vote is not a popularity contest, but may be as simple as a ratification of a selection made by a more mature group (ie elder board) within the church.
Clearly, God has decided to leave the explicit details of the matter to the wisdom of each Spirit-led congregation.