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Doctrine | Leadership

The history and validity of Congregational Rule

The importance of leadership

God ordained three institutions to carry out his purposes – government, the family, and the church.

Certainly, each organization is to have a leadership structure, for, without that, chaos ensues.

  • With regard to government, Romans 13:3 confirms “For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong…” The government, regardless of its construction, is to protect the good and restrain and punish the evil in society. In turn, Romans 13:1 commands “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities…”
  • With regard to the family, Ephesians 5:23 is clear that “…the husband is the head of the wife…” and in vs 22 “wives, are to submit to your husbands as to the Lord.” As a reciprocal, 1 Peter 3:7 states that “husbands…be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect…”

Clearly then, the government and the family are for good, with both having submissive parties coupled with leadership responsibilities.

But what about the church?

How is their leadership to operate?

 

The Biblical Church leadership model

1 Peter 5:1-3 couldn’t be more clear “To the elders among you, I appeal…be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them — not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be: not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” Furthermore, 5:4 states “In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders.”

We have in 1 Peter, the same pattern of submission and responsibility. That is, the church is to submit to the elders which in turn should not lord over their authority.

Additionally, 1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:6-9 contain the many qualifications of an elder, as well as deacons. And, although both are required to be “blameless” the elder is also required to be “able to teach.”

Why all the qualifications if other forms of leadership are acceptable?

Regardless of this clear conscript, many churches ignore this.

Popular church models

Historically, there has been the hierarchical structure found in most major denominations and the Catholic church – popes, bishops, cardinals, and priests etcetera.

Hardly a model the true church should follow.

 

There is also the pastoral rule concept.

That is, the pastor is the ruler and accountable to no one. This, in various forms, is extremely common.

These types of leadership models typically fall when the pastor is found out to have hidden sexual and financial compromises.

Rule without accountability is a sure-fire recipe for disaster.

Again, certainly, not a biblical model.

 

Popular in the United States and originating with the Puritans as a counter to the hierarchical structure found in Europe, (and often in the Southern Baptist domination, due to acceptance of democracy and acceptance of precedent), is the congregational rule model. This provided a bottom-up vs. top-down system of government.

Often, Acts 6 is used as a justification. [You should note that Old Testament narrative and narrative in Acts should not be used as precedent in biblical interpretation. This is actually a violation of biblical hermeneutics and often leads to bizarre results.]

Simply related, the early church apostles were presented with a problem. Some of the widows were not receiving their daily food ration. The apostles knew that their personal priority was the “ministry of the word” and so offered a solution to the assembled church.

“Select” seven faithful men whom “we’ll appoint over this need.” The church so presented and “praying, the apostles anointed them.”

Certainly, there is a loving relationship between the apostle leaders and the church. As with government and husbands, there is both leadership constrained with the good of those in submission.

This is the same cooperation we see in biblical government and marriages.

Here the apostles developed and presented the solution to the problem and instructed the church to present seven faithful men. The apostles approved these men and anointed them into service.

This is hardly, however, an illustration of congregational rule.

The church presented, they did not vote.

The apostle leaders approved and anointed the seven.

This was a loving solution to an early church problem and shows a respect for leadership as well as a caring love for those subject to leadership. This mimics the pattern of both government and marriages.

It was much later that Paul laid out the requirements, obviously through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, for qualifying elders and deacons.

The command is to shepherd the flock and to do so without lording over the leadership responsibilities.

There is no command to set up congregational rule. None!

 

 

Conclusions

The real danger of church leadership models that are not Biblical is that they are slippery slopes to other biblical deficiencies.

If we don’t obey God’s command in this area, what other areas are we ready to compromise?

 

Hierarchical structures are easily spotted and avoided by most true Christians.

 

Interestingly, the congregational model is the most perverse.

Why?

It effectively allows the pastor to hide behind the approval of a congregational vote when it suits his needs, yet allows him the power of pastoral vote when that is desired.

There is little accountability and, if played right, almost unlimited power.

It is also, simply, biblically wrong, and ignores the clear teaching of scripture, while relying on historical precedence (Southern Baptist practices), and secular governmental practices (U.S. Democracy).

 

Maybe congregational rule will be practiced in Heaven?

No, that will be a benevolent monarchy.

Remember, God requires obedience, not selective compromises.

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