Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Church Government: Plural-elder Congregationalism

Adoration of the Mystic Lamb: Worship of the Lamb with multitude of believers and elders!
Note: This is the fifth post of a series on church governments, which began as I seek to understand the distinctives and issues of various church government systems. You can read the first four as listed below.

  1. Introduction and Anglicanism
  2. Presbyterianism
  3. Breakthrough
  4. Single-elder Congregationalism

Samuel E. Waldron presents Plural-Elder Congregationalism.
I found his presentation clear, well-structured, and persuasive. Here's what I gleaned from it:
1) Congregational church is independent and democratic. A plural-elder congregational church is both that and has multiple elders.
2) There are 4 principles involved in declaring the plural-elder congregationalism as the most biblical model for a church, and they are: the Puritan, the Independent, the Democratic, and the Plural-elder principles.
3) The Puritan principle is what really seems to drive the rest of the principles and what the plural-elder congregationalists are trying to hold on to at their core. It is a conviction that the bible has given us a church model that we are to follow without adding or subtracting from it. I believe the bible has given us all things that we need to know about God for salvation and to worship Him to His pleasure. I believe we must not add or subtract from it, but I am not quite sure if the bible has given us a clearly fixed model of church structure that we must follow. I like the idea, or the impulse these plural-elder congregationalists seem to have and to be faithful to, namely, obeying God's word, but at this point, I am left to wonder if they are actually the ones who have (unwittingly as it may be) added to what God has given us regarding the church government.
4) The Independent principle means that they believe each local church is independent from any kind of outside authority, and this they base on the fact that Christ is the only King and the Authority over His church, and each church must not be forced to be under some kind of earthly organisations, committees, or councils. I might just add that, having been part of a Presbyterian church for over 30 years, a Presbyterian church, at a local church level, doesn't experience much interference from the "upper" church government. They enjoy quite a lot of freedom in the way they operate, and I suspect that a moderate baptist church won't be too different in this regard, at least in the daily-ministry-work kind of ways.
5) The Democratic principle means that while Christ is King and the Head over the church, we, as collective body in a local church, have the responsibility and privilege of discerning and implementing His will together. No committee (or session in the Presbyterian case) or a pastor (or a bishop) makes the decision on behalf of the church.
6) The plural-elder principle is a conviction that the bible speaks clearly that we are to have multiple elders in a local church. Of course they admit there are special cases where a church cannot (yet?) have multiple elders, but the bible teaches (they say) to have them. It's not a matter of whether to have several elders in a church, it is more a question of when.
7) The role of elders play in the congregational church ranges somewhat, but in Samuel Waldron's estimation, the bible teaches the plurality of elders in a church, parity (equality) of elders in terms of their offices, and diversity of elders in terms of their ministries according to their gifts. This is one aspect that is different from Presbyterianism which divides elders into teaching elders (ministers) and ruling elders (lay-elders).

So, what are my thoughts?
Most helpful and convincing part about this is the fact that a church should have a group of elders. I think that's what the bible tells us to do at a local church level. We are still a church of Jesus when we don't have several elders, but it's something we should work towards to implement.
Earlier, in the first chapter, Peter Toon has argued that the presence of bishops is of the plene esse (fullness of being). I'm not completely persuaded about that. I'm rather still inclined to see the presence of bishops as of the bene esse (well-being), which Toon rejected as a little too low or weak view of episcopalianism. I think the plural-eldership (but not the congregationalism bit) is of the plene esse. A church in the end of times, in the book of Revelation is a church with many elders, praising God together.

I will now turn to the responses each view had received by other proponents and see where they lead me.

No comments: