9Marks: Congregationalism is Used By Satan…Just Like Everything Else

Posted: June 13, 2011 in church, ecclesiology, theology

Responding to James MacDonald’s recent blog post entitled “Congregational Government is From Satan,” Jonathan Leeman, writing on behalf of 9Marks, has posted an article entitled “Congregationalism is Used by Satan…Like He Uses Everything Else.”

Leeman does a fair job dealing with each of MacDonald’s five points against congregationalism, offering specific solutions to deal with some of the difficulties or abuses often present in congregational churches.  (although at times his solutions seem a bit facile).  He then briefly outlines why he believes that an elder-led, congregationally-ruled structure is the most biblical model.

Here are his main points:

1) Congregational Meetings Can Be Forums for Division
 Satan will often employ many God-given gifts and institutions–from biblical marriage to civil government to biblical congregationalism–for diabolical ends. You name it, and he’ll use it to undermine leadership, to divide friends, even to present a poor witness for the gospel…

2) Voting Can Be Deeply Unbiblical
Congregationalists sometimes equate congregationalism with democracy, but that’s not the right way to understand congregationalism. Church members are not given a vote for “representing their will” or “giving the leaders a mandate.” Jesus is king. His Word rules. The only purpose of the congregation’s vote, if they have one, is to make sure things are working according to his will…

3) Eldership Is Sometimes Unpopular
We congregationalists have sometimes done a bad job historically of pitting the congregation’s ultimate rule against day-to-day elder leadership…The only time a congregation should act to veto the elder’s leadership is when—like a child whose parent asks him to sin—we observe the elders departing from Scripture or abusing it.

4) Congregationalism Can Crush Pastors
James observes that pastors move every 2-3 years and that a pastor typically leaves a church because of 8 people. Though I expect that the frequency of pastoral moves more often than not is the responsibility of the pastors themselves, still, we have all heard stories about carnal and unregenerate congregations who have spurned the Lord’s servants.

5) Priesthood Not Eldership of All Believers
It’s easy for immature Christians to become unteachable. They claim to have a “personal relationship” with Christ, and so they stop listening to those who are older and wiser in the faith, like a church’s elders. It’s like they think they’re their own elders…our church won’t make a man an elder unless he’s demonstrated a track record of being teachable.

Leeman’s conclusion:

Yet more importantly, it’s our conviction that congregationalism in the context of elder leadership just makes the most sense of two streams of biblical teaching. On the one hand, you see a stream of passages in which Jesus and the apostles seem to entrust final say to the entire gathered congregation (Matt. 18:15-20Acts 6:2-6; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Cor. 2:6Gal. 1:3-10)…On the other hand, you see a stream of passages which call Christians to submit to their leaders (Heb. 13:7,17Acts 20:281 Peter 5:2-3)…

It’s tempting to pick one of these streams rather than the other. But we need to strike the balance by figuring out how to put both together. If we don’t, the ship can veer toward unwieldy hyper-congregationalism, or it can veer toward an abusive elder rule. King Jesus, in his wisdom, appears to have opted for something in the middle. Along these lines, an elder-led, congregational-rule model seems to work best and best satisfy the biblical mandate.


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