Congregationalism vs. Presbyterianism

Discussion in 'Ecclesiology' started by Backwoods Presbyterian, Jan 29, 2010.

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  1. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    I will say this. I agree with Rambo that the form of Church Government has not been so explicitly commanded as some perceive it to be. I do not see a specifically Presbyterian body laid out or a Congregationalist requirement laid out. To require that is beyond the scope of scripture I believe. I can agree with the next two following passages of Scripture as a Ccongregationalist and be right and most correct as a Presbyterian can be.

    I do believe we can all be visible in areas and invisible (0r unrecognizable in seeing perfectly) in others. I also believe we can be many members in one body who can not see other members because we are separated by other body parts as a finger can not see or experience what a toe is. We are many denominations but one in Christ . We are all attached to the same central nervous system and head but not necessarily attached to one another in a close proximity that would render one member subjected to another.

    I do believe some people and denominations take this issue too far. If that wasn't true there wouldn't be members of Christ in differing governing bodies of the church. We can all be one in Christ and still be under different denominations and sub governing bodies in Him.

    Last edited: Feb 4, 2010
  2. Damon Rambo

    Damon Rambo Puritan Board Sophomore

    It would be great shepherding. There is not always a single best way to do something, in every situation. One area, people group, and situation might well do better using a Congregational church government. Another might do better with a Presbyterian form of government. Just as a leer jet is the best vehicle for getting a bunch of diplomats to a foreign country, but a F-14 is preferable if one is in a combat situation.

    The fact is, that their is no clear command from scripture on this issue. "Bad Shepherding" as you put it, might well be to make an important rule, and then leave it completely vague and undefined in the rule book. I believe that God is a GREAT shepherd, and therefore the things that are important to Him, he has made unavoidably clear in His word.
    No, I cannot see. You are assuming one way of governing the Church is superior to another. That is a faulty presupposition.
  3. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    I must take issue with the thrust of the reply above: that Scripture no more directs us prescriptively concerning the structure and governance of the church, than it teaches us about modern technology.

    One starting point (perhaps the best) for biblical church government in the New Testament is the Pastoral Epistles. There we have what in essence amounts to the first "book of church order" (to use the terminology of a Presbyterian subordinate standard). If one studies these three books, according to their principal purpose in writing, he will have a great deal (!) of "in-depth" material on church structure and government.

    Of course, those three portions are not the only portions that should speak to the issue, and MUCH more depth can be gained by a wholistic use of the complete Scriptures. The OT contains an historical bed in which the NT flower sits, and in it are the germinal principles for the good governance of the people of God.

    And last, but certainly not least, is the book of Acts, supplemented by the gospels and the other epistles, ALL which provide varying prescriptions and directions for the formation and perpetuation of the church--including the historic foundation, the Apostles being foundation-stones. One may raze a faulty building to that foundation, but he cannot lay it again. The Acts is the historical reference point, in which we situate the Pastorals and on which the Pastoral shed their brilliance, and which puts skin on the bones (so to speak).
  4. Damon Rambo

    Damon Rambo Puritan Board Sophomore


    There are no prescriptive commands, in any of the books listed, which would distinguish between Congregational or Presbyterian Church government. You have some very vague references in Acts, which can be seen to go either way, and in any case, are historical narrative which should never be used, in isolation, for the formation of mandated doctrinal standards.
  5. CIT

    CIT Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    If we cannot use historical narratives to glean theology from, then we might as well throw out most of the Pentateuch, the kings, the Chronicles, the Samuels, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Esther, Nehemiah, Job, parts of Isaiah, Acts, alot of the Gospels, and bits of other prophetic books.

    Without historical narratives, we don't have a Bible.

    ---------- Post added at 12:02 PM ---------- Previous post was at 11:58 AM ----------

    Also it should be pointed out that one of the first things we teach little kids is the historical narratives. They grasp the story of Noah and the Ark, Jonah and the whale, and Daniel and the lion's den way better than they will grasp the theological concepts of John, Romans, or Ephesians.

    II Timothy 3:16 tells us that ALL Scripture is worthy of doctrine. You can't say, "well that is narrative so I will throw that out."
  6. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Brother Damon,
    Everyone starts reasoning from fixed points. Whether he starts in the pastorals, or in the OT, he is going to triangulate to postulates that he brings to the historical narrative.

    It is really irrelevant to our side's insistence that the Bible provides prescription, that you recognize the inherent instability of building on historic narrative for universal prescriptions. So do we, which is why we don't begin in Acts for principles of church government (one sees the same sort of poles-apart starting points, for example, on the subject of baptism). You see things a certain way, and are committed to standing firm in it barring persuasion from the Scriptures. And yet, because you seem content to rely foundationally in the historic material, you concede that others could possibly have arrived at other conclusions given the same starting point and construction materials. So, as you've said, you will refrain from dogmatism, and so should your opposition.

    But we can't agree because we do not, in fact, start from the same point, or have the same construction materials. From those strongpoints mentioned (anchored in didactic portions), our side is going to interpret what you call "vauge" in a markedly different manner. It doesn't seem vague at all, but a logical and necessary outworking of postulates. One might as well say that in a well constructed house, he could have the roof trusses laid parallel to the beam-supports instead of across them.

    It is plain that your annoyance with those who are dogmatic--in reference to such examples as the Jerusalem council, or the unified government of multitude congregations, etc.--stems from a theological pattern that has a different starting point. However, not recognizing that variance leads you to a critical evaluation as if the starting point were the same. You might end up with a bit more sympathy for those you disagree with, if you recognize that our dogmatism is a result of our starting point. If we were to start with Acts, then yes, we probably should adopt a less insistent tone.

  7. Damon Rambo

    Damon Rambo Puritan Board Sophomore

    In the Narratives which you are describing, there is a clear commandment being violated; there is explicit dialogue from God, in the text itself, saying this is wrong, or that is wrong ("why do you do so wickedly..."). To simply observe how the people in the OT did certain, non -prescriptive activities, and conclude that is the way we HAVE to do them, is HORRIBLE hermeneutics, brother.
  8. CIT

    CIT Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    You said these narratives should not be used to form doctrinal standards. We form doctrinal standards based on Genesis 1 and 2 which is narrative. I am not advocating a "monkey see monkey do" attitude when it comes to the narratives, but if these passages were only good for historical perspective then II Tim. 3:16 would be a lie or we would have to define which parts of the Bible are in fact Scripture and which parts are merely historical narrative. I think we would agree that it would be wrong to create this division of Scripture. It would then also be wrong to preach through these books of the Bible.

    I am not diving into the debate of congregationalism vs. presbyterianism. I am merely advocating that you cannot throw out the historical narratives.

    Also of all the passages I pointed out very few would are of God speaking. Sure they are there, but that isn't the only part of historical narrative. What about the whole book of Ruth where the word God is never mentioned? Are we to never preach through that book? Are we never to glean theological truths from it? Are we to avoid the foreshadowing of Christ as our kinsmen redeemer?
  9. Damon Rambo

    Damon Rambo Puritan Board Sophomore

    The problem is, even with your "starting point" the matter is still vague. Take Titus 1:5, for instance, which the PCA on their website states is the primary verse for the basis of their church governance ( Uniqueness of PCA Polity 121509.pdf). Presbyterian conclusions are not foregone in this verse. Their is nothing, logically speaking, which would require a Presbyterian form of government from this verse. It could just as well be a congregational church planting exercise.

    Not only that, this is a unique condition, in that it is the apostle Paul which is directing the efforts. I say again, if you use such things dogmatically to assert prescriptive commands for the modern age, you must also take literally such commands regarding tongue speaking, miracles, etc. A consistent use of your hermeneutic, would lead you somewhere between Pentecostalism and Churches of Christ (in terms of ecclesiology).

    ---------- Post added at 11:11 AM ---------- Previous post was at 11:04 AM ----------

    Narratives serve at least a couple of different purposes. They serve to show us the results of obeying or disobeying prescriptive texts found elsewhere in the Bible (which, I would say, is the case with Ruth). Also, they do indeed give us historical perspective, by which we can better understand the Biblical mandates. They also show God working in history, and provide foreshadowing of Christ.

    But to say that simply because someone did something a certain way, that now we HAVE to do it that same way, is indeed advocating a "monkey see monkey do" approach to biblical adherence and interpretation, and is an improper heremeneutical approach to the scriptures, which has spawned the most heinous of heresies.
  10. CIT

    CIT Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    You are the one who said narratives cannot be used to form doctrine. I am pointing out that II Tim. 3:16 states otherwise.
  11. au5t1n

    au5t1n Puritan Board Post-Graduate

    Just think about all the damage the Roman Catholic/episcopalian system has done to the Church over the millennia and to its theology. It is simply not prudent for God to ask us to make up our own culturally-suited form of church government as it becomes necessary. We will all come up with different ideas, and likely none of them would work well. He has to have given us some guidance in this area, although I agree not exhaustively detailed. I also will echo the point made above that early church example is just as binding on us as direct command. The RPW does not depend on direct commands alone, but on example and sufficient inference as well.

    Now, to be fair, I will say that both models in discussion here fill many of the roles Scripture gives to church government. However, it is wrong to say that Scripture does not regulate church government. Both models in discussion here are better than the RC system, which would be just as permissible under your argument as congregationalism and presbyterianism, if we decided that we found a hierarchical system of bishops prudent.
  12. PuritanCovenanter

    PuritanCovenanter Moderator Staff Member

    Time to move on. Thread closed.
  13. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Of course Tit.1:5 couldn't possibly present an entire doctrine of ecclesiastic governance. The conclusions of Presbyterianism aren't "foregone" in this verse; but what you seem not to recognize is that such a verse can epitomize the whole worked-out doctrine. It can represent the doctrine. At the end of the day, this statement by armourbearer still bears the weight of the entire dispute:
    The Gettysburg Address isn't a great speech because it was short, rhetorically pointed, or perfectly balanced. Rather, it distilled a great deal of things that could have been said into memorable phrases, which evoked a powerful sympathetic response in the biblically-literate minds of the day. That is, right or wrong, Lincoln drew on the almost native belief in an authoritative Bible to give his propositions their power.

    I have on my shelves works of 900pp, 500pp, and the Jus Divinum (which length I did not check). These are the exegetical tomes that either answered Rome's and the CoE's claims, and restructured church government along biblical lines; or summarizes 300 yrs of the doctrine of the church, worked-out in post-Reformation reflection.

    Given the major variance in the circumstances re. 'Establishment' since the mid 17th century, even John Owen's defense of Independency sounds quite like Presbyterianism as it is practiced today in a non-Establishmentarian context. The terror of having the Bishop replaced by a college of Presbyters, with like power, seems almost quaint.

    The irony is, those bulky volumes on my shelves are proof to some that too much Bible study is bad for the church. Imagine, a 500pp volume called "The Scripture Doctrine of the Church"! Everybody knows you can write the whole doctrine of ecclesiology and church government structure on the back of an envelope, right? All there is to it?

    Either that, or one needs to digest such a work before dismissing with a wave the thought that the Bible represents a vast resource of direction as to how the church ought to look and function.

    Realize: I'm not trying to persuade you to stop thinking as you do, or to adopt my position. I'm writing for the person who may think that the handful of verses that have been dropped by one side or the other in this thread, have been "answered" by the handful from the other side. By the assertion that this is just a stalemate.

    How a person views the church in the Old Testament, and its relation to the New Testament church, significantly impacts the amount of Scriptural material has has to work with for fleshing out his doctrine. How a person understands the authority of the Apostles, their manner of work, the differences between founding conditions and perpetual conditions, the relationship between didactic and historic materials--all of these things, and more, have an impact on whether one will end up with a prescriptive ecclesiology that can be comprehensively presented in a pamphlet, and one that requires several fat volumes.
    Last edited: Feb 4, 2010
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