To my congregational brethern ...

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Brian Withnell

Puritan Board Junior
Brethern, this is not meant to be in any way divisive and I know that coming from a Presbyterian, that it might seem so, but I really am curious. Pergamum asked me a question in one of my posts, because I had pointed out what had happened in a presbyterian context something like "is there anything like that for your congregational brethren?" and I did not know what would fit or how such a situation would be handled in such a context.

The situation was a pastor that was capable of doing better than what he was doing in preparing for worship -- not that he was lazy, but that he was spending too much time with other chores that were exhausting him -- in the presbyterian context, member complaints to the presbytery were examined with concern not only for the congregation, but for the pastor. They have a position of authority within the relationship that helped the situation and brought healing. The pastor was given more time (by his local congregation stepping up to the plate on tasks that were keeping him from devoting himself to the preaching of the word and prayer) and he was in turn more closely monitored for a season (he was fresh out of seminary, and needed the "pressure" of having those in his court listening to his sermons on a regular basis).

How do you (my brothers in congregational churches) handle a situation in which a pastor is in need of professional counsel in performing his duties and the congregation is in need of counsel in terms of performing their duties toward the pastor?

Again, I just don't know how this would be accomplished within a congregational polity, and I would beg your instruction to correct my ignorance. (I have always held that being ignorant of some detail is not bad in itself, but remaining ignorant once one knows of the lack is less than being wise ... I would strive for wisdom.)
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
Thanks for the post. I know it's not meant to be divisive.

I would also love to talk more about presbyterianism in polity (i.e. having a hierarchy whereby each local church is not autonomous) and congregationalism/independancy.

I am an independant, but I admit that some sort of more powerful structure would, at first glance, seem to help in quality control when ordaining pastors (like the previous post) and also in sending missionaries and checking them.

However, I must as a independant, look for my connectionalism in associations rather than through a denomination. Also, when I look at the reformed and confessional bodies, they too ordain some real turkeys and they, as whole denominations, can slide into apostasy. So, my pining for greater connectionalism sometimes leads me into polity envy, but then I realize that there is no magic bullet......

Reformed Baptists, by the way, have a proud history of both confessionalism and broad connectionalism through associations.


Now, to this scenario:
I suppose within a congregational polity, the membership of the church as a whole would have to object. In the NT the church as a whole was participatory in many matters. Things were commanded to be brought before the whole church (matthew 18) and sending out of Paul was with the consent of the whole church, and the whole church with one accord did many things in the NT. Power for some matters is invested in the whole congregation and not merely a few representatives.

Therefore, if a congregation does not as a whole like the pastor, they can eject him. However, one must make sure that it is the whole church that desires this and not just a few disgruntled rabble.

How would this work for Presbyterians? Can an entire congregation object to its pastor and not have the power to remove him from that office?
 

Brian Withnell

Puritan Board Junior
I won't mind if this was a private discussion between us (it was your question that raised my ignorance of how y'all handle things) but I'm hoping a lot more folk join in (many points of view help).

Presbyterian's have means by which a congregation can request to dissolve the ministerial relationship with a pastor (it is covered in the OPC Book of Church Order, XXIV.2) but it requires the presbytery to actually dissolve the relationship, and only after they investigate the issue.

I know what you mean about Presbyterian's not having a lock on sanctity. Just look at how the OPC came about (or the PCA and any number of other minor Presbyterian denominations). I kind of hope that it takes longer to "go south" as the saying goes (though my wife might kick me for that one. :) )
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
If a congregation by an overwhelmingly vast majority requested to dissolve that relationship, I cannot imagine a Presbytery not honoring the voice of the local congregation.
 

Brian Withnell

Puritan Board Junior
If it were determined that the congregation acted in haste, without giving a pastor any hearing on whatever the issue was, and that it was due to some scandalous report that proved false, I would hope they would reject the congregations request. This would be a "bad situation" in my book. Long before it got here, the presbytery ought to have gotten involved and done some kind of work to reconcile the relationship, and should have been figuring out what the problem was and fixing it.

That is the design ... but like I said, Presbyterians don't have a lock on sanctification. :)
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
I really appreciate the model of Plural Eldership in the Reformed Baptist camp. Most of the RB churches that I am acquainted with have a check and balance system that is very beneficial. They guard each other and are accountable to each other. They share duties and relieve each other. In the Church I attend now this works out very well. In my Church there is one Pastor who is mostly responsible for pulpit duties. The other Elders guard him and pick up slack and make sure they all doing well. They are very accountable to each other and there is also congregational input to them also.

In Owensboro, Ky. they have multiple Pastors who are equal in authority and they all share pulpit duties. The congregational churches that do not have multiple Elders are lacking in my opinion and are more subject to the kinds of problems that plague disgruntled congregations.
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I, too, believe in multiple elder-led congregationalism (the RB model). But, in the end, it is still congregationalism/independancy. There is church input. What form and how much should this church input be?
 

Herald

Administrator
Staff member
I really appreciate the model of Plural Eldership in the Reformed Baptist camp. Most of the RB churches that I am acquainted with have a check and balance system that is very beneficial. They guard each other and are accountable to each other. They share duties and relieve each other. In the Church I attend now this works out very well. In my Church there is one Pastor who is mostly responsible for pulpit duties. The other Elders guard him and pick up slack and make sure they all doing well. They are very accountable to each other and there is also congregational input to them also.

In Owensboro, Ky. they have multiple Pastors who are equal in authority and they all share pulpit duties. The congregational churches that do not have multiple Elders are lacking in my opinion and are more subject to the kinds of problems that plague disgruntled congregations.

I echo Randy's statements. In our church the elders have equal authority with the pastor, who is also an elder. We are able to handle many elder issues within the body of elders without having to go to the congregation.
 

William Price

Puritan Board Freshman
I really appreciate the model of Plural Eldership in the Reformed Baptist camp. Most of the RB churches that I am acquainted with have a check and balance system that is very beneficial. They guard each other and are accountable to each other. They share duties and relieve each other. In the Church I attend now this works out very well. In my Church there is one Pastor who is mostly responsible for pulpit duties. The other Elders guard him and pick up slack and make sure they all doing well. They are very accountable to each other and there is also congregational input to them also.

In Owensboro, Ky. they have multiple Pastors who are equal in authority and they all share pulpit duties. The congregational churches that do not have multiple Elders are lacking in my opinion and are more subject to the kinds of problems that plague disgruntled congregations.

This is the same with my home church. We have multiple elders who support the pastors. Great setup!
 

Rich Koster

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
When I served as an elder, we were elder led but congregational vote. This worked out so that we shared many of the tasks such as membership interviews and hospital visitation. We also took turns being the one calls would be diverted to so the pastor(s) could take time off and away from their duties.

As far as counseling, we offered suggestions. On a few occasions we offered to cover the cost for some counseling. I also recall one time where we thought counsel was needed, but not taken and it led to some bad decisions being made and fractured the elder board so that two of us left the congregation.
 

KSon

Puritan Board Junior
I really appreciate the model of Plural Eldership in the Reformed Baptist camp. Most of the RB churches that I am acquainted with have a check and balance system that is very beneficial. They guard each other and are accountable to each other. They share duties and relieve each other. In the Church I attend now this works out very well. In my Church there is one Pastor who is mostly responsible for pulpit duties. The other Elders guard him and pick up slack and make sure they all doing well. They are very accountable to each other and there is also congregational input to them also.

In Owensboro, Ky. they have multiple Pastors who are equal in authority and they all share pulpit duties. The congregational churches that do not have multiple Elders are lacking in my opinion and are more subject to the kinds of problems that plague disgruntled congregations.

I, too, must echo Randy's sentiments. Our church follows this model as well. Our Senior Pastor's job description carefully lays out the expectation that he spends at least 32 hours a week in study, the fruits of which show themselves every time he stands behind the pulpit. Now, obviously, this does not allow time for many other 'pastoral' things, but having elders in plurality allows for the tending of such things. That plurality provides accountability, as each elder is of equal authority. It also provides a fellowship-driven growth amongst themselves, the fruit of which trickles down (in a Reagonomics sort of way) into the congregation.

I just left the single-pastor has all-authority model, and it was an absolute train-wreck in several ways...
 

Cranmer1959

Puritan Board Freshman
The last I checked the "Reformed" and "Protestant" definition of a "visible" church is a local church where the Gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments are rightly divided. Denominational structures are secular organizations and when the denomination goes astray these organizations often turn into tyrannical oppressive structures like what we see happening in the Episcopal Church USA.

Connections and associations are good for practical things like mission boards, group insurance, confessional doctrinal commitments and the like. However, denominations are notoriously inept at policing doctrine anyway. The PCA is a good example of that. We already have the theonomists, federal visionists, and church growth pragmatists dominating the organizational structure. It's only a matter of time before the PCA is just another PCUSA. The only hope we have is having local congregations committed to the unmitigated preaching of the Law and Gospel and holding to Scripture as the final authority with confessional standards drawn therefrom. Only a well taught congregation can understand what those commitments are. So in that case the elders and the pastor are responsible first of all to be well studied themselves and secondly apt to teach so that the Christians of that church are knowledgeable of the Scriptures and the various attacks against orthodoxy from all sides.

Thanks for the post. I know it's not meant to be divisive.

I would also love to talk more about presbyterianism in polity (i.e. having a hierarchy whereby each local church is not autonomous) and congregationalism/independancy.

I am an independant, but I admit that some sort of more powerful structure would, at first glance, seem to help in quality control when ordaining pastors (like the previous post) and also in sending missionaries and checking them.

However, I must as a independant, look for my connectionalism in associations rather than through a denomination. Also, when I look at the reformed and confessional bodies, they too ordain some real turkeys and they, as whole denominations, can slide into apostasy. So, my pining for greater connectionalism sometimes leads me into polity envy, but then I realize that there is no magic bullet......

Reformed Baptists, by the way, have a proud history of both confessionalism and broad connectionalism through associations.


Now, to this scenario:
I suppose within a congregational polity, the membership of the church as a whole would have to object. In the NT the church as a whole was participatory in many matters. Things were commanded to be brought before the whole church (matthew 18) and sending out of Paul was with the consent of the whole church, and the whole church with one accord did many things in the NT. Power for some matters is invested in the whole congregation and not merely a few representatives.

Therefore, if a congregation does not as a whole like the pastor, they can eject him. However, one must make sure that it is the whole church that desires this and not just a few disgruntled rabble.

How would this work for Presbyterians? Can an entire congregation object to its pastor and not have the power to remove him from that office?
 

Pergamum

Ordinary Guy (TM)
I really appreciate the model of Plural Eldership in the Reformed Baptist camp. Most of the RB churches that I am acquainted with have a check and balance system that is very beneficial. They guard each other and are accountable to each other. They share duties and relieve each other. In the Church I attend now this works out very well. In my Church there is one Pastor who is mostly responsible for pulpit duties. The other Elders guard him and pick up slack and make sure they all doing well. They are very accountable to each other and there is also congregational input to them also.

In Owensboro, Ky. they have multiple Pastors who are equal in authority and they all share pulpit duties. The congregational churches that do not have multiple Elders are lacking in my opinion and are more subject to the kinds of problems that plague disgruntled congregations.

I echo Randy's statements. In our church the elders have equal authority with the pastor, who is also an elder. We are able to handle many elder issues within the body of elders without having to go to the congregation.

Yet the congregation's consent is implied, right?

Under normal circumsances you are not going to the congregation for every issue because it is implied that you are acting in the congregation's best interests.

However, how do you handle the large issues of the church, like admittance and dismissal of members and discipline. In these matters, the NT example was that the consent of the whole church was needed.
 

PuritanCovenanter

Moderator
Staff member
I really appreciate the model of Plural Eldership in the Reformed Baptist camp. Most of the RB churches that I am acquainted with have a check and balance system that is very beneficial. They guard each other and are accountable to each other. They share duties and relieve each other. In the Church I attend now this works out very well. In my Church there is one Pastor who is mostly responsible for pulpit duties. The other Elders guard him and pick up slack and make sure they all doing well. They are very accountable to each other and there is also congregational input to them also.

In Owensboro, Ky. they have multiple Pastors who are equal in authority and they all share pulpit duties. The congregational churches that do not have multiple Elders are lacking in my opinion and are more subject to the kinds of problems that plague disgruntled congregations.

I echo Randy's statements. In our church the elders have equal authority with the pastor, who is also an elder. We are able to handle many elder issues within the body of elders without having to go to the congregation.

Yet the congregation's consent is implied, right?

Under normal circumstances you are not going to the congregation for every issue because it is implied that you are acting in the congregation's best interests.

However, how do you handle the large issues of the church, like admittance and dismissal of members and discipline. In these matters, the NT example was that the consent of the whole church was needed.

I didn't know that the consent of the whole congregation was needed for dismissal. Where do you see that in the scriptures? I am just asking because I didn't know that. I did know that the whole congregation did need to be informed but I didn't know the whole church needed to give approval.

In my church the Elders make recommendations of receiving members. When disciplinary actions are taken they are done in a discrete way. Excommunication is a last, openly public recommendation due to unrepentant behavior. In that case I believe it is more of a decision that is announced along with admonitions on how to deal with such persons. I will have to go look at the by laws to make sure. I have only seen it done once or twice so I am not sure of the procedure.
 

rbcbob

Puritan Board Graduate
Randy this is one such place. Our church practices this.
1 Corinthians 5:4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.

see also 2 Corinthians 2:6 This punishment which was inflicted by the majority is sufficient for such a man
 
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Brian Withnell

Puritan Board Junior
The last I checked the "Reformed" and "Protestant" definition of a "visible" church is a local church where the Gospel is rightly preached and the sacraments are rightly divided. Denominational structures are secular organizations and when the denomination goes astray these organizations often turn into tyrannical oppressive structures like what we see happening in the Episcopal Church USA.
:rolleyes:

There are obvious differences in the view of what the scripture teaches here, and I don't that this path is profitable. While I could defend the "honor" of presbyterian polity as being that which is Biblical, and that any other is a matter of not properly exegesis, it would not be worth the effort. That particular issue is not what the thread is about, and it would certainly not be anything more than a diversion into divisiveness. Suffice it to say, I disagree with the basic premise.

-----Added 7/19/2009 at 04:58:41 EST-----

I really appreciate the model of Plural Eldership in the Reformed Baptist camp. Most of the RB churches that I am acquainted with have a check and balance system that is very beneficial. They guard each other and are accountable to each other. They share duties and relieve each other. In the Church I attend now this works out very well. In my Church there is one Pastor who is mostly responsible for pulpit duties. The other Elders guard him and pick up slack and make sure they all doing well. They are very accountable to each other and there is also congregational input to them also.

In Owensboro, Ky. they have multiple Pastors who are equal in authority and they all share pulpit duties. The congregational churches that do not have multiple Elders are lacking in my opinion and are more subject to the kinds of problems that plague disgruntled congregations.

I echo Randy's statements. In our church the elders have equal authority with the pastor, who is also an elder. We are able to handle many elder issues within the body of elders without having to go to the congregation.

Yet the congregation's consent is implied, right?

Under normal circumsances you are not going to the congregation for every issue because it is implied that you are acting in the congregation's best interests.

However, how do you handle the large issues of the church, like admittance and dismissal of members and discipline. In these matters, the NT example was that the consent of the whole church was needed.

Thanks for the posting guys, I am learning that there appears to be no consistent method of operation ... but yet all of you are working through what you see the Bible as saying -- it is good to know that you strive to do so.

Pergy, one of the things I understand within our denomination is that elders do not answer to the congregation, they answer to God for their actions. When they act as "session" they act as the whole church.

I do see one problem that sometimes occurs. If a set of elders is put in place that are not absolutely well trained, screened to a very high degree and kept accountable to each other at all times, the session will grow weak (or worse, start weak). While it is not mandated the degree of training an elder or deacon undergoes in the OPC, I know that my own training included tests in theology (over 300 questions for that one alone), Bible knowledge, church history, and practical life and trust. That was in addition to being nominated as a candidate for training. The training takes more than a year and includes a practicum. The rigor for elders is of the same quality. The whole purpose is to help assure the "court" is well qualified to investigate and rule over the church (and as each session is the body that approves candidates for submission to the congregation as nominees, making sure they are well trained will assure the next session will not be sliding down a slippery slope of liberalism.)

Again, thanks for the informative posts all.
 

Wannabee

Obi Wan Kenobi
Can one of you please give me a definition of congregationalism? I have thought of it as a church that is basically run by a congregation, with all having an equal vote on all matters and the pastor/s sort of steering here and there to help keep things in line.
The structure I'm more familiar with would be along the lines of elder rule/lead, where decisions are basically made by the elders. There are variances, of course, such as whether they rule by majority/percentage or unanimity. This, I would think, would line up more with presbyterianism, but simply on a local scale.


In our church it should go something like this:
In the spirit and obedience to Ephesians 5:21 we all submit to one another in Christ, meaning that we are mutually exhorting one another to greater godliness and to flee from sin.
As Galatians 6 teaches, we should help a brother see where he needs to grow and repent. Whoever, in the congregation, is offended or sees where a pastor is failing should then go to him, privately, and let him know of any concerns. Such should be done in a spirit of gentleness and humility with the goal of mutual edification.
If the pastor reacts in pride then the church member has the opportunity to seek the advice of one of the other pastors/elders (I use the terms synonymously. At this point the elder/s would approach the elder/pastor who was confronted and help him see the truth of the matter (whatever that may be).
If there is continued pressure then the elders, as a whole, would address the matter. We lead by unanimity, so all the elders would have to agree in order to put the pastor out. The goal, however, would always be restoration, repentance and growth.
Of course, this could all blow up if the pastor refused to submit and had one guy in his corner. May we be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18) and truly submit to one another in a spirit of love.

For clarity, there is no voting in our church. The elders lead by unanimity. I do think our congregation does vote, once a year, on the budget though.

I think this is what Randy was referring to in his post, and echos Bill's statements too.

As for dismissal or admittance, allowing all members with varying levels of maturity to vote on such matters seems dangerous. The elders make these decisions and present them to the congregation ahead of time in case anyone has concerns. If they have concerns or can shed light on a certain situation they are encouraged to speak to an elder, ONLY, in order to bring their information forward for consideration amongst the elders. So, the congregation has input, but no vote.

I appreciate your closing comments Brian. They are well founded. The whole elder system can turn into a good-ol'-boys club in a hurry without proper oversight/restraints. We have a list of qualifications that coincide with Scriptural mandate and are working on questionnaires for both the elders and their wives. These will be used for assigning and keeping up with accountability to one anther on an annual basis. But, it's a work in process right now, for we are a small and relatively new congregation.

Great discussion!
 
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