"It appears likely that there was no normative pattern of church government in the apostolic age, and that the organizational structure of the church is no essential element in the theology of the church." – George Eldon Ladd link.
The Deebs need your help. We want to look at that oft bandied about term *authority* which is greatly beloved by obedience driven ministries such as 9 Marks, The Gospel™ Coalition, a number of Reformed Baptist groups, etc. As I have been reviewing our posts on church discipline, I have found that the ill defined *authority* word is what often leads to abuse or mistreatment of church members.
Merriam Webster Dictionary defines authority as:
:the power to give orders or make decisions : the power or right to direct or control someone or something
: the confident quality of someone who knows a lot about something or who is respected or obeyed by other people
: a quality that makes something seem true or real
When I googled church authority, I was directed to *church government* within Theopedia, a resource that I find quite helpful in getting me started on a theological subject. It is apparent that the phrase "church authority" immediately raises the question of "who* is in charge within a particular church setting. Theopedia breaks down the issue of authority by denomination or function.
This is supposed to be how these churches function. However, this blog is living proof that what is touted is not what is really happening. First let's look at the basics. The following is from the Theopedia article on church government.
The episcopal form of government has been the polity of the Church catholic as early as Ignatius of Antioch, all the way down to the time of the Reformation. Advocates for an episcopal form of church government argue that the sheer fact that it went virtually uncontested until the time of the Reformation testifies to its claims of apostolicity,
Theopedia devotes another page to this form of governance.
Episcopal refers to a form of church government in which the office of Bishop is a key authoritative role. The word episcopal is from the Greek word for bishop. In this system, the local church is part of a hierarchy of clergy who oversee and govern the church denomination. This usually involves regional (diocese) bishops headed up by an Archbishop. Denominations which operate with this form of polity include Eastern Orthodoxy, the Roman Catholic Church, Anglicanism, Methodism, and Lutheranism.
Common in Presbyterian and Reformed churches, this form of church government is commonly described as "Elder-run" or "Presbyter-run".
Typically, original authority–that is the authority that the church believes Christ gave to it–is said to reside at the local elder level in this model of polity. Thus the "highest" authority in a Presbyterian or reformed church (after Christ) is said to be the Elders of the church.
Those who are elected to office serve their terms as the spiritual/theological/moral/visionary leaders of the congregation. They also then participate in the governance of the regional body of churches (sometimes called a "classis") by sending delegates to a classis meeting on a regular basis. The "classical" level of church governance, in the Presbyterian model, is not a higher authority, but rather is seen as a "delegated" authority–one that only derives it's power from the acquiescence of the Elders at the local level.
Congregational polity draws its name from the independence of local congregations from the authority and control of other religious bodies. Paige Patterson has summarized congregational polity as follows:
"The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church defines "congregationalism" as "that form of Church polity which rests on the independence and autonomy of each local church." According to this source, the principles of democracy in church government rest on the belief that Christ is the sole head of his church, the members are all priests unto God, and these units are regarded each as an outcrop and representative of the church universal."
Single Elder/Pastor Led
This designation is of particular interest to me since it is my contention that, no matter the denomination or system of governance, most authority based churches are, in essence, single pastor led. Read the rationale as presented on Theopedia.
Paige Patterson argues that, despite biblical evidence undeniably exists in support of a plurality of elders, several factors support the ascendancy of a principal elder as the singular leader of the congregation. Those factors include:
1) the general pattern in the Old and New Testaments (e.g. Moses, the judges, Peter, James the brother of Jesus);
2) the pattern of the early church (e.g. John Chrysostom in Antioch and at Saint Sophia's in Constantinople, Augustine in Hippo, Jonathan Edwards in Northampton);
3) influence of the synagogue on the church, including adoption by the church of the "president of the synagogue" in the form of the "pastor/elder/overseer"; and
4) the psychology of human leadership. ( Who Runs the Church, pp. 150-52)
There seems to be some understanding that such governance will lead to autocracy.
Patterson's position addresses common practices by Baptist churches in America. It does not address single-elder congregational polity structures common in Pentecostal, Charismatic and congregations from other traditions. Though experience has brought about modification of the more extreme manifestations, single-elder congregationalism in some of these traditions consolidated authority to the point of autocracy.
In a congregational church led by a democratically elected leadership board or council, final authority for all decisions and doctrinal determinations are vested in a plurality of representative leaders selected by the congregation. The titles of the individual leaders and the structure of the leadership board or council varies.
One common use of this structure involves the election of "elders" to an "elder board". The "elders" make business and spiritual decisions for the congregation by committee and serve individually as examples and mentors to the rest of the congregation. Often "deacons" are also elected to provide leadership within specific committees, ministries or administrative functions.
Plural elder led
In a congregational church led by a plurality of elders, final authority for all decisions and doctrinal determinations are vested in a plurality of elders acting in committee.
In some congregations, elders are appointed by someone or some entity respected by the congregation and allows this authority.
This structure is very similar to the "elder board" approach to the democratic congregational structure, often differing only in the method used to select the elders and/or in the term of service of each elder.
Pastorcentricity is the key to governance in reality.
Today's churches are pastorcentric churches and I don't give a hoot how many elders and deacons they have. In theory, the type of elders and deacons who should be serving are those who are not "yes men" who rubber stamp the pastor's agenda. The congregation should function as another stop gap, providing checks and balances to the canned vision of the visionary™ also known as the pastor. However, it does not function in this manner in many churches and maybe not in most churches.
I plan to carry on with a series of articles on authority, especially authority gone wrong. For now, I leave you with some examples of the baloney we have seen in today's churches which are examples of epic fails in the authority department.
The Karen Hinkley debacle at The Village Church
There is one aspect of this situation that continues to deeply affect me. There were numerous campus pastors and elders involved from start to finish in the church discipline process of Karen Hinkley. Also, this involved labeling a confessed abuser of child internet pornography as one who was "walking in repentance" and not deserving of discipline. This situation was so clear cut that an average person with little theological background would realize that Karen was the one who was being wronged.
Now, Matt Chandler is considered one of the hottest celebrity pastors of the gospel™ set. One would assume that he would make sure he had excellent pastors and thoughtful elders. Instead, he had neither.All of the elders and pastors involved were abusing Karen by the process. Not one of those pastors and elders stopped this ridiculous example of church discipline from spinning out of control. ALL of them were on board.
It is patently obvious to me that the system for the selection of leaders at The Village Church is seriously flawed. And, if it is flawed there, you can bet it is flawed in many other Acts 29 churches who are closely tied to 9 Marks and great supporters of CJ Mahaney.
The inexcusable punishment of Todd Wilhelm at UCCDubai (a 9 Marks church)
Todd was being vetted to be a leader at UCCD. He soon discovered that the bookstore at UCCD carried books by CJ Mahaney. Todd objected, on moral grounds, to the sale of those books. When the church refused to stop selling them. Todd decided to quit the church. He was boldly standing up for the former SGM child victims of sex abuse- a worthy cause that most people with half a brain would understand.
But not UCCD, no sirree. This Hotel California of church discipline said that Todd would be added to their *care list* which is a ridiculous name for "man, are you in trouble and we might have to spank you." He wanted to think about the next church that he might attend. But that isn't allowed in 9 Marks. They think Satan might get you if you don't join an 9 Marks approved church immediately.
Once again, the elders and the pastors were all onboard with this form of punishment. No apologies were offered.
The firing of elders by Mark Driscoll
These elders disagreed with some of the changes made by Driscoll. So he fired them. That's right. He fired the elders who were supposed to provide checks and balances. These elders had no authority whatsoever within this system. Also, all the other pastors and elders kept their mouths shut.
James Macdonald excommunicates his elders.
Former Elders Scott Phelps and Barry Slabaugh are publicly ex-communicated by HBC and release a statement. Once again, who is really running the show? And where were the other pastors and elders.
My former pastor who said his elders always agreed with him.
In 2007, my former pastor, a good Gospel™ Coalition council sort of guy, told me that his elders had only disagreed with him twice in 28 years. This pastor obviously found the yes men that he wanted and made sure they stayed appointed to yes him until his retirement.
Steven Furtick and his rather bizarre ministry.
We wrote The “Madcap" World 0f Steven Furtick and Elevation Church in which Elevation Church produced a coloring book for children which featured a page in which it states that "we are all united under our visionary."
In the end, I believe that the men that the pastor wants to be elders will be the elders. The current elders might take a list of suggestions from the congregation and pretend they care but they will do whatever the pastor says. In the end, celebrity pastors are the authority and the elders and congregation will do anything to keep their famous pastor happy. This is the beginning of the problem and I will be discuss further problems in another post.