Monday, December 16, 2013

Congregational polity

Recently the Gospel Coalition Blog hosted two entries on polity: "Why You Should Be a Congregationalist," by Hunter Powell, a Baptist, and "Why You Should Be a Presbyterian," by Mark Jones. Today Jonathan Leeman at 9 Marks tells "Non-Congregationalists, Stop Firing Your Church Members!" Leeman concludes with nine reasons he believes authority should rest with the congregation:
  1. The final court of appeal is the church. The whole church must address the unrepentant sinner (“if he refuses to listen even to the church”), and then the whole church must assent to any act of excommunication in order for it to work. (Even if the pastor says, “He’s excommunicated,” the congregation simply has to agree and to participate in the decision to make it happen. Their assent simply must be involved.)
  2. There is no mention of bishops or elders in the text.
  3. Nowhere does the New Testament explicitly connect the keys of the kingdom to pastors/elders, and nowhere do we see pastors/elders unilaterally excommunicating someone. Since the apostles did hold the keys, we do see Peter, for instance, unilaterally excommunicating someone (Simon in Acts 8).
  4. Verse 19 offers an explanation for the activity of binding and loosing in verse 18 in which Jesus refers to “two of you” asking about anything (presumably in terms of binding and loosing). This activity can occur, it seems, wherever there is a church of two or more (less than two is not an “assembly”).
  5. Saying the church possess the keys makes sense of 1 Corinthians 5, where Paul does not call upon the leaders of the Corinthian congregation to “hand this man over to Satan” (5:5). Instead, Paul exhorts the church as a whole to do this when they are formally gathered together in the name of Jesus and under his authority: “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of the Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan… (1 Cor. 5:4-5). Like Matthew 18, he is arguing that the Corinthian congregation is responsible to declare that this individual is no longer a citizen of the kingdom of Christ, but belongs to the world, where Satan rules (John 12:31; 14:30; Matt. 4:8-9; cf. Matt. 16:23). The same is true in Galatians 1 where he tells the churches not to recognize teachers teaching a false gospel.
  6. It makes sense of 2 Corinthians 2:6-7 and the fact that Paul seems to say some kind of vote happened in an act of church discipline: “For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.”
  7. This explanation has the advantage of corresponding more closely with the Greek conception of an ekklesia, which involved an assembly of citizens who shared rule together. Every citizen had a vote.
  8. Moving authority of the keys away from the local church and to the presbytery divides authority from pastoral and relational care. Matthew 18’s example of discipline, for instance, could now be determined by a group of men with whom the offender shares no fellowship.
  9. Keeping the keys in the hands of the congregation authorizes and equips the baptized believer to fulfill the job responsibilities he or she has by virtue of being a baptized believer and new covenant member.