Tuesday, March 15, 2022

Under authority

In "An Ecclesiological Take on 'The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill',” I was particularly impressed with what Jonathan Leeman argued about the nature of authority and accountability in the church.

.... Who holds the power of discipline in an independent, elder-ruled church like Mars Hill? The elders. They are the highest authority. Indeed, they are the only authority.

Not so in congregational, presbyterian, or episcopalian-structured churches (lower-case to refer to systems of government, not denominations). Congregationalists push the authority to excommunicate down from the elders to the whole congregation. Presbyterians and episcopalians push it up to the presbytery, general assembly, or bishop.

For my part, not only do I think the downward push to the congregation is more biblical, but if the history of governments has anything to teach us, pushing power downward always does more to keep it in check. See the Federalist Papers. ....

...[A]sk yourself: which form of church polity do pragmatists love most? You guessed it—independent pastor or elder rule. This structure is easy and efficient. You can make decisions quickly. And you don’t have to bother with outside bodies or even your own congregation. If your church asks, you can point them to Hebrews 13:17’s call to submit to pastors. ....

Not surprisingly, the independent pastor or elder-ruled church structure has come to characterize the evangelical landscape for the last 70 years—from the Crystal Cathedral, to Willow Creek, to Saddleback, to the independent Bible churches I grew up in, to Mars Hill, to most hip church plants, to so many fundamentalist churches who work desperately to be biblical. Even those SBC megachurches which claim to be congregational are so in a rubber-stamping sort of way.

...[T]he sad tale of Mars Hill Church, which crushed the faith of so many, demonstrates why a middle lane is important. Polity is not essential for salvation, but it’s essential for helping the saved walk lovingly and peaceably together. It’s essential for passing the gospel to the next generation. It’s essential, finally, for biblical obedience. Driscoll’s self-manufactured structures failed his congregation and the city of Seattle in all three ways. ....

...[T]he fact that husbands and elders possess no enforcement mechanism changes the nature of how their authority must be exercised. .... It requires him to woo and be winsome. He must work for growth over the long run, not forced outcomes and decisions in the short run, which is why Paul tells Timothy to teach “with all patience.” What good is a forced decision or forced love from a wife or a member of the new covenant? A husband and an elder want the flowers of loving decisions growing naturally from loving hearts. ....

When an elder or pastor treats all authority as one thing, and fails to realize that God has established different kinds of authority, he begins to exercise his authority coercively. It becomes characterized by demands, not invitations. Combine that with underlying character issues, and you have a recipe for disaster. .... (more)
Jonathan Leeman, "An Ecclesiological Take on 'The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill',” 9Marks, March 14, 2022.

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