So Who’s in Charge?

In my early years if you had asked me about congregational government I would have pretty much stood up and defended the idea – in principle anyway. I would have gone to Bible passages like Acts 7 and 15 and 1 Pet. 2 to support the argument.

But over the last few years I’ve begun to struggle with this principle.

It’s not that I don’t like the idea, I think it has merit and I think the people who have committed themselves to their local church should be heard. I’m pretty sure most good leaders will agree that any Pastor who does not consult and communicate with their congregation won’t last too long. A few yeas ago I wrote an essay on this for my studies at Vose Seminary in which I shared my concerns. Over the ensuing those concerns have crystallized for me.

Firstly our current forms of congregational government look more like a secular democracy rather than people trying to find out what the Holy Spirit wants. A motion is brought to the people, seconded, discussed and voted on. The vote – whatever it is – is taken as ‘God’s will’ for the local church. My problem with it is that God’s will = majority. A quick look through the bible will highlight a number of cases where the majority vote was certainly not the will of God. The episode of the golden calf in Exodus comes to mind here.

Secondly it nearly always defaults to the lowest common denominator. The decision that offends the least amount of people and causes the least amount of disruption is generally what comes out. Meetings become a forum where people exert their right to ‘have their say’ without ever asking what the Holy Spirit is calling us to. There are times when decisions are made that are faith-filled and spirit-inspired. But to be honest I’ve not seen too many meetings where this happens.

Thirdly there doesn’t seem to be much biblical evidence for it. Even Acts 15 – which has been taken as a classic text in support of congregational government – has some problems. Firstly, a careful reading will show that the congregation didn’t really get to decide much at all. Secondly its only one of 2 texts that I can think of where the congregation made any decision at all. Most times it seems the leaders decide – and the church ratifies the decision.

The other thing that I have trouble with is this: If congregational government is really a biblical form of church, why don’t we see more examples of it in the New Testament? I may be wrong (and am happy to be proven wrong) but I can’t really think of too many places where it is spoken of – and it certainly is no substitute for leadership. Overall the bible seems pretty quiet on this model.

When it comes to Baptists I’m well aware that I’m talking about something that has historically lain at the core of their beliefs. I have no problem with congregational government per se. Where my issue lies is the extent that it has become so entrenched that it can’t be questioned and examined. I think it should be. I’m not saying that other models are perfect – there is no perfect system and a church can certainly suffer as much under despotic leadership as it can under congregational government. But I think there are other things, better things that we can use to define us as ‘Baptist’. And when it comes to congregational government, I’m wondering if we shouldn’t look at this issue again.

About andy63

Auditorium/Facilities Manager at Kennedy Baptist College. Family man, Dockers Supporter, NFL and NBA tragic who loves the Red Bull Air Race and a good meal. A Christian who is grateful for grace and forgiveness and the fact that Jesus is alive.

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