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Condensed Theology, Lecture 44, Ecclesiology 05, Authority and Autonomy

Condensed Theology, Lecture 44, Ecclesiology 05, Authority and Autonomy

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Published by: Redeemer Bible Church/Solid Food Media on Jun 17, 2011
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Condensed Theology

A Primer in Systematic Theology

Ecclesiology: The Doctrine of the Church
What does the Bible teach about the church?

The Church’s Authority

The Church’s Authority
Jesus Christ  Apostles  Elders

The Authority of Jesus

The Church’s Authority
 

Jesus Christ’s authority is absolute and supreme and extends to every local church. Col 1:18: He [Jesus] is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything. Eph 1:22-23: And He put all things in subjection under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. Eph 4:15: …but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ.

The Authority of the Apostles

The Church’s Authority
Apostolic authority is different from Jesus’ authority in that theirs was a stewardship entrusted to them by the Lord;  That is, their authority was a derivative not an inherent authority.  In other words, their authority was exercised as a sacred trust given to them by their supreme authority, Jesus Christ.

The Church’s Authority

Apostolic authority is different from Jesus’ authority in that theirs was a stewardship entrusted to them by the Lord. Gal 1:1: Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead). Eph 4:11: And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers… Col 1:25: Of this church I was made a minister according to the stewardship from God bestowed on me for your benefit, so that I might fully carry out the preaching of the word of God.

The Church’s Authority

Apostolic authority is the same as Jesus’ authority in that it extends to every local church.
 

While they were alive. After they are dead (through their teaching as preserved in the Scriptures)

It is important to note in this connection that the authority even of their teaching is not that it was apostolic per se, but that by definition apostolic teaching is teaching given to the apostles by and ultimately about Jesus Christ (cf. Gal 1:1112; Eph 3:6; Rev 1:1).

The Church’s Authority

Apostolic authority is the same as Jesus’ authority in that it extends to every local church.

While they were alive.

  

Acts 2:42: They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 14:23: When they [the apostles] had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. 1 Tim 4:11 Prescribe and teach these things. The Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) The letters of the New Testament demonstrate the authority of the apostles over the local churches not only through explicit apostolic assertions of authority, but also through the obedience they expected to attend their teaching.

The Church’s Authority

Apostolic authority is the same as Jesus’ authority in that it extends to every local church.

After they are dead.
 

Once the apostles died, though their office was never reoccupied, their authority persists through their teaching. Eph 2:19-20: So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone. 2 Thess 2:15: So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter from us.

The Church’s Authority

Apostolic authority is the same as Jesus’ authority in that it extends to every local church.

After they are dead.
 

 

Once the apostles died, though their office was never reoccupied, their authority persists through their teaching. 2 Thess 3:6: Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. 2 Tim 1:14: Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you. Jude 3: Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.

The Authority of the Elders

The Church’s Authority

The elders’ authority is the same as the apostles’ authority in that theirs was a stewardship entrusted to them both by the apostles (and their associates; e.g. Timothy and Titus) and indirectly by the church.

Acts 14:23: When they [Paul and Barnabas] had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Titus 1:5: For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.

The Church’s Authority

The elders’ authority is the same as the apostles’ authority in that theirs was a stewardship entrusted to them both by the apostles (and their associates; e.g. Timothy and Titus) and indirectly by the church.

Acts 6:3, 6: Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task….6And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.

The Church’s Authority

The elders’ authority is the same as the apostles’ authority in that theirs was a stewardship entrusted to them both by the apostles (and their associates; e.g. Timothy and Titus) and indirectly by the church.

Acts 15:22: Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas—Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. Col 4:17 w/ 1:2; 4:18
  

Col 4:17: Say to Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.“ Col 1:2: To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. Col 4:18: I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you.

The Church’s Authority

The elders’ authority is different from the apostles in that it does not extend beyond one local church.

Elders are never given authority over more than one church.

Acts 14:23: When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. In other words, simply because I am an elder of Redeemer Bible Church does not mean, for example, that I have authority over the brethren at Bethlehem Baptist Church.

Apostles, on the other hand, if they were still alive would have authority over both the elders of Redeemer and the elders of Bethlehem. By virtue of the foundational character of the apostolic witness, apostles still command authority over the elders of the local churches.

The Church’s Authority

Since there are no longer apostles alive to rule the church, the human side of the rule of any given congregation resides solely in the eldership.

1 Tim 5:17: The elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.

This appears to have at least two major consequences:

Associations of churches or denominations that exercise rule over local assemblies have no biblical warrant. Elders appear to have no human accountability.

The Church’s Authority
Associations and Denominations

The Church’s Authority: Associations and Denominations

Three Types of Organizing Authority in the Church
Episcopalianism  Presbyterianism  Congregationalism

Episcopalianism

The Church’s Authority: Associations and Denominations
Episcopalianism  Churches: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Episcopal, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, United Methodist

The Church’s Authority: Associations and Denominations

Episcopalianism
Archbishop

Bishop

Bishop

Diocese

Diocese

Rector

Rector

Rector

Rector

Congregation

Congregation

Congregation

Congregation

The Church’s Authority: Associations and Denominations
Presbyterianism  Churches: Presbyterian, Reformed.

Presbyterianism

The Church’s Authority: Associations and Denominations

Presbyterianism
General Assembly

Presbytery

Presbytery

Session

Session

Session

Session

Congregation

Congregation

Congregation

Congregation

Congregationalism

The Church’s Authority: Associations and Denominations
  

Congregationalism Churches: Baptist, Non-Denominational, Congregational When we say that a church is congregational, we do not mean that it is necessarily governed as a democracy (Presbyterian churches elect their sessions); Rather, we mean that the church is subject to no authority outside of itself, outside of the congregation.

The Church’s Authority: Associations and Denominations
Congregationalism, therefore, generally runs the risk of isolating the local church and potentially creating a system of abuse, as there is no human and external authority and control for it.  No appeal can be made higher than the church itself.

The Church’s Authority: Associations and Denominations
Congregationalism  It is nearly impossible graphically to represent congregational government since each congregation governs as it pleases.  The following slides present a few common types:

Single Pastor Democratic Congregationalism

The Church’s Authority: Associations and Denominations

Single Pastor Democratic Congregationalism
Pastor

Deacons

Congregation

The Church’s Authority: Associations and Denominations

Single Pastor Democratic Congregationalism tends to have three common dangers:
 

Top-heavy leadership: A charismatic pastor functions almost as an Emperor. Thick-around-the-middle leadership: A dominant deacon board leads behind the scenes and holds both the pastor and the congregation captive to its every whim. Bottom-heavy leadership: A less charismatic pastor and deacon board are at the mercy of an arbitrary, fickle, and immature membership.

Elder Led Congregationalism

The Church’s Authority: Associations and Denominations

Elder Led Congregationalism
Plurality of Elders

Deacons

Congregation

The Church’s Authority: Associations and Denominations
In Elder Led Congregationalism, a congregation embraces the idea of a “session” or plurality of elders leading, or ruling the congregation.  This is the form of governance at Redeemer Bible Church.  This type of rule has pitfalls depending upon how the elders are selected.

The Church’s Authority: Associations and Denominations

If elders are selected democratically, there is a risk of a bottomheavy ministry.
 

 

The election of elders in the sense of a majority vote, however, is not at all biblical. Acts 6:3: Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task….6And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them. Acts 14:23: When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed. Titus 1:5: For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you. While the church has a major responsibility in qualifying men for office, it appears that following the examples of Timothy and Titus (see esp. 2 Tim 2:2), the leaders of the church make the final human determination as to a man’s gift and calling for pastoral office.

The Church’s Authority: Associations and Denominations

If elders are selected by fellow elders, there is a risk of a top-heavy ministry.

The question that always arises with respect to elders appointing elders has to do with abuse of power, a kind of country club oligarchy dominated by good ol’ boys padding the leadership with their friends to the detriment of the sheep and for the sake of personal gain. “If elders keep us accountable, who keeps them accountable?”

The Church’s Authority
Human Accountability for the Elders

The Church’s Authority: Human Accountability

The church has a responsibility to hold its leadership accountable to the apostolic mandates.

Col 4:17 w/ 1:2; 4:18
  

Col 4:17: Say to Archippus, "Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you may fulfill it.“ Col 1:2: To the saints and faithful brethren in Christ who are at Colossae: Grace to you and peace from God our Father. Col 4:18: I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. Remember my imprisonment. Grace be with you.

1 Tim 5:19-20: Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also will be fearful of sinning.

The Church’s Authority: Human Accountability

The church has a responsibility to hold its leadership accountable to the apostolic mandates.

Matt 18:15-17: "If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 2 Cor 11:19-20: For you, being so wise, tolerate the foolish gladly. For you tolerate it if anyone enslaves you, anyone devours you, anyone takes advantage of you, anyone exalts himself, anyone hits you in the face.

The Church’s Authority: Human Accountability

Voting does not protect you; having biblically qualified leaders does (see 1 Timothy 3 & Titus 1). When you have biblically qualified leaders, then in addition to your accountability, the leaders will effectively keep one another accountable (after all, a plurality of elders exercises rule cf. Acts 14:23; 20:17; 20:28; 1 Tim 4:14; Titus 1:5; Heb 13:17; Jas 5:14 w/ 1:1; 1 Pet 5:1-3).

The Church’s Authority
Conclusion

Associations and Denominations: Conclusion

Of course, when all is said and done the most significant question we can ask is this: Which form (if any) is biblical?

To answer that, we can say first that the Episcopalian form of governance is not. In fact, Episcopalians will be the first to admit that their adoption of the form was a matter of historical expediency and made good sense. Moreover, since the Episcopalian form is not forbidden by Scripture, it is permissible for Christians to adopt it.

Associations and Denominations: Conclusion

Of course, when all is said and done the most significant question we can ask is this: Which form (if any) is biblical?

Second, since there are no biblical examples of a structure outside the local assembly apart from the apostles exercising rule over remote congregations, neither should we pursue one. Even Louis Berkhof admits that the Bible is silent on the matter: “Scripture does not contain an explicit command to the effect that the local churches of a district must form an organic union. In fact, it represents the local churches as individual entities without any external bond of union” (Systematic Theology 590).

Associations and Denominations: Conclusion

Of course, when all is said and done the most significant question we can ask is this: Which form (if any) is biblical?

If only apostles were given rule over local elderships, then any association or denomination that exercises rule over local elderships is functionally assuming prerogatives that were given by God only to apostles.

Associations and Denominations: Conclusion
Therefore it is fairly clear that the Congregational (Independent) form is the biblical form of church governance.  In addition, based on what we’ve learned the rule of the eldership, we can specify that Elder Led Congregationalism is the biblical church polity.

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