Seven Theses on Church Polity

Luther

“Seven? Amateur!”

On Monday I suggested that three interrelated questions of church polity have been woven through the fabric of the modern Reformed Baptist movement: the plurality of the eldership, the nature of parity within the eldership, and the confessional requirement for an associational check on the exercise of church authority. Having invited Reformed Baptists to step outside our own tradition and consider how another polity accomplishes parity, and having also made some further observations on the questions which have vexed us, I am ready to offer a few theses on the questions of plurality and parity.

These theses do not argue for associationalism, simply because that issue is, I believe, settled polity. Our confession expressly states that we ought to hold communion together, and both the 17th century usage of “communion” and the clarifying expression of how communion works in 26:15 tell us that, in the eyes of our confession, we have an obligation to associate with like-minded churches where possible. Continue reading

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Definitions and Other Challenges

bishop

Even if we don’t know what “bishop” does mean, we do know what it doesn’t mean.

I have been writing this week on questions of local church polity as they have been addressed by Reformed Baptists, and on the comparative model of Presbyterianism. I have a few suggestions to make – theses for debate, if you will. Before I come to them, however, I have a number of further observations to make on the state of our churches and the ministry within them. Consider these challenges which must be addressed if we ever wish to arrive at a more sensible polity. Continue reading

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Understanding the Presbyterian Model

owen

Three Presbyterians co-opt a picture of Owen which is then posted on a Baptist blog; someone’s head explodes, because clearly Owen was an Anglican.

Yesterday I wrote about some of the problems faced by Reformed Baptists in developing our polity. Differences between us have been exacerbated by the fact that some – but not all – of us have been influenced by Presbyterianism, particularly with regard to local polity. This problem is even further exacerbated by the fact that some have, I am convinced, completely misread Presbyterian polity. Is it possible that some Reformed Baptists have developed their principles of government in reaction to what was a basic mischaracterization of Presbyterianism?

It is with such thoughts in mind that I listened with great interest to a recent episode of the Mortification of Spin podcast. I urged yesterday that my readers listen to it before reading today’s post, and I want to repeat that advice today. Carl Trueman, an OPC Pastor, Todd Pruitt, a PCA pastor, and Aimee Byrd, an OPC lay-member, discuss the inner workings of a Presbyterian eldership within the local congregation. If you haven’t heard it yet, you can listen here. It takes about half an hour, and it is time well spent. Continue reading

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A Few Polity Questions

assembly

Pronouncing the Anathema on Independency

One of the issues which continues to bedevil the Reformed Baptist movement as we seek to adopt and apply not only the doctrine but also the polity of our confession of faith is the relationship of the title “pastor” to that of “elder.” For any of us to pretend that this matter has been resolved is probably to deceive ourselves. A number of positions exist, and our confession is less than absolutely clear in the resolution of these differences.

Since the Particular Baptist movement grew in the soil of England’s Puritan era, and since the 1689 Confession is in part a revision of the Westminster, we would do well to frame the discussion with reference to the definitions which exist in Presbyterianism, and then to ask whether and how Baptists have viewed the matter differently. Continue reading

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How Not to Illustrate

kids sled

That’s more or less as I remember it.

Last Sunday I preached on Ephesians 4:14, “…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine…” Harkening back to Homiletics 101, I thought it might be a good idea to open the sermon with an observation about the importance of steering. With that thought, an illustration was born.

It’s winter in Wisconsin, so of course I thought of sleds. I talked about how much sled technology has changed. We see children with bumps and bruises because they were hit by sleds. Of course, if anyone had been run over by a sled when I was a child, he would have been seriously hurt. I don’t recall it happening, though, because as solidly built as our Rosebud-style sleds were, they also included a flexible steering bar. Today’s sledder is at the mercy of the hill, which takes him wherever it pleases. Warming up to my illustration, I described a harrowing downhill trip with one of my children in one of the modern plastic crates they call “sleds” – a trip during which two little girls wondered across our path as we spun and twisted crazily, unable to influence our own course. I had no choice but to crash intentionally before plowing into the children. “I was afraid we would kill those little girls!” I explained. My transition to the message was this: “If you’re going to be moving, it’s nice to be able to steer.” Continue reading

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Random Thoughts

young sowell

A young Thomas Sowell, before I made him famous by stealing his column format.

The formal charges once filed against J. Gresham Machen are one illustration from history of a near-universal fact. Whenever a church or denomination divides over doctrine, the side which has rejected historic orthodoxy insists that the division had nothing to do with doctrine.

Strident criticism frequently proceeds from those who have not worked to comprehend what they are criticizing. The most strident criticism is often from those who have not bothered even to read what they criticize. Continue reading

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What’s Inside John Piper’s Geodes?

geodeHere’s a true story: A man I once knew traveled during his youth to Colorado with a friend who was a knowledgeable mineralogist. They stopped at a field to take in the view, and as they walked the mineralogist stooped to pick up a roundish, mud-colored rock. With great excitement he took it back to his pickup, found a tool, and broke it open to reveal purplish crystals. He had found and recognized an amethyst geode. Now upon looking about, this man realized that the field was full of roundish, mud-colored rocks, and – knowing something of the price of these gemstones – he immediately went into town, found a land office, and bought the field. He then spent a few days gathering geodes, which he shipped out in a rented truck. He relisted the property before leaving town. Eventually it sold, but he had already turned a tidy profit by harvesting and selling amethyst from the rocks. Continue reading

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