Friday, November 9, 2012

Church Polity, part 4

Note: If you are planning to pick apart every thing I say, I'm not interested. If you really want to dialogue about the subject, I'm all ears (and my ears are big, literally).

Last week, we looked specifically at Acts 6:1-7 making a couple of observations about the decision-making process of the early church, specifically as it related to a conflict that had arisen and the roles & responsibilities of elders and deacons.

Remember, the apostles’ function in Acts 6 is analogous to the role of pastors/elders in the church today with respect to primary responsibility of oversight, shepherding, guiding, and teaching. Given these responsibilities, it does not preclude the greater congregation of believers from having input nor does it say for the greater congregation to blindly follow the pastors/elders. In fact, while pastors/elders are the serving leaders of the congregation and the deacons are the leading servants, the New Testament places a heavy responsibility on the total congregation in certain situations.

Here are a few of them. In Matthew 18:15-20, Jesus gives the final authority in the decision to excommunicate an un-repentant brother or sister in Christ from the congregation rather than to the pastors/elders. While the pastors/elders would play a role in that process, the final decision is from the greater congregation.

This reality shows up in 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. In this specific situation, Paul addresses the entire congregation because they have allowed a young man in the church to sleep with his step-mother without calling him and her to repentance. Paul addresses the whole congregation, not just the pastors/elders. This is a responsibility of the entire church body.

Also, while the pastors/elders provide spiritual oversight and leadership for the church body, the church body is also responsible for holding the pastors/elders accountable, particularly in their teaching ministry of the church so that they do not teach & preach false doctrine.

As the Holy Spirit leads and guides, there is a check and balance in the decision-making process of the church working through the pastors/elders and the greater congregation.

Church Polity, part 3

Note: If you are planning to pick apart every thing I say, I'm not interested. If you really want to dialogue about the subject, I'm all ears (and my ears are big, literally).

This week, let’s explore Acts 6:1-7 for few minutes as we glean some important truths about church polity.

Notice that there is a conflict occurring in the Jerusalem church about the serving of the widows that were present among the church--Jewish widows and Hellenistic widows. Out of this conflict, under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, we can glean some important truths even though the church is fairly young at this point in history.

First, there is a consensus of decision-making among the church. The apostles gathered the disciples together to give information about the situation. The apostles instructed the disciples as to the best method for solving the conflict and moving forward. The disciples chose the seven who would be appointed to this task of “serving tables” to aid in the ministry to the widows, particularly the Hellenistic widows. The seven were brought back to the apostles for affirmation and appointment. There was consensus among the church and the leadership (apostles) all under the Lordship of Jesus and leadership of the Holy Spirit. If you will notice the process that we have used the last couple of years in our Deacon Nomination process, we have tried to follow this pattern ourselves.

Second, there is a division of labor among the church. While pastor-teachers are not equivalent to apostles, there is I believe an analogous relationship that is borne out in this passage with respect to the primary responsibilities of pastor/teachers. The apostles primary responsibility was to “prayer and the ministry of the word”. While serving tables was not out of their purview of the apostles’ ministry and they did participate, it was not primary. The ministry to the widows had become too much for the apostles to handle to the point that they were neglecting their primary calling and responsibility to the disciples in prayer and the word. Therefore, in order for the apostles (and by analogy, pastor/teachers) to give primary attention to “prayer and the ministry of the word” to the congregation, there was a division of labor among the church with the seven taking the lead on the task of serving the widows among the church.

Third, notice the result in v. 7 - “and the word of God continued to increase and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.” The conflict was resolved and the church unified. The word of God increased and the church was strengthened. This passage gives us a picture of church polity and division of labor among the church that promotes a healthy church that bears fruit for the kingdom and glory of God in making disciples.