This weekend, my son Jeremy and I are attending a House Church Workshop put on by New Testament Restoration Fellowship. The notes below are from the third session called “Elder-Led Congregational Consensus” which was led by Steve Atkerson. These thoughts are primarily Steve’s, and not my own. I’ll be glad to interact with any of the information below in the comments.
Session 3 â€“ Elder-Led Congregational Consensus
Everybody agrees that Jesus Christ is the head of the church. Opinions disagree from that point down. Primarily, the church copies the governance of their culture. Some are more like monarchies. Some have a plurality of dictators â€“ more of a representative form of government. Some hold to congregationalism, which models the democracy of the United States and other countries. The Bible does not demand a certain form of church government, but there are patterns in Scripture. We argue for â€œElder-Led Congregational Consensusâ€, which is a form of congregationalism.
The words of Jesus should be the starting point of everything that we understand about church government. The argument is over who is the greatest. Jesus says that we should not be like the â€œGentilesâ€. What does it mean to â€œlord it overâ€ someone? It means to force someone to do what you tell them to do. They use force or manipulation to force people to do what they tell the people to do. What does it mean to â€œexercise authorityâ€ over someone? It means about the same thing: bossing someone around â€“ ordering them to do something. Notice that the leaders call themselves â€œbenefactorsâ€ â€“ they are saying that they are just here to help you. Church leaders are not supposed to be like these government leaders. Instead, church leaders are supposed to be like children and like servants. Children and servants do not have authority. Church leaders are not supposed to exercise authority either. The church needs leaders â€“ this is not anarchy. But, these leaders are not like governmental leaders.
The apostles wrote their letters to the whole church, not just to the leaders. Elders are important, but primarily they are not singled out nor are they given special attention. In the NT, the church did not revolve around pastors and elders. In fact, there are very few passages in Scripture that speak about elders or other types of leaders. Leaders in the NT led by example, and their authority comes from their ability to persuade people of Godâ€™s truth by their teaching and their lifestyle.
Matt 16 & 18
Church leaders are not to make decisions for the church; they make decisions with the church. Leaders can teach and guide and suggest, but they should not make decisions for the church.
Leaders do not build consensus in a church meeting. Instead, it happens all the time when the leader is spending time with other believers. You have to love each other enough to work through disagreements and problems.
In Scripture, the relationship of the apostles to the church is different from the relationship of elders to the church. But, even when the apostles exercised more authority, they did it by explaining, reasoning, and discussing, not by handing down their judgments alone. The church chose a replacement for Judas, not just the apostles (Acts 1). The church chose servants in Acts 6, not just the apostles. In Acts 15, the apostles, elders, and church discussed and decided about the issue of Gentiles being added to the church.
1 Corinthians 5:4-5; 6:1-3
The church was to decide to put the unrepentant sinner out of the church. This was not a decision for the elders to make alone. Similarly, the church was to judge matters among believers, not just the elders.
If authority lies with the church and not with the leaders, why does the church need leaders? Leaders provide protection, guidance, feedingâ€¦ they help the church achieve consensus.
Consensus is based on unity
Psalm 133:1; 1 Cor 1:10; Eph 4:3-6; Phil 2:2; Col 3:15; John 17:11, 20-23; 1 Cor 10:17
Developing consensus maintains the unity that we have together in Christ. Do we really trust the Holy Spirit to work this unity and consensus in our body? Some people think this is too utopian and will never work. It might not work with a large group, but it can work with a small group of believers who know and love one another.
1 Cor 10:17
One of the Spirit-inspired ways to maintain unity among a group of believers is to share one loaf of bread during the Lordâ€™s Supper.
Leaders are to impact and persuade the flock through their manner of living â€“ their way of life. (cf. 1 Thess 5:12-13, 1 Peter 5:3)
The author is not telling the people to â€œobey leadersâ€, but to be persuaded by them. This is not a picture of a master barking orders to a servant, but of a leader persuading people to following him. Similarly, the people are not told to â€œsubmitâ€ to leaders, but to yield or surrender to them. It does not refer to a structure (like the government) to which one submits, but to a process or battle after which one yields (surrenders). Submission still occurs, but the picture is one of serious discussion and dialog prior to one party giving way.
1 Peter 5:5
This verse uses a different verb â€“ one that does mean â€œsubmitâ€. Notice that it is specifically directed to â€œyounger menâ€.
Godâ€™s wisdom is pure, peaceable, gentle, open to reasonâ€¦ This is the kind of wisdom that leaders should use.
Congregational consensus is the NT norm for church government. Churches are to be elder-led rather than elder-ruled.