This is the fourth post in my series on church polity. (See my posts “Church Polity – Introduction,” “Church Polity – Episcopal,” and “Church Polity – Presbyterian.“) In this post, I am going to discuss the “congregational” form of church government.
According to Wikipeadia:
The term “congregational polity” describes a form of church governance that is based on the local congregation. Each local congregation is independent and self-supporting, governed by its own members.
While there are many denominations and independent churches based on congregational polity, many descended from the anabaptist, puritan, and baptist traditions. As the wikipedia definition explains, in congregational churches the members of each local churches make decisions that affect that church. Congregational churches are also known for being independent and autonomous.
For example, consider this statement in the Baptist Faith and Message of the Southern Baptist Convention:
A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel; observing the two ordinances of Christ, governed by His laws, exercising the gifts, rights, and privileges invested in them by His Word, and seeking to extend the gospel to the ends of the earth. Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes.
Those who support congregational polity point to the times in Scripture where “the whole church” was involved in the decision-making process. They also point to the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers.
Congregationalism arose as a form of church government alongside presbyterianism and around the time of the rise of the democratic form of government (in modernity, that is).
Congregational churches may appoint committees or even individuals to oversee certain tasks or functions, but the final authority always rests with the entire church membership.
Similarly, church with congregational polity may associate with other churches, but the decision-making power rests within each local church organization, and is not usually shared among churches – even churches of the same denomination or association.
Church Polity Series
- Scriptural Evidence
- The Problem
- Moving Forward
- From Experience