Thursday, September 2, 2010

Congregational Church Government

Let me immediately say this post has nothing to do with "eldership" and church polity.  I realize the concept of "ruling elders" is very prevalent in Baptist circles these days but that discussion is for another day, at least on this forum. 

Baptists have practiced a congregational form of church government (congregational polity) for years.  They have done so based on their conviction this is the form of polity taught in the Scripture.  Both the 1963 and 2000 Baptist Faith and Message promote congregational polity.

"This church is an autonomous body operating through democratic processes under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.  In such a congregation, members are equally responsible." (1963 BF&M)

"Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes.  In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord." (2000 BF&M)

Congregational polity means each member of a given local church has both responsibility and accountability in the affairs of the church.  No one individual or group directs the affairs of the church.  Rather, each and every member, operating as a servant of Christ, has a voice in the working of the church.

Baptists, of course, do not receive everyone who comes to a church as a member.  Baptists teach that only regenerated (born again) and Scripturally baptized individuals may be members.  Therefore, the members of a local church are brothers and sisters in Christ, each a servant of our Lord, and each a possessor of the Holy Spirit.

So, if you are born again, baptized by immersion, and a member of a local church, you have the privilege, responsibility, and accountability to seek the Spirit and voice your say in the affairs of your church's government.  You have an equal vote with every other member in the congregation, including the deacons and the pastor.

Well, maybe not...

There are many churches which say they support this view of church government but they do not practice this form of church government.  Oh, most members get to vote on every issue that comes before the church; but not all.  If God has graciously saved you and you have been Scripturally baptized and have united with a local church BUT are a child or youth, you may be excluded from some votes arising before the church.  Why?  Because you are "too young" to understand the issue facing the church.  "You would simply vote as your parents instruct you to vote and we can't have that."

Now, I confess, there are issues which come before every church in which younger members probably have no clue what the issue is about or how they should vote.  But I also have seen adults struggle in understanding some of these same issues.  Yet, no one denies them their vote.

I have seen children and youth who have been saved for several years and have more spiritual wisdom than some adults who have been saved for decades.  Yet, they cannot vote due to their physical age.  I have seen adults, lost for many, many years, saved, baptized, and voting as a church member within a month of their salvation yet youth, saved for over 10 years, denied their privilege, responsibility, and accountability to vote. 

No, I say if we truly believe Scripture teaches congregational polity then let us practice congregational polity.  Let each MEMBER seek their Lord and the guidance of the indwelling Spirit when confronted with a church matter and then express their conclusion by voting in church business. 

Let us trust the Lord to speak to those true converts who do not understand a specific matter and instruct them not to vote on specific issues due to their lack of spiritual wisdom.  Let us teach parents to exercise their right and responsibility when it comes to their children, who are members, and to either give their children the information they need to make a wise decision OR to instruct their children not to vote on a specific matter. 

If we set church guidelines which prevent members who are children, youth, mentally challenged, or senile senior adults from having a say in the governing of the church then we no longer practice congregationalism.  Rather, we are teaching a form of church government that is less than congregational, more than elder led, but, most likely, not Biblical.

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