God blesses only what He orders. For a local church that desires peace, tranquility, love, and effectiveness, this is no light matter. For several years I served as moderator for a statewide fellowship, and it seemed as if at any one time there were only a handful of churches that experienced the kind of peace that God planned for them. For much of the time, these churches were on a pendulum between anarchy and tyranny. I outline this issue in my book The Weeping Church, now published by Faithful Life Publishers in North Fort Myers, Florida. The book has been in constant publication for over 35 years and sets the bar for dealing with the crisis in church polity.
The purpose of Shepherd’s Staff is to create discussion in key areas. Most of these areas appear to be too sensitive for others to handle. I have dear friends who do us a wonderful service by providing devotional material and subjects for application. My concern is for a theology that is biblical, one that will let the Bible speak for itself. We get that truth by asking questions of the text. The center of this particular effort has to rest on the one biblical hermeneutic. When people ignore this system for the use of language, it is impossible to come up with a right answer. This is the problem with human definitions of congregationalism. Human systems are the result of ignoring the one biblical hermeneutic or misusing the rules that God has provided for us.
DEALNG WITH HUMAN INVENTIONS
What some people have done is to use a partial hermeneutic to invent their definition, which in turn allows them to insert personal or collective ideas into the text. The major problem with these additions to the text includes the insertion of their view of the culture or the current government under which they have lived. It would be one thing to just admit that they added it to the text; it is another and more serious matter to force the text to support a specific cultural view.
Admittedly, the Bible is used in their conclusions, and that is the problem. The Bible is used rather than allowing the Bible to use us in the pursuit of truth. The original languages are used as well, but it ends up being a grammatical pretzel rather than biblical principle. As in many doctrinal inventions, the process is meant to “complicate to confuse”. Our task is to simplify to clarify, which is why God has given us some effective tools to test theological inventions. I would remind you that the Bible was not written for scholars; it was written for the common man and woman.
THE TOOLS THAT GOD HAS GIVEN US
The Weeping Church details the many errors I have referred to, and you can read it for that information. In this article, I want to focus on some of those simple things God has given us to shine a light on error. You can compare your personal view of polity and congregationalism with those tools. Let me warn you that this is where an individual will discover his/her own system of interpretation. Is your polity system a monarchy, a dictatorship, a republic, a democracy, or a form of socialism? Is it papal, Episcopal, Presbyterian, congregational, or a theocracy? You just might be surprised!
The Body of Christ is the heavenly church, and it includes all those who have been redeemed, from Pentecost to the Rapture. Entry to this heavenly congregation is through the baptism of the Holy Spirit. (I Cor. 12:13) This heavenly truth is pictured on earth through the local church. The local church is a congregation, a body. God illustrates the heavenly truth through an earthly body. Since baptism is a local church ordinance, entrance to the local church is by water baptism. The earthly body is not perfect, and there may be unsaved people in the local congregation. The desire of Christ is that we emulate the heavenly body as well as we are able. A disjointed body is painful, and this often happens when a particular body does not pay heed to the things that provide good health.
God is good and has given us a way to understand how the local church should function. Good health, joy, peace, and comfort rest in understanding how God intended for the body to function. The body has a local resident head; we all should easily understand how that works, how it makes decisions and implements them. This collection of body members, or congregation, illustrates for us how the local church should function, make decisions, and stay healthy.
So how does your church government stand up to God’s clear illustration of the body? I know we are tempted to insert our own system into this, so be very careful.
Jesus Christ is clearly identified as the Shepherd of the heavenly congregation, the flock. This heavenly truth is best displayed on earth with the local church. It is a flock with a local under-shepherd, a pastor who is appointed by Christ. The function, decision making, good health, and safe setting are simply displayed in this humble illustration. God knew we could understand this. He also knew we wouldn’t like it and would insert anything we could, including our cultural context, so we could have it our way.
There is more – for instance, the church as a family. That one is so simple that it is embarrassing that anyone would even try to corrupt it! So how does your church government compare to the simple illustrations that God has given us? It is by this simplicity that we can discover if the elite has been pulling our leg about congregationalism. We both really know why they don’t like it, and that is because it reveals the human system of hermeneutics that they use.