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Theology Unplugged: Church (Part 4) – How Should a Church Be Governed?

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Join Michael Patton, Tim Kimberley and Sam Storms as they continue their new series on the Church. This is a topic hotly debated today. What really does it take to be a church? Can three people meet at a coffee shop and call themselves a church? Do churches need to have elders? What about an online church?

There are so many questions being asked today about the Church in the 21st century. This series seeks to dive into the prominent issues of Ecclesiology (the study of the Church).

Theology Unplugged: Video Edition is available for the first time to Credo House Members. You can now listen AND WATCH as Michael, Tim, Sam and JJ dive into issues of theology. Grow in your faith, learn theology, and have a good time. Try Membership risk free! If you don’t love it as much as us you can cancel at any time

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9 Responses to “Theology Unplugged: Church (Part 4) – How Should a Church Be Governed?”

  1. One thing I was wondering is this –exactly what kind of authority are you talking about? Administrative authority? (Who will pave the parking lot, and when the church services will be), or doctrinal authority (can two women be married, and how baptisms are performed), and then there are also borderline areas between the two (who is qualified to be confirmed, what if any creed is recited during the church service). I’m sure you are talking about administrative authority, but are you also talking about doctrinal authority?

    And here’s my “come on, guys…” question. Isn’t this circular authority and therefore no authority at all? If the the congregation votes for the elders, or hires the pastor, or some variation of that, then the leader’s authority is derived from those he has authority over.
    The churchgoer can in effect say to his pastor or elder, “You have authority over me as long as I allow you to. We can always install new leadership.”

  2. Aaron M. Renn 2014-01-24 at 10:13 am

    From sometime in at least by the 2nd century to sometime after the Reformation, the monarchical episcopate was the universal form of church governance. I think it’s pretty hard to argue that the early church, which had such a high view of scripture and apostolic tradition, got this wrong. Irenaeus wrote in favor of it, and he was only twice removed from John. I won’t say the plural eldership model is wrong today, but it would seem pretty clear that episcopal governance is valid, unless you think that God let the church get it wrong for 1,500 years until us modern geniuses of bible interpretation came along. I should also note that the Eastern Orthodox churches manage to retain the episcopal model without reference to an ultimate “dictator” as someone put it.

    Additionally, the NT letters themselves are evidence that outsiders held authority over local congregations. This continued after the apostles as in the case of 1 Clement. You can say these were advisory. However, the early church – in line with the overwhelming directives of scripture – took a high view of church unity universally and the idea that a local congregation could just go its own way was nearly inconceivable to them. That’s why there were only three branches of the faith up until the Reformation (which shared almost total agreement on key points) and there are 30,000 today, which fundamental disagreements on all sorts of things.

    I think it’s pretty clear that church governance and the loss of unity is one of the clear things that went very badly wrong during the Reformation.

  3. Aaron, by 3 branches did you mean Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox?

  4. @Francis, yes those are the three. There were a few Arian and Nestorian offshoots as well, but I think they were always basically viewed as heretical after the church anathemized their teachings and rapidly dwindled. I think there are still some Nestorian churches around, and you can view Islam as a sort of Arian influenced heresy, but I think the idea of three main branches that shared almost all core doctrines is fair. And if you want to include Nestorianism, you still only have four churches and again they are in very close agreement on almost all core issues.

  5. “That’s why there were only three branches of the faith up until the Reformation”

    I think Anglicans would consider themselves a branch as well (temporarily under the RCC, but started before the RCC became an institution).

  6. Aaron M. Renn 2014-01-27 at 5:47 pm

    Well, for the purposes of this thread, Anglicans practice….episcopal polity.

  7. david carlson 2014-02-08 at 7:12 pm

    so, going to comment on the latest overblown kerfluffle, Donald. Miller blogpost?

  8. Having (finally) listened to these past 4 episodes on church, esp. this one, I’ve grown rather uncomfortable with the Protestant brand of ecclesiology.

    Essentially, anyone with a “calling” to start a new church, can. And the “need” for planting a new church may be defined by whatever that strikes the fancy of an individual pastor or preacher. There is neither the mechanism to guard against it from being just another brand of personality cult (even with the best of intentions and the most orthodox of theology), nor anything to ensure the church’s longevity.

    As the believers vote with their legs, and go to the church that best tickle their ears, successes in church planting inevitably become defined by the size of an extant cake that the pastors cut for themselves, rather than by new converts and disciples. While we are trying to write Acts 29, has anyone read Gamaliel’s warning in Acts 5 lately?

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