The form of church government of this Traditional Baptist Church plant is eldership rule. Meaning that those who are elders are in full possession of the ministry of the church. They lead in everything with only a unanimous consent among the eldership, in which each elder is of equal authority to the others. This form of church government may resemble the Presbyterian form of church government to some extent.
This will be the most likely significant difference to what most people would characterise as the form of government of a traditional baptist church. The dominant form of church government among most Baptist churches is congregational rule.
The Purpose of the Christian Ministry
Ephesians 4:11,12 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;
The authority possessed by the eldership is only to be for the good of the church. It is of particular concern to this endeavor to see churches planted that the ministry presented to the world is of such a nature that it is a witness of Christian love and selflessness. Too often pastors have been selfish and have not cared for the true needs of the flock as they ought to have done.
The Biblical Basis of Eldership Rule and its Scope and Limitations
Jesus Christ’s form of church government is monarchial. Jesus is our King and our Lord, not only as God, but also in an Adamic sense as the second Adam and in a Davidic sense as our Messiah. Elders are not kings themselves and they possess no authority in and of themselves. The sole authority in the church, as far as what is materially present, is the Word of God. An elder has no authority to declare what a person is to believe or do, except what is laid out in the Word of God. Hence, ministers are to give careful attention to what they teach [1 Tim. 4:16]. Paul the apostle did not impose an assumed apostolic authority over men, but emphasised the necessity that his hearers saw that the source of authority was to be found in the Scriptures, as in the case of those at Berea [Acts 17:11].
Consequently, elders are to be obedient to God’s Word as all of God’s people are. They are to be obedient to what is true doctrine and right practice. Yes, it is true that just as certain men will turn the grace of God into licentiousness [Jude 1:4], though the grace of God is properly taught, so also there will be the abuse of the role of the elder by men who lord it over the congregation [1 Pet. 5:3], though in a context of a right understanding of church government by eldership rule.
- Acts 14:23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
- Acts 20:17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.
- Titus 1:5 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you
- Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.
- James 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord;
- 1 Peter 5:5 You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.
To safeguard against the abuse of authority it is hoped that the following will help to promote what is good for the people of God:
- There is an emphasis on ministers of the gospel being for the benefit of the flock, rather than the other way around (i.e., Servant Leadership)
- There is a stated freedom of the membership to choose what ministry they believe God would have them to go to without censorship
- Churches are to have a plurality of elders, in which unanimous decision-making acts as a form of checks and balances against unbiblical and imbalanced decisions and abuse by one of the elders over the flock
Arguments Made For Congregational Rule
Many have argued that congregation rule is demonstrated in the selection of deacons in Acts 6. Quite the contrary, it is the apostles who give instruction to the congregation to select seven men of Godly reputation from among themselves, that the apostles might put in charge of the situation. The congregation obeyed. They did not come up with another possible solution as though they shared the form of church government. They did not choose six godly men or eight godly men, but seven godly men and the apostles were the ones who laid their hands upon them to commission them for the first deaconal task. The congregation did not have an open choice, but a clearly defined set of bounds in their choice of the first deacons. Hardly a defence of congregational rule.
There is also an argument made from those texts relating to church discipline, that are said to demonstrate a role of the congregation as part of the church government. Jesus instructs in Matthew 18:15-17, when all else fails, that an intractable brother guilty of sin is to be brought before the church. So it is also argued that Paul’s instructions in 1 Corinthians 5 imply a leading role of the congregation regarding another brother guilty of sin that is inconsistent with salvation.
In both of the above texts regarding the discipline of professing believers, it must be observed that the congregation does not have a choice, other than to be obedient or disobedient to God’s Word. In Matthew, when the brother is brought before the congregation, if he does not listen he is to be counted an unbeliever. The congregation does not have a choice, unless they want to disobey Jesus’ commands for His church. In 1 Corinthians, Paul does not tell the congregation to take a vote with two boxes to check between ‘excommunicate’ and ‘not excommunicate’. He even tells them that the congregation has already been arrogant in not removing the man from their midst (vs.2) and that he has already judged the man and that they are now to excommunicate the man. Again, hardly a case for supporting some sort of congregational rule.
A Unified and Simple Designation of the Elder and the Simplicity of the Deaconate
The office of the elder should be synonymous with that of the pastor, overseer, or minister of the gospel. There is no place for a man to occupy a position of elder who is not a man called to be a minister of the gospel. Deacons are only to have a delegated authority for a limited purpose of getting things done regarding administration and maintenance, while elders rule as a body of ministers of the gospel. This alone will help to safeguard against men occupying a position of a ‘ruling elder’ who are not true ministers of the gospel.