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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

How Congregations with Authority Submit to Elders

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If the congregation as a whole is the final court of appeal, what does it mean for a church to submit to its leaders?

The Bible teaches that elders are to teach the Word, set a godly example for the flock, and oversee the affairs of the church (1 Tim. 3:2; 1 Pet. 5:3; 1 Tim. 5:17). Scripture therefore calls all Christians to “submit” to the leaders of our churches (Heb. 13:17). At the same time, Scripture teaches that the congregation as a whole has final authority in matters of discipline (Matt. 18:17; 1 Cor. 5:4-5) and doctrine (Gal. 1).

Do you see the dilemma? If the Bible located church authority exclusively in the elders, the idea of submission would be simple: the elders would make the decisions, and the congregation would submit to those decisions. But what does it mean for a congregation to submit to its elders when the congregation itself holds final authority?

Instead of considering this question in the abstract, let’s do it in an actual setting you may encounter.

Consider a case of church discipline. I would argue that, even in a congregational church, the process of discipline should be led by the elders. To work to work to restore someone who is in sin requires spiritual maturity (Gal. 6:1, Jude 23). Therefore, it makes sense for the elders to be the primary group who work behind the scenes to address sin issues in the congregation.

Still, the congregation maintains final authority. The decision to excommunicate must finally be theirs. The elders cannot simply “announce” that they have excommunicated so-and-so. They must bring all irresolvable cases of unrepentant sin to the congregation for a final decision.

Now, the real tricky question is this: How much does the congregation need to know in order to legitimately exercise their authority in a matter of public discipline?

This is a sensitive issue. On the one hand, it would not edify the congregation to air out all the details, and doing so may unnecessarily aggravate the erring member. On the other hand, the congregation needs to know enough to make an informed decision and exercise their responsibility with integrity.  

Imagine you’re at a congregational meeting and the elders recommend that the congregation discipline a man for “habitual, unrepentant drunkenness.” The elders use those exact words and explain that they’ve been working with this individual for some time, and he has stubbornly persisted in his sin. They further explain that the apostle Paul clearly teaches that people who live in this way will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Cor. 6:11). So they’re recommending that the church act to exclude this individual from membership and to pray for his repentance and restoration.

Now it’s over to you and the other church members. How do you respond? What does it mean to submit to your elders when you, along with the other members of your church, are called upon to make a decision in this matter?

A full answer might differ from case to case, but here’s a crucial part of it: trust.

An unsubmissive member won’t be satisfied with the seemingly sparse details the elders have provided. Instead, he will demand a full account—details of specific incidents, transcripts of the elders’ conversations with the individual—or else he won’t go along with it. He’ll insist on having all the facts, so that he can make an independent judgment. He’ll want to hear opposing arguments in the interest of “fairness.” He won’t take the elders’ word for anything.

He doesn’t trust the elders, and he will cloak that mistrust in the language of “responsibility,” or “transparency,” or “rights.”

But that kind of attitude makes church discipline—and many of the church’s other responsibilities—virtually impossible. It leads to the kind of committee-of-the-whole congregationalism which understandably gives congregationalism a bad name. It paralyzes the church’s elders by giving them a title and responsibility but then hanging them out to dry when they most need a church’s trust.

A submissive church member, on the other hand, won’t set himself up as an independent review committee for every decision the elders make. Instead, he’ll recognize that elders have been recognized in order to lead, and that in order to lead, they need to be trusted.

So a godly church member will be inclined to take the elders at their word. He’ll be inclined to trust their assessment of someone’s sin. He’ll trust that they have faithfully followed the biblical steps that precede public discipline. He’ll trust that that the elders have good reasons for not telling the congregation all the gory details. That doesn’t mean he’ll never under any circumstances dissent or voice disagreement; for example, there may be times when a church member knows something crucial that the elders have somehow missed. Nor does it mean he’ll never ask questions. It does mean that he is willing to follow the elders despite not knowing all the details. He will submit to them by trusting them.

In order for a congregation to exercise its responsibility in discipline, the elders must give them enough information to act wisely. But in order for them to exercise that responsibility in a submissive manner, a congregation needs to trust its leaders.

What if you don’t trust the elders to act responsibly? Perhaps you should be at a different church. Not all elders are trustworthy!

But if you’re the type of person who would have trouble trusting the elders at any real, not-hypothetical church, the problem just might be with you. There might be more pride in your heart than you realize.

We who are called to submit to our elders should be willing to follow them without having all the answers—just like we follow the Lord who appointed them.

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The problem is - this is really full elder government, NOT congregational government. If the elders have made a decision and the congregation is expected to take them at their word, then asking the congregation to take responsibility in exercising discipline is not much different than allowing a "democratic vote" in a totalitarian country.

Not that full elder government is necessarily wrong; I've seen abuse in both congregational and full elder (no congregational input) models, and perhaps that is inevitable because of indwelling sin. But why act as if any part of the discipline process is up to the congregation if it's not?

Dear Ed,

Thanks for your comment, and sorry about the delay in responding. I would suggest that the congregation's authority is recognized in the fact that the final decision does rest with them. Further, my point is not that congregations should never question, or disagree with, or even overrule their elders. In principle, those can be entirely valid acts. Rather, I'm simply trying to work out what it looks like to obey the command to submit to elders (Heb. 13:17) even in a matter where the congregation does in fact possess final authority.

You'll note that I talk about a disposition to trust, tending to take the elders at their word, that sort of thing. I'm talking about a disposition of the heart, which I think is ultimately what the command to submit is aiming at.

I think in this conversation we always have to balance elder leadership with congregational authority. I'm sure what I've said is far from the last word, but I was trying to tease out how those two fit together in a particular instance.

Thanks,

Bobby

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I was part of a congregation that disciplined a member once for making inappropriate sexual comments and fondling young women. The elders labored with him privately for some time, and I never heard even so much as a whisper until it was brought to the congregation. Turns out the young man in question held to the "sinless perfection" doctrine and refused to regard his actions as sinful. I agree with you that a submissive congregation should accept the best judgment of the elders, and I certainly did not have any reservations in my mind as to doing so.

However. The elders ALSO allowed three of the young women who were WILLING to testify of their experience to do so, AND, they invited the young man to also come and speak in his own defense, and he did so. We heard not only the evidence of the acts committed, but also the rebellious and false grounds of his belief system for ourselves. We witnessed his unrepentant lack of remorse and heard his refusal of sound doctrine for ourselves, and it validated the judgment of the elders.

The young man was prayed for and dismissed from membership, fairly and openly.

I think that when it is possible for the elders to follow such a course, they should... and that puts to rest any unspoken doubts in the congregation should any exist.

Dear Guest,

Good points. I agree with you that, when possible, it can be a good thing to have those who have been involved in a situation give a personal testimony to the congregation. And, when necessary, it may be helpful to have the offending brother or sister speak to the congregation as well.

Blessings,

Bobby

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Thank you, Bobby, for your fine article on trusting elders. I believe many church problems would be extinguished and saints matured if what you wrote were taken to heart. I hope it finds wide reading. It seems to me that every congregation should trust its biblically qualified elders (Heb. 13:17).

Your article does seem to raise a few inconsistencies, though. Given the assertion that the congregation has authority over the elders, shouldn’t the elders be exhorted to trust the congregation [i]even more[/i] than the congregation be exhorted to trust them? It’s good to call the congregation to submit and trust as Scripture teaches, but if we believe the congregation is the final authority then it is the elders who bear the greater responsibility of submission, no?

After all, submission to authority is so very important. It reflects our submission to our God who ordains all human authority. To resist the authority He ordains is to resist Him.

However, doesn’t this conflict with your thesis that the congregation should trust the elders in matters of church discipline? I mean, if the congregation is the final authority, and God will hold the members of the congregational accountable for their exercise of that final authority on the day of Christ’s judgment, aren’t they [i]very responsible[/i] to examine every issue involved such cases?

As those bearing the final authority isn't it even more important for the congregation to know the facts of the disciplinary matter than even the elders. The congregation must have authority to interview all involved so that they can come to a judgment not based on the elders but their own investigation, right? But wouldn’t this entail the elders to break privacy and share intimate and sinful details of the disciplinary case that led them to submit their findings to the congregation for their final judgment in the first place?

An analogy is the court system in the U.S.A. Before a jury can make a final judgment, they must hear all the relevant evidence. To withhold evidence hinders their ability to make such a judgment. To ask the jury to “trust the lawyers” would short circuit their authority, no?

Now, your article places those members of the congregation who ask for “independent review” as being unsubmissive, which is sin. Yet it is your contention that Scripture places them in the role of being the final authority. Is their final authority only to be submissive, or to make judgments? If the latter, isn’t each member of the congregation biblically responsible to perform their own review of the case before voting?

You said, “In order for a congregation to exercise its responsibility in discipline, the elders must give them enough information to act wisely.”

Who determines how much information is enough, the elders, or the congregation? Shouldn’t it be the congregation who determines that since the elders submit their finding to them for a final judgment?

Ted,

Thanks for your thoughtful and gracious response, and sorry about the delay. I'll try to be more punctual next time.

I can't respond to you point by point here, though you can feel free to pursue this conversation further privately if you'd like.

In summary, I'd respond by saying that, in principle, I think that being under a command to submit can coexist with possession of formal, final authority--which seems like the heart of the disagreement between us. I think that in cases where those two factors intersect, submission looks mainly like a posture of the heart, which, more than specific details of the case, is what I was attempting to flesh out.

In other words, I do think it is possible to have a submissive attitude or posture while still rightly exercising the prerogative of authority. For instance, if my supervisor Jonathan Leeman tells me I'm free to include a certain phrase in a piece (thus I have formal authority to do so), but strongly advises me against it, it may be wise for me to submit to him, even though I have final authority in the matter. The decision is mine to make, but I want to make it in accordance with his wishes, since I trust his judgment.

I hope that clarifies my thoughts somewhat.

Your brother,

Bobby

Hi Bobby. Thanks for joining the conversation.

re: your analogy - I'm not sure you have final authority.

If Jonathan comes back and tells you to change something you posted, you will either change it or disobey his authority, and possibly lose your job. So really, he has final authority.

If you had final authority you tell him, "no." and in no way violate the working relationship.

You see, your authority is under his.

Blessings.

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Thanks for your interesting article, a helpful piece on a difficult issue.

There's also the issue of what happens when the elders/pastors have broken the congregation's trust. Having recently left Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, MD (for a job change), I miss the insights and wisdom of many of the pastors there. I'm still thankful for many of those men and for my time in Sovereign Grace as a whole. And yet, in the months since I've left, I've learned that some of those upstanding leaders weren't particularly upstanding. I feel like that trust has been broken, and in many ways I'm still trying to process that. If nothing else, as I've looked for new churches, I've started to ask much harder questions about church government and transparency.

Bobby,

You make some really good points; I certainly couldn't argue with them. But it is difficult to see how you are arguing for congregationalism. Isn't what you are arguing for identical to presbyterian polity? Wouldn't advocates of that form of church governance be completely comfortable with what you have described--so long as they did not know you were using the "congregational" label?

I feel a little bad asking because everyone seems to be critiquing so far. I feel like defending you, but I don't really have any clarity to offer. I see some of the problems, but I don't any longer feel like I have any answers. Honestly, I'm starting to wonder if many of the arguments for a particular form of polity (whichever one) are really more about political agendas than about biblical faithfulness.

Felix,

Thanks for your thoughtful question. Presbyterians (and independent, elder-rule types) would disagree with my insistence that the final decision, for example, to exclude an unrepentant member lies with the congregation. In Presbyterian and elder-rule polity, the elders have the final authority in the matter.

My comments in this article are in no way intended to undermine that authority, or the congregation's right to exercise it, in extreme situations, against the express desire of their elders. I think that congregations have the right to do that. But I also think that, since elders are appointed to lead and oversee the congregation, and congregations are commanded to submit to them, in most cases congregations should extend a great deal of trust to their elders.

In other words, I'm taking the formal structures for granted (and here there is a significant difference between congregationalists and others), and trying to flesh out the more informal, relational, heart-posture dynamics.

Blessings,

Bobby

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Felix,

One more thing. I agree that political agendas and other pragmatic considerations are often decisive for how churches structure themselves. But I believe that Scripture provides a clear, though mere and skeletal, outline of how churches should be structured. At the most basic level, I think it boils down to elders leading through preaching the word, deacons serving the church's physical needs, and the congregation as a whole having the authority to determine who is in and out.

Thanks,

Bobby

I agree with Ed and Ted. The members of the congregation should be able to ask questions to better understand the situation. Trust the elders but verify you understand what is going on in as much detail as is appropriate. Otherwise, the congregation is not making a decision. They are just signing off on the elders' decision.

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@Ted Bigelow: I am wondering where in Scripture we are told that "the congregation has authority over the elders" or that the elders are to submit to the congregation, let alone "bear the greater responsibility of submission?"

@Ed Olson: If by "full elder government" you mean a structure in which the congregation is never heard, then I think you are talking about something the Scripture does not allow. The elders are commanded to lead (Acts 20:28; 1 Tim 3:Heb. 13:7; 17; 1 Pet. 5:2) and the congregation to submit (Heb. 13:17), but nowhere does it admonish elders to lead without seeking wisdom & input from the congregation (of course nowhere are elders commanded to seek this either). Scripture also commands elders to never dominate/lord over those over whom they have been given the task of shepherding/leading/exercising oversight (1 Pet. 5:3). Making decisions from "on high" without having open lines of communication and shepherding (we can never "lead" without shepherding if we are following Scripture) our flock would be a violation of the command not to lead in a "domineering" manner.

So elders are charged with making decisions and setting the direction of the church (among other things that fall under the heading of "shepherding"; but this seems to be the point of discussion here), but they would be foolish to discount the wisdom of the congregation, to not understand how each decision made will affect the congregation they are charged to shepherd, and to set the example for the flock in the way they exercise their authority (Heb. 14:7; 1 Pet. 5:3).

At our church the elders lead, but they do so with input from the congregation. We don't "vote" on items because it is the elders' job to make these decisions, but the elders seek the wisdom of the congregation, always give them the opportunity to give their input and let their opinions be known, and allow feedback on the final decision the elders make. In the end, it is their responsibility to lead, not follow; to shepherd with authority, not submit.

This approach allows our elders to lead (we never just "float" ideas to see if they will be accepted so we can see in advance if the decision will be accepted), keeps us from being "domineering" (1 Pet. 5:3) over our congregation, and allows for the total wisdom of the congregation to be heard rather than just the wisdom of the elders. We are fallible, and are foolish to think we possess every bit of wisdom that is needed for each and every situation. But again, in the end, the Scriptures give the leadership charge to the elders, not the congregation.

And as far as discipline is concerned, the elders lead this process and, as the Scripture states, when we arrive at the time of excommunication the entire body is informed (and the elders never relinquish their charge to lead). As Jamieson's article says, trust in the elders' is paramount, but that does not mean that the congregation can't ask questions, evaluate whether or not the elders have actually dealt with the person redemptively as the Scriptures command, etc. But in the end, it is the elders who are charged to lead this process (which, again, does not mean that the congregation has no input, feedback opportunities, or freedom to ask questions of the elders and their process).

True elder leadership is not totalitarian or despotic, but neither is it submitted to the congregation as an "ultimate" authority.

From Rob Davis:

@Ted Bigelow: I am wondering where in Scripture we are told that "the congregation has authority over the elders" or that the elders are to submit to the congregation, let alone "bear the greater responsibility of submission?"

Hi Rob,

There is none, but Bobby said the congregation is "the final court of appeal" and "final authority." I was hoping he might respond to the logical consequences of that claim I posed to him.

I like your eldership. It sounds like your church votes as often as Jesus and the apostles taught ;) and therefore you probably rarely, if ever, encounter the kind of stress, discouragement, and inconsistency Bobby's article describes.

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Rob,

I agree with much of what you're saying, but I would go a little further and say that the congregation should not merely be informed of the elders' decision to excommunicate, but that the congregation itself plays the pivotal role. In Matthew 18:17, the final stage of pleading with the individual is that the church (ekklesia) speaks to the individual, and if the individual does not listen to the church, he is to be excluded. Then in 1 Cor. 5:4-5 Paul commands the entire assembled congregation in Corinth to excommunicate the sexually immoral man. Finally, what appears to be most decisive, is that in 2 Cor. 2:6 Paul says that the punishment (of exclusion) was inflicted on a certain individual "by the majority." I don't see any other way to read this than to understand that a majority of members of the congregation decided--that is, formally deliberated in some way--to exclude the man. The action of excommunication was undertaken by "the majority" of the church.

It seems to me that when you add this all up, it indicates that final authority for making such decisions rests with the congregation as a whole, and that Scripture therefore requires that the congregation be the final arbiter, the final decision-maker, rather than the elders.

Blessings,

Bobby

@Bobby

You wrote:

"Paul says that the punishment (of exclusion) was inflicted on a certain individual "by the majority." I don't see any other way to read this than to understand that a majority of members of the congregation decided--that is, formally deliberated in some way--to exclude the man."

Many respectable commentators have not felt the need to read formal deliberations or a vote into the phrase, "the majority." Indeed, there is not a single reference or teaching in the NT to any church formally deliberating or voting on anything. Voting is a new practice in church history (17th C), and not widely practiced until the late 18th C.

Have you considered the word "punishment" in 2 Cor. 2:6 in the phrase, "For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough..."

It is used 30x in the NT (10 more in the LXX) with the clear and uncontested meaning of "rebuke" and never in the sense of deliberations or votes. A rebuke by the majority conforms precisely with our Lord's instructions that the church is to go and rebuke an impenitent member for his sin in Mat. 18:17: " if he refuses to listen to the church."

Given this interpretation, a majority, but not all, of the members of the Corinthian church obeyed Mat. 18:17 and went to the man and rebuked him. He repented as a result: "the punishment by the majority is enough." Although not specified in 2 Cor. 2, Scripture teaches that this 3rd step of discipline also entails withdrawal from fellowship from the body (1 Cor. 5:11, 2 Thess. 3:14). This may be referred to in 2 Cor. 2:8, "I beg you to reaffirm your love for him."

In this case, following the Lord's words to the letter in Mat. 18:17 worked and the man repented and was welcomed back into fellowship. The church didn't remain at a distance and vote - as if we should assume scripturally that voting, or censuring, or deliberating as a body and coming to a conclusion of a majority might provoke repentance. Instead, 2 Cor. 2:6 more likely evidences that a majority obeyed the Lord's words and spoke to him person to person, pleading with him, rebuking him, personally calling him to turn from his sin. We are highly encouraged, and even commanded (Luke 17:2-5) to deal with sin by way of rebuke, but never by vote.

Ted,

That's an interesting argument. I haven't studied the word translated "punishment" in 2 Cor. 2:6. But I intend to!

Blessings,

Bobby

Power corrupts - even in the church. I have seen a small group of elders exercise church discipline abusively in a power play. Unbridled Baptist congregationalism that requires voting on everything is often a mess. But a small group of elders ruling unquestioned can be just as dangerous.

The only problem I see with what Bobby says is the somewhat false dilemma created by the example he has included.

Is this all the information that we, as the congregation, should be allowed or expected to have from the elders? Is asking for any more information the same as asking for all the gory details?

Surely there are many middles between these poles.

However, I think the point is made: at some point we must trust somewhere short of asking for all the details and the elders must be transparent enough that the church can make the decisions it needs to make.

Transparency is not *only* an issue of democracy—Christ is coming to judge the secrets of our hearts and our sinfulness keeps us hidden in the dark (John 3).

Thanks for bringing up this important discussion.

Dear anonymous guest,

Sorry about the delay in response. You're exactly right that there is middle ground between the two poles, and that congregation members can, in a humble and submissive spirit, ask for more information from the elders when they feel it is necessary in order to rightly exercise judgment.

Good point, and thanks for the clarification.

Blessings,

Bobby

I don't necessarily disagree with the analysis in this post, but I would say that it is important for the elders to communicate to the voting members of the congregation what precisely their role is in a given situation.

It may be that the perceived "unsubmissive" member is under the impression that he is being asked to judge for himself whether the displined member should, in fact, be disciplined. If he thinks that is the question, it makes sense that he would ask for more information in order to aid him in that decision. He is, after all, responsible for his vote, and may merely be making an effort not to vote negligently or out of ignorance. There may be no spirit of unsubmissiveness behind his actions.

However, if the elders communicate to the congregation that they have made this determination after careful consideration and are asking the congregation to trust them, submit, and approve the recommendation (as opposed to making their own determination), then the members can better understand what is being asked of them.

I have witnessed an instance of this very confusion. When the elders brought a disciplinary issue before the congregation, they seemed at first to be asking the congregation to concur with, rather than submit to, their judgment. (i.e., "Don't you agree with us?") It was thus understandable that members wanted more data in order to determine their own conclusions and compare them to the elders' conclusions. Once the elders clarified that they were not asking the congregation to conduct its own investigate and make a determination of its own, but were asking members to trust the elders' judgment, the congregation approved the disciplinary action.

I'm curious, though. Taking the analysis a little further . . . would a member be unsubmissive (and thus sinning) each time he or she did not vote with the elders? That is, if he or she voted against the installation of a deacon or elder or pastoral candidate recommended by the elders? What if he or she voted against a budget proposal recommended by the elders? Is the analysis different depending on the matter being decided (administrative v. disciplinary, etc.)? Is a dissenting vote only permitted (that is, not sinfully unsubmissive) if the member believes that a consenting vote would be sin? Or are members allowed to dissent merely because they think a particular course of action is unwise, unnecessary, or merely undesirable?

Alexis,

To your latter question first: I don't think a member who votes against the elders is de facto unsubmissive. I think that a member's conscience may be differently informed than the elders on any number of points, such that he or she is compelled to see things a different way (for example, if a member thought that an elder must be married, while the elders thought that a single man could be an elder). In such cases, I think that the church member demonstrates submission by their continuing attitude of gladly following the elders, even while disagreeing with them. In other words, the person needs to vote their conscience, and then submit to the decision of the whole body.

Beyond that, you raise a bunch of good questions that I don't have time to fully respond to! I'd encourage you to pursue those matters with an elder in your church.

Regarding how the matter is presented, I think that the elders should instruct the congregation both that it is finally the congregation's responsibility to decide what to do, and yet the congregation should also submit to (= trust) the elders. How that works out in any given circumstance will vary. There will be gray area. But I think that a church member should feel a sense of responsibility, without feeling that that responsibility entails that every single member of the church needs to independently review every piece of evidence.

Blessings,

Bobby

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"But if you’re the type of person who would have trouble trusting the elders at any real, not-hypothetical church, the problem just might be with you. There might be more pride in your heart than you realize."

Why is it necessary to vote if we are to simply trust our elders. It appears to me from you statement here that if the vote is against what the Elder's desire than it is sinning. I am not clear then why it is necessary to vote
.
What if the situation is regarding a member and the elder/s are you saying trust that the Elder has to be right and harbor no pride himself and the member has to be sinful based on the limited information given by the Elder.

I eagerly await your answer because this is a timely topic for me and my church

Since there isn't a response coming, may I jump in?

With the present situation of an elder who "must be trusted," is the accusation against him from one and only one person? It seems so from your post. Then for now rest in 1 Timothy 5:19: " Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses." Elders need protection from individual accusations in order to carry out their ministry with strength.

If the sin is real, however, be sure that others will see it - for in most cases time and truth go together. Further accusations will likely come and when they do, the elders are accountable to God and Scripture to obey 1 Timothy 5:20: "As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear." That necessitates a removal from eldership since the elder's righteousness is rebuked in from of the church. He becomes an ex-elder immediately.

You can help your elders follow that Scripture by reminding them of their accountability to God in that verse. You might wish to pick up a copy of the book,The Titus Mandate, for exactly how God wants you helping you church and your elders (chapter 3). You as an individual Christian possess the power in your church because you possess Scripture. Our goal as believers is to embrace and do the will of God in Scripture. Simple, but often hard. God will give you grace as you obey His word.

Regarding your other question:

"Why is it necessary to vote if we are to simply trust our elders? It appears to me from you statement here that if the vote is against what the Elder's desire than it is sinning. I am not clear then why it is necessary to vote."

You are pointing out another concern many of us have with the article. Jesus calls the church to submit to the elders (1 Thess. 5:12-13, Heb. 13:17, 1 Peter. 5:5). If a church votes against its own elders, it must necessarily violate not only the letter but the Spirit of God, who wrote: "obey your leaders and submit to them."

Hope that helps. - Ted

Thank you for responding Ted! The accusation came from more than one person (men) in the church. And believe it or not (gasp) it had to do with PRIDE. When it came time to vote the on discipline for the men, for the fist and only time in the church people were asked to STAND to show their vote. This resulted in further mistrust of the Elders position on the issue of pride.

But I continue to pray that the Lord will work in all our hearts to bring forth, repentance and forgiveness and be able to heal my church!

Really? Pride? I'm shocked too. ;)

So let me see if I understand.

The congregation was told an elder was accused of being proud by multiple people. The other elders apparently agreed and so brought the matter to a congregation vote.... Stand up if you agree he's proud, stay seated if you don't...

The elders did not apply 1 Timothy 5:20, did they? If they had publicly rebuked him, why would they have asked people to vote yea or nay on a Scripturally deserved rebuke? So they disobeyed Scripture and employed a method for handing the matter that took the pressure off themselves and spread it among the congregation.

The elders asked the people in the church to vote by standing if they agreed the elder was guilty of pride? If you didn't stand you believed he was a humble man, or just didn't trust the elders, huh?

So those who sat disagreed with everyone else who was standing up, thus creating two sides on the issue in the congregation, thus breeding distrust within the church body and the elders, huh?

That must have been so awkward... Standing as a way to show the proud elder you believed he was proud, and showing the other elders you agreed with their assessment.

Yeah, I guess I can see why elders who reject 1 Timothy 5:20 and use the world's method's of decision-making lose the confidence of the regenerate and fracture the unity of the body.

I hope you might pick up a copy of The Titus Mandate, and maybe a copy for your elders. If they don't repent of their rejection of 1 Timothy 5:20, and their shifting of the weight of discipline from themselves to the congregation, I don't see righteousness coming out of this. Jesus is not pleased when the church rejects His righteousness, and chastisement will almost certainly come.

Without repentance from the elders your church will only further lose it's grip on righteousness and obedience to Scripture at the level of leadership and will simply not be able to hold on to the gospel for very much longer. It was Ephesus that lost her first love and was admonished to repent. I hope the same for your beloved church.

I am sorry I was not clear, no the men who "accused" the Elder of being proud were disciplined

They were disciplined for making an accusation? Ouch. Something tells me that a lot of ill will was going on in that church.

So let's see. The members were asked to stand to show agreement with the elders that the men making the accusation were proud. And of course, the congregation couldn't know the level of detail behind the accusations, so they were put on the spot to show support for the elders and their rebuke of the men making the accusation.

I take it then a majority of the members stood up.

If only a minority had stood up, what would have happened?

Ahaa, iits good conversation about this paragraph hre at this web site,
I have read all that, soo at this time me also commenting here.

Guest,

Sorry about the delayed response, and I'm afraid I won't have time to chase down all the details of your situation--though I appreciate and agree with much of what Ted has said in response.

In response to your question about why it's necessary to vote, I would simply say that the Bible seems to give the final authority in discipline to the congregation as a whole (see esp. 2 Cor. 2:6). So that it is important for the congregation to be given the final say in the matter.

Further, I did not intend to argue that disagreeing with an elder is always a sin and that elders are always right. Elders still sin, as you know too well.

I think that in some circumstances it will be legitimate for a congregation to disagree with its elders and pursue a course that is contrary to the elders' recommendation. To discern when that is the case requires great wisdom and discernment.

Blessings,

Bobby

Thanks Bobby for writing on this and for giving a helpful example.
This is a good illustration to use for teaching.

We need more of these-

Garrett Conner- La Plata, MD

I agree. a really helpful post, Bobby.

thanks again.

A lot also depends on the individual congregation. I served a congregation that had been led by a strong-willed pastor almost 30 years. HE ran the elders' meetings and led the church with pretty much an iron fist. When the church split, it ended up being about the fact that the pastor would not give in to the elders desire to have an executive or administrative pastor brought in to help shoulder the load. It was in that atmosphere, where many things were kept from the lower level leaders, that I came in and tried sharing information and empowering these people to lead. At one meeting, they actually said to me that they weren't accustomed to thinking for themselves. So in some instances, elders have to shoulder more of the responsibility until a congregation has reached a maturity level to make good decisions.

I say all this in light of a disciplinary issue with a member which the elders handled to the dismay of this person's closest friends who of course took his side. (Later on, one of the those same individuals apologized to me because he saw how he had been misled by his friend.). Ideally, we would have presented the case to the congregation for discussion, but again, if your congregation is spiritually immature, it's up to those in leadership who are mature to make decisions while at the same time growing the congregation up to where they can be more involved in these decisions.

"it's up to those in leadership who are mature to make decisions while at the same time growing the congregation up to where they can be more involved in these decisions."

Couple questions for understanding....

Did that church handle disciplinary matters only at the elder level, but not at the congregational level?

How do elders know when a congregation is "grown up" enough to make those kinds of decisions, if not by Scripture? And doesn't Christ in Scripture involve the congregation in the discipline process in Mat. 18:17?

Am I incorrect, or does it seem that if elders wait for the congregation to "grow up" then you are aiming at a moving target and hoping no new believers get added to your church for years? Or something else? Thanks.

Guest,

You make a great point that it is important for elders to empower their congregations to think through these issues, and not simply ask them to provide a rubber stamp. I agree entirely.

Where I would gently push back is in your (apparent) suggestion that until the congregation matures sufficiently, the elders can take the final authority for discipline upon themselves. I would suggest instead that the congregation always possesses that authority because it has been delegated to it by Christ.

What elders of a less mature congregation need to do is work to inform the congregations' understanding and consciences with the Word, so that they will exercise their authority in a biblical, rather than a carnal, matter.

Thanks,

Bobby

I have been dealing with the aftermath for the last two years plus of calling the only elder (the pastor) of a church that I helped found of the issue of sinfully excommunicating almost half of his membership without following the pattern of private confrontation, private confrontation with witness and final accusation and judgment in front of the congregation. The pastor was himself the "aggrieved party" in the accusation and privately wrote letters of excommunication to those who offended him on church letterhead in the name of the whole. It was at this point that I started a process against him, accusing him of acting outside of Biblical authority. It was only after I said that I would take his letters before the congregation, letters written in their name, that he backed down and admitted that he was in the wrong for having sent them, not for writing them. On the face of this, does it appear that I was wrong in confronting him, and should I, as a "layman" not have accused him, but simply left?

Hello Keep up with the outstanding posts. Thanks you very much

* A bit off subject.....Do the elders of a church have the right to tell you what your calling is and make an ultimatum to you if you do not follow their "advice"? Struggling with this to the point my spirit is being crushed. Although I have prayed for forgiveness for being bitter with them, I am still struggling. Thanks for your input.

As one who is not an authority (I am a general contractor) I offer you this: The elders of your church have the legal authority to govern what goes on in that church by reason of the consensus of the congregation that maintains them in that position. This does not make what they do "right", it merely means that what the elders do is at least implicitly condoned by the whole, possibly in ignorance of either the word of God or the actions of the elders themselves.
No man has the authority to say for God as to what God's calling is for you. It has been said that we can't play the part of the Holy Spirit in the lives of others, and this is true. The history of false religion is the seizure of control of one person by another through the "auspices" of a god's authority. In contrast, the authority of God and thus the authority of elders derived from God first entreats the believer, it does not command or give "ultimatums" . "My sheep hear my voice". Only when one is disobedient to the clear meaning of scripture may the elders "command" obedience or separation, and that only after the Matt 18 process is followed to the very end.
Lastly, do not be bitter. Grieve, but do not hope for retribution OR justification in the church you attend. Listen to what the elders and others are saying as a possible direction of the Holy Spirit, but seek the more direct voice of the Holy Spirit in your own being through knowing the Word and prayer. It may be that the Spirit is telling you to leave a church that improperly exercises authority ...

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