Thursday, November 01, 2007

Ruling Elders in Baptist Churches (Part 3 of 4)

Continued from Part 2 of 4

Some Southern Baptists have looked for an alternative to what some would call deacon-possessed churches. An attractive alternative for many Southern Baptists has been elder-led churches, that is, the Presbyterian idea of ruling elders. In their glee to dump deacons, some Southern Baptists do not notice a few important changes with ruling elders that can make deacons look like schoolboys in knee britches.

First, once selected, ruling elders become accountable only to God. Southern Baptists who are turning from deacons, which are elected by and accountable to the congregation before God, are moving toward a less-accountable governance in ruling elders and abolishing the Baptist distinctive of congregational government. When an elder says that he does not answer to the congregation, but instead is answerable only to God, the congregation has gone from the frying pan of control into the fire.

Ruling elders can be a good ol’ boy network on steroids. John Calvin, who taught the total depravity of man, should have known better. A Baptist church choosing the elder model may currently have the depth-chart to trust those who would be appointed; but once this system is in place, its self-perpetuation is inherent, and twenty-five, forty, sixty years from now, what will be the legacy or history of a church whose elders replace moral credibility with political expediency? Should we ignore caution in this?

Once elder-rule is affirmed, the church membership will in praxis have no further power to restrain or even give advice and consent in matters relating directly to them and their local body. The affirmed men thenceforth are accountable only to God. At that point, the inability to hold such a group accountable is dangerous.

With a traditional deacon board, the congregation has the power of accountability through the election process.[2] With an elder board, the group is self-perpetuating, usually choosing “people like us” by default, creating unnecessary separation among church members with no accountability on this side of Judgment.

Further, these provisions allow ruling elders complete central control of the local body of Christ without recourse. Any honest, loyal opposition to any elder decision can easily be branded as spiritual rebellion, silenced through Divine right, and rendered impotent through the social and political power of conformism and pseudo-spirituality.

Additionally, these provisions allow the ruling elders to control their personnel, their own development and direction, to protect their politics and decisions, to hide behind the cloak of being “accountable to God,” to create an exclusivism and elitism, to make decisions oblivious to the congregation’s leading by the Holy Spirit, to ignore any opposing views, to set absolute power in the hands of a few, to wrest control of the church from the congregation, and to take the leadership role from the ministerial staff and Senior Minister.

Like dictator President Samuel Doe of Liberia said of his rebel rival Charles Taylor, “Better to stick with the devil you know than to run to the angel you don’t know.”

Continued in Part 4 of 4

[2] W.A. Criswell, Criswell’s Guidebook for Pastors, (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1980), 99: “The ordained officers of a church are two. First bishops (elders, pastors) and second, deacons (Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3:1-11). These officers are always elected by the church. This is seen” in the following passages: Matthias (Acts 1:15-26); seven deacons (Acts 6:1-6); delegates to join apostles (1 Cor 16:3); elders (Acts 14:23).