5 varieties of congregational church government

People, Friends, Together, Happy, Kid, Person, Brothers

My main source for this article is Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. You might be surprised that all the churches that you like might govern differently. George Ladd said that you can not read the Bible and conclude that a certain form of church government to “the model”. I favor the congregational, plurality of elders model, with every member ministry, and full body-life. But, I also believe that every model can work and be fruitful, in Christ. Abuse and dysfunction can occur in any of these models.

Before we get into the five varieties of congregational church government, let’s peek at the other two: Episcopalian and Presbyterian.

In the Episcopalian ‘system’, we have a powerful group of people who are ‘the priests’. And the most powerful priests exercise their authority outside of local churches and over geographic areas. One word that describes Episcopalians is hierarchy

In the Presbyterian model, each local church elects elders to a “session”. A session means a sitting or to sit on a board. The pastor of the local church is also one of the elders, theoretically equal in authority. Some or all of these elders are also members of a presbytery, which is a group that has authority over churches in a region. A smaller subset or elders are part of a larger regional or national authority.

Here is how Greg Bahnsen, OPC scholar, described Presbyterianism:

Presbyterianism is the rule of the church by multiple, elected elders—not the dictates of one man, nor those of the whole congregation. These elders must be chosen by the people from among themselves (men to whom they are willing to vow submission), but also examined and confirmed by the present governing board of elders in the congregation or regional body of elders (the presbytery).

In Episcopalianism, we have a powerful singular priesthood. By contrast, theoretically; in Presbyterianism, we have a powerful eldership, and in Congregationalism, we have a powerful congregation, often led by elders. And this is an oversimplification.

Another way of explaining the differences is that in the E system, there is a big clergy/laity divide. That divide is still very powerfully there in the P system, but in the C system, is is less and in some cases not at all. In the C system, elders are all about their role, whereas in the E system, we have priests in the office. And in the P system, we have elders who are officers and are also in their role.

One last way of contrast is that you are more likely to see “the priesthood of all believers” in C congregations than E and P congregations, and a shorter shrift on “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry”.

The 5 varieties of congregational church government, in a nut-shell

  1. Single elder, single pastor

One elected or selected elder, sometimes with a board of deacons; elected by the congregation, who serve under the pastor and support him. The authority of the pastor varies from church to church and usually grows over time. The deacon board’s authority is ‘advisory’. Many decisions are brought to the congregation for a vote.

The NT does not require a plurality of elders, but more than one elder is seen or practiced when the size of a congregation grows. A small, one pastor, one elder church could grow to have more than one.

Keeping to one pastor, even after a church is growing, is seen as an advantage by some people, but is not Biblical. The qualification for elders passages speak of elders in the plural. It can be extrapolated that a normal church has elders, plural.

Proponents of the single or solo pastor/elder may also bring up the word ‘bishop’ used in 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:7 to butress their argument. Bishop is used here in the King James, and the Revised Standard Version, and translations that follow these (NKJV, NRSV, etc.). Other popular translations say, ‘overseer’, which is what a bishop and an elder are. In these two verses, Paul is speaking of one among a group. The church in Ephesus, Timothy’s church, had elders (plural), according to Acts 20:17. And Paul speaks of elders (plural) in 1 Tim. 5:17. And the context for Titus, verses 5 to 7, tells us Paul is talling about elders (plural), but singles out what a bishop is. It is a stretch to say Paul is here teaching the solo elder or pastor model. And it appears that bishop and elder and pretty much synonymous.

Proponents of the single pastor, whether he is part of the episcopate or the presbytery; sometimes see and teach that the angels referenced in the letters to the seven churches in Revelation chapter two, are ‘the pastor’ of those churches. We know that angel means messenger, and yes, John was called a messenger, using the same Greek word.

Are the angels mentioned in Revelation 2 angelic beings, the pastor, or someone else? There simply is not enough evidence to support the notion that these angels are the pastor. I believe that the angels mentioned are the recipients of each church’s letter, who’s responsibility was to carry the special messege from Christ to these churches.

And the word elder is usually used plurally: “call the elders”, James 5:14, “I exhort the elders”, 1 Peter 5:1; “Appoint elders”, Acts 14:23. Although Apostle James seems to be the spokesperson for the church in Jerusalem, Acts 15:2 says there were elders in the church in Jerusalem.

There is also something called “the Moses model”, where the pastor, is either a solo pastor/elder; or has pastors under him (under shepherds) that he is the boss of; when the church grows. This person may also function as a CEO. A church board may be installed, who offer support and council to the pastor and aid, especially when crisis arises.

In the single/solo pastor/elder model, he may have helpers, who are functionally elders, but may not hold the office. There might be pastors ‘on staff’, who function as elders, but do not claim the title.

There is a very common blend or half way point between solo elder and plurality of elders, called, ‘first among equals’, where the pastor, who is an elder, serves beside other elders, but holds more power and responsibility in that he regularly preaches and leads the church in a visible function. In other words, he is the face of that church.

Besides the single or solo elder/pastor being problematic, because of the concentration or power and temptation, coming onto the shoulders of one person; and his lack of accountability; this model has no support in the New Testament, just like the ‘single bishop’ of the episcopalian model doesn’t. These hierarchichal models seem more based on practical precident, rather than a careful examination of the New Testament. Even the apostles did not govern in this manner, which should make this an open and shut case, but the church has continued to follow the ways of the world.

2. The Corporate Board

This is called the “you work for us” model, based on the business world; where the pastor or any other ministers, work for (hired/fired/guided) a board, who are oftem members of the church, who sometimes are hidden from most other congregants. This is unbiblical.

3. Plurality of Elders

We have a group of elders (two or more), who govern the (local) church, with the authority bestowed by Christ, who is the head of the church, and by the Holy Spirit. You can have a ‘pastor’, or a ‘senior pastor’, who is one of the elders; and he is not the boss of the other elders and they are not his boss, but he has a distinct role or ‘preaching and teaching’. And all the elders must be able to teach.

In this system, the pastor, who preaches and teaches, and leads the church; while maintaining equality with the other elders, may be the only one of them who is ‘full-time’, and paid a salary. More than one elder or all the elders may or may not work full-time and take a salary. All or some of the elders may also be bi-vocational. And, perhaps none of the pastors take a salary, for various reasons.

The senior pastor, or preaching elder; may have powerful delegated authority, that is given by the whole of the group of elders, who he is accountable to and who also defend and support him, functioning in unity under the authority of Christ. Ideally, the one, more visible elder, will never be able to function as a dictator, because of the shared power. In other words, even though he might be the point person or the face and voice of leadership, he still only gets one vote, when the elders make decisions.

Is the power of the elders unlimited? First, the bar is high to become an elder. Second, the congregation must vote in an elder. Third, there may be a limited term of office, or mandatory sabbatical years. The preaching elder may be exempt from these, but have a different schedule of sabbaticals or mandatory rests. Fourth, many large decisions will be brought to the congregation for approval, including calling a new pastor.

4. Pure Democracy

This is the logical extreme of congregational government, where every decision goes through the congregation. This takes a part of how the Bible teaches church government and makes it the whole, resulting in endless arguments and decision paralysis. This is unbiblical.

5. “Holy Spirit Governed”

Consensus is arrived at through everyone’s sensitivity to the Holy Spirit in their lives. This model is not faithful to the scriptural prescription for church authority, and very prone to abuse.

After reading all this, you might have a question like this: If plurality of elders leading is in the middle, with the episcopate on one side, that has been redressed as the solo or senior pastor; and the pure democracy model whether it is dressed as Spirit governed or ‘power to the people’; what is the difference between congregational, elder-led and Presbyterianism?

An article at SBETS said this about the church led by a plurality of elders:

In many ways, this polity could be called “poor man’s presbyterianism.” The church is ruled by her elders, but there is no presbytery or classis beyond the local congregation. This polity also frequently makes a presbyterian-like distinction between teaching elders and ruling elders; only the former are considered pastors.

Obey your leaders?

A verse worth considering and mentioning, because it can be misunderstood is Hebrews 13:17

Obey your leaders and submit to them, since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.

When the CEB translation came out, I noticed they had a different way of doing Hebrews 13:17

Rely on your leaders and defer to them, because they watch over your whole being as people who are going to be held responsible for you. They need to be able to do this with pleasure and not with complaints about you, because that wouldn’t help you.

What is going on here in the original language? Tony Reinke wrote a piece on this:

What follows are a few important thoughts on this passage, beginning with a closer look at the idea of “obeying.”
Here is how W. E. Vine defines the Greek word “obey” (πείθο):

In Hebrews 13:17, believers are commanded to obey their leaders. The word used is peithō which has the usual meaning of “convince” or “persuade.” The “obedience” suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion. Peithō and pisteuō, “to trust,” are closely related etymologically; the difference in meaning is that the former implies the obedience that is produced by the latter.

Peithō, “to persuade, to win over,” in the passive and middle voices, “to be persuaded, to listen to, to obey,” is so used with this meaning, in the middle voice, e.g., in Acts 5:36-37 (in v. 40, passive voice, “they agreed”); Rom. 2:8; Gal. 5:7; Heb. 13:17; Jas. 3:3.

The “obedience” suggested is not by submission to authority, but resulting from persuasion. Peithō and pisteuo, ‘to trust,’ are closely related etymologically; the difference in meaning is that the former implies the obedience that is produced by the latter.

In other words, when “one allows oneself to be convinced by someone: one follows and obeys him” (EDNT).

Submission here, when we look at the Greek in the text and the context of the whole NT, is to Christ and his word. If one is bent out of shape about submitting to their church leaders (elders) because these guys might abuse their authority and then we’re in some kind of a cultic thing, there is nothing to worry about, because what the verse really means is submit to Christ and his word. I submit to an elder as (key word) I submit to Christ. And if I don’t submit to Christ I will not be able to submit to a man who is acting as Christ’s under-shepherd. And if I can not or will not submit to Christ and his word, I am not a Christian.

Even though it sounds like it, Hebrews 13:17 does not advocate authoritarianism.

Notable Denominations who are congregational:

Most Baptist churches
Assemblies of God
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Christian Churches / Churches of Christ
Church of God in Christ
Church of the Brethren
Congregational
Evangelical Covenant
Evangelical Free
Mennonite
Plymouth Brethren
Quakers / Friends
Vineyard

———————–


Notable churches and their government:

Foursquare: “Modified Episcopal”
Calvary Chapel: “Moses Model”
Christian & Missionary Alliance: Presbyterian
Church of the Nazarene: Episcopal
Evangelical Lutheran: Episcopal
Lutheran Church Missouri Synod: Presbyterian, but Congregational in many functions
Moravian: Presbyterian
Salvation Army: Episcopal
United Methodist: Episcopal
Wesleyan: Episcopal

Francis Chan, Letters to the Church: Good Shepherds

Francis Chan, Letters to the Church
pp.110-112

Good Shepherds (chapter 5)

“For those who have never had to deal with floods of people strongly stating their opinions about you, be grateful. I have met very few people who have navigated that world and remained humble and loving yet courageous.

“Large crowds do something strange to all of us. We can subconsciously begin preaching to avoid criticism rather than teaching truth regardless of the response. We live in a time when people are so volatile.

“If we say one wrong word in public, it can wreak havoc. It is only going to get more difficult for pastors to speak in front of large crowds with boldness and humility.

“Maybe that’s why we are finding fewer pastors known for being humble and courageous. I was deeply affected by a pastor in China who said to me, “In America, pastors think they have to become famous to have a big impact.

“In China, the most influential Christian leaders had to be the most hidden.” My soul leaped when I heard that, imagining a chance to fight for impact and obscurity all at once.

“It feels as if our current way of doing things in America sets us up for failure. Those who pursue massive Kingdom impact seem to always be fighting a losing battle with pride.

“It is how the Enemy lures us away from the very character that makes us effective.”

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.
-Hebrews 13:17 (ESV)

“Leaders, I want to challenge you to examine your lives and see whether you can truly tell people in good conscience to follow you as you follow Christ.

“For those not yet in positions of leadership, as we go through the qualities that are essential for good, biblical leadership, I urge you to examine your leaders in a spirit of grace and humility to discern whether their faith and way of life is something you want to imitate. For some of you, God may be calling you to step into leadership, and I implore you to devote yourself to growing in the following areas.

THE CHRISTIAN PASTOR

“That heading may sound ridiculous, but is it safe to assume all pastors are Christians? Just because we claim to believe in Him or went to school to study for ministry, it doesn’t ensure that our hearts are His.

“Having spent two years in Bible college and three years in seminary, I can tell you that a degree can be proof of intelligence or discipline but not spirituality. Those were easily the five worst years of my life.

“Remember that in Jesus’ day, some of the religious leaders were the most evil. Scripture is always warning us to be on guard against false teachers.

“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction.

“And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.
-2 Peter 2:1-3a (ESV)

“There will always be false teachers on this earth.

“Jesus taught that wolves will come in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15). What better camouflage than as a minister? Some will teach false doctrine because of their desire to be accepted. Others will preach truth while living a lie

“Whether it’s their message or lifestyle that is false, both are condemned. If you read the rest of 2 Peter 2, you will see that terrifying judgement is reserved for them.

“If you are reading this and living an immoral life, it is time to step down. The worst thing you can be is a false teacher. There is nothing more evil you can do during your few years on earth than to lead people away from their Creator.

Runover Christians

Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning.  For you know that such a person has gone astray and is sinning; he is self-condemned.-Titus 3:10-11
Have you ever met someone, who seems like all they want to do is argue?
Have you been that person?
A nice event or gathering is ruined by a person who is obnoxious with their words and tone.

They might be condemning, or judgemental; harsh or attacking.

Some people seem to purposely say things to get others annoyed or angry.
It is one thing to hold a differing opinion, but quite another to purposely stir up strife.

Why would a person want to and even enjoy getting someone’s goat?

This is the kind of thing and the sort of person that Paul is talking about here, to Titus.  A divisive person.  

What were these foolish debates?

Examples of these kinds of controversies that the Jewish commentaries have preserved are the following. Should a Jew eat an egg laid on a festival day? What sort of wick and oil should a Jew use for candles he burns on the Sabbath? The genealogies in view were speculations about the origins and descendants of persons, which some thought had spiritual significance (1)

Does that sound familiar, if not in content, but in tone, to someone you have met?  People came to church and wanted to quarrel over these matters.

Wiersbe opinied:

I have learned that professed Christians who like to argue about the Bible are usually covering up some sin in their lives, are very insecure, and are usually unhappy at work or at home. (5)

Paul says, “avoid”, which means to turn away from, so as to face away from it.  And the reason why, in a nutshell, is that such debates are unprofitable and useless.  A waste of time and energy.

But why?  Because they are divisive.

Simpson, writes that the word here, translated ‘divisive’, is:

An opportunistic propagandist who promotes dissention by his pertinacity. (2)

The King James Bible has ‘heretic’ here:

If a man is a heretic, after the first and second admonition reject him,

Heretic is an overused word today.  I’ve also never liked the misuse of words like ‘highjack’ or ‘crusade’.

Simpson’s definition is closer to the original meaning, than how we use heretic today.  The point is the divisiveness of such a person, and not their ‘heresies’.

We need to say, “you are being divisive, and you need to stop”, and not say, “you are a heretic, and you need to leave.”  We are quick to call people names: racist, bigot, ____phobe, luddite, liar, nazi, socialist, or misogynist.

Divisiveness is the problem.  Debate, differences, discussions, and disagreements are totally normal- a healthy part of life together that we expect and embrace.

But divisiveness is different.

The divisive person can not agree to disagree.

They can not mix in and be part of a family of people who hold different opinions or see things differently or have different traditions- ways and practices to express their faith.

In a group, everyone does not believe everything and all that the others believe.  Some have stronger faith.  Some have come to different conclusions.  Yet we live together and are able to discuss, debate, and disagree on things.

A divisive person is not able to do this.

Not able to live at peace and in love with differences between us, but seeks to constantly divide over those things.

A literal translation of that word could also be sectarian.  Sectarianism is a sin.  It’s wrong.

Sectarianism is when you do not recognize the body of Christ, but want to remake it after your vision of what it should be.

A sectarian is a person who, when they come into contact with you, notices the differences and wants to fight over them.  ‘Chip on their shoulder’, or ‘axe to grind’, are phrases that might describe these people.

We all have differences of opinions.  A group of people can all believe in Christ, who he is and what he did, but come from different traditions of how we worship, how we celebrate communion, how church services are run, and how to live out the life.

The divisive (“stirs up division”, ESV) person enters into a group of Christians and divides them in a harsh way.

I think one of the keys is that this person is not making disciples of Christ, but of him/herself and of their doctrine.  They make doctrinal arguments, but where is the love for Christ and the desire to see people work out their lives with the living savior?

This is the character of the false teacher that Paul warns Titus about.  The key is their character.  A person can even have seemingly good doctrine but bad character.  Seeming gifts without fruit.

Jesus said, you will know them by their fruit (Matt. 7:16).

Debate, discussions, and learning through questions; are all good.  But this is something different.

Have you ever had a discussion in a classroom, or with friends or family. or in a fellowship situation; that was edifying?  You enjoyed the company and learning something new.  You might be frustrated and say that you understand the other point of view or you may be persuaded to change your mind.  You may end the discussion saying, “wow, now I have to think about this”.

But a toxic conversation is something else, where you are not edified.  With a divisive person, you walk away feeling bad to worse.

The person to avoid and reject, after two warnings is pertinacious:

a steadfast adherence to an opinion, purpose, or course of action in spite of reason, arguments, or persuasion (Webster’s)

If you say, “he’s obsessed with this”, of “she just won’t listen”, it might be petinacity- an unhinged, twisted obsession with an opinion.  Making something, ‘a hill to die on’, that should be set aside, for the sake of unity.

What does it mean to reject this person?

It is a vague term (cf. 1 Tim. 4:7) which does not convey the idea of excommunication, but means merely ‘to leave out of account’.  The first approach to these false teachers is to be by means of admonition… The lenience advocated is striking, for it is only on the third occasion of admonition that the more serious action of avoidance is to be taken. (3)

I hear tolerance from Paul.  We are not ‘hair trigger’ in kicking people out, of a conversation, of fellowship, or our lives.

But after the third time, they are out.  If that seems harsh, here is the reason Paul gives.  Guthrie’s further comment:

Titus must realize that the stubbornness of the man is evidence of a perverted mind.(3)

 For you know that such a person has gone astray and is sinning; he is self-condemned. -Titus 3:11

  • has gone astray (CSB)
  • is warped (ESV)
  • is twisted (NET)
  • are warped (NIV)
  • a corrupt (Voice)
  • is perverted (NRSV)

The sinning referred to must be understood in light of the previous verse, i.e. the desire to promote dissensions.  It is useless to contend with men of twisted minds, and there is no need to condemn them for they are self-condemned.  The reference, however, seems to be so much to a deliberate act of condemning oneself, which is admittedly rare, but to the fact that perverted and sinful action in the end automatically condemns the doer. (3)

When I was in seminary, in my preaching class, we had a brother who was a Seventh Day Adventist.  We each delivered two sermons.  His first one was on keeping the sabbath.  We all heard him out and discussed his sermon with him at the roundtable afterwards.

When he was up a second time, he preached the same message, from a different text.  This brother seemed to be deliberately divisive.

Reject a divisive person after a first and second warning.  For you know that such a person has gone astray and is sinning; he is self-condemned.
-Titus 3:10-11

When a man or woman resists Christ, but promotes their doctrine about Christ, there is the potential for a problem in that and with that person as far as their teaching goes.

The larger context of the letter to Titus, is that there are a bunch of new churches in Crete, of which Titus is overseeing, for Paul.

The problem for which the letter was written, was the need to strengthen these young churches.  An exacerbating problem were the false teachers circulating into these church plants.

The prescription Paul writes is to raise up elders and teach sound doctrine.  Weak leadership gives you weak congregations.

Strong leadership means Christlike.  Paul gives Titus a list of what to look for in a man who can be an elder in the church. (Titus 1:5-9)

Elders:

  • must be blameless: 
  • the husband of one wife, 
  • with faithful children who are not accused of wildness or rebellion. 
  • As an overseer of God’s household, he must be blameless: 
  • not arrogant, 
  • not hot-tempered, 
  • ot an excessive drinker, 
  • not a bully, 
  • not greedy for money, 
  • but hospitable, 
  • loving what is good, 
  • sensible, 
  • righteous, 
  • holy, 
  • self-controlled, 
  • holding to the faithful message as taught, 
    • so that he will be able both to encourage with sound teaching 
    • and to refute those who contradict it.

Elders are leaders and caretakers.

Paul then makes a contrast, showing what an elder is not like, showcasing the false teachers (Titus 1:10-16).

I would argue that the people Paul is upset with are the opposite of the qualities in the elder list.  For example, bullies.

False teachers (the Cretan formula):

  • rebellious people, 
  • full of empty talk and deception, 
    • especially those from the circumcision party. It is necessary to silence them; 
  • they are ruining entire households 
    • by teaching what they shouldn’t 
      • in order to get money dishonestly.

The rest of Titus (ch. 2 and 3) is how to live, based on what God has done, for us through Jesus.

The thesis of Titus is:

The essential connection between evangelical truth and the purest morality. (6)

 A false teacher is someone who does not have this.  They have a truth, a doctrine; and maybe part of or a lot of the real truth, the core truth about Christ.  But that is not what they are selling, and this is the problem.

From a veteran pastor’s perspective, listen to how Eugene Peterson states the passage from chapter three that we opened up to today:

I want you to put your foot down. Take a firm stand on these matters so that those who have put their trust in God will concentrate on the essentials that are good for everyone. Stay away from mindless, pointless quarreling over genealogies and fine print in the law code. That gets you nowhere. Warn a quarrelsome person once or twice, but then be done with him. It’s obvious that such a person is out of line, rebellious against God. By persisting in divisiveness he cuts himself off. -Titus 3:9-11 (MSG)

And listen to how Peterson, again, from a long-time churchman’s perspective, handles the rebuke (reprimand NLV) passage in chapter 1:

For there are a lot of rebels out there, full of loose, confusing, and deceiving talk. Those who were brought up religious and ought to know better are the worst. They’ve got to be shut up. They’re disrupting entire families with their teaching, and all for the sake of a fast buck.          -Titus 1:10-11 (MSG)

I was struck by the line, “brought up religious and ought to know better are the worst”.  Do you know that person?  This is Peterson’s take on the line where other translations have it, “especially those of the circumcision party”.

To me, I hear Paul saying that these guys were obsessed with circumcision.  Their message was not even about Christ, foremost, but about circumcision.  “You must be circumcised”.  I am not sure what they said about Jesus, but they were coming into these new churches, with new Gentile Christians, and saying, “you gotta be circumcised”.  Paul touches on other things they talked and taught about, but Paul gave them the label, ‘circumcision party’.

What would this equate to today?  Imagine a group of new believers, learning about Christ and walking out the life.  And then someone joins their fellowship and starts saying, you can’t be a Democrat and must change to Republican; or the opposite.

Some theologians say that circumcision in the old covenant, equates to baptism, in the new covenant.

The false teachers in Titus, might be like believers baptism advocates (propagandists) entering a fellowship of Christians who believe in baptizing children, and arguing obnoxiously, to try to change their minds, or tell them they are wrong, or even tell them they are not saved.

The habitual practice of holding a pet doctrine and then of critiquing the doctrine of other Christians, that is not in the center; is what is going on with these people.  I have cited political party and baptism as examples.  It could be a dozen other things.

The Cretan agitators may or may not have believed in the right things about Christ, but the point is that they  divided what they believed and taught.

And the reason why someone would make something peripheral into ‘a hill to die on’, or to divide over, is rotten character- a personality that is not taken over by Christ and beginning to live in him.

Have you met people that just argue, that find fault, that put people down or peripheral beliefs down, that they don’t hold?  They seem to need to attack those beliefs or viewpoints, belittling and smearing.

This is essentially, bigotry:

A stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one’s own. (Dictionary.com)

This is not what Jesus calls us to.  They will know we are Christians (that Christ has come and is real) by our love.  The Pharisees loved their doctrines so much that they killed Jesus.  That’s how we don’t want to be.

I have read some of Eugene Peterson and seen him on video and he seemed to be a gentle (pastoral) man.  About this divisive person, he translates Paul as saying, “They’ve got to be shut up” (1:10) and, “Warn a quarrelsome person once or twice, but then be done with him” (3:10).

If you are a leader, in the church, you are going to have to face divisive people, disruptive people, and  bigots.  These people can be redeemed and reformed, reset, recalibrated, and transformed by God.  But, at the moment, they are acting up.

And the proper thing to do, is for the leaders to reprimand them.  Peterson bluntly puts it, “shut them up”.  Or, “warn the person once or twice, and then be done with them.”  Done does not mean irredeemable.  It means, done with their antics, done with them doing their schick in your group- done with them being allowed in your fellowship.

I have, more than once, had a disruptive, divisive person in my group; and I pretty much did nothing.  It was like at one of those monster truck rallies, their huge tires drove over us.  When we are in a group with someone like this, we feel beat up.

We have to say, “stop it”, because it is unedifying and hurtful.  They either need to stop or they will have to leave.  For myself, I am relieved to have studied Titus and finally seeing this great advice.

It’s neither ‘one strike and you’re out’, nor ‘anything goes’, in that we have to bear with the divisive, disruptive, argumentative person, out of the love of Christ.

I have read Proverbs, and I know about the foolish person who is a brawler, that loves arguing and spouts off about things they don’t know.  But, I have always been too tolerant, and thought that the rebuke or reprimand was unloving, or not Christ.

But I was always bothered by this, as in, there must be a better way.  And here it is, right here, in Titus.

There are going to be tons of new Christians, soon; and we need to know how to handle this sort of thing.

And here is the irony.  The people who do this, who are problems for leaders are not the new ones, but the old ones messing with the new ones.  Exactly what Peterson said, from Paul, “Those who were brought up religious and ought to know better are the worst.”

In my experience, I see this.  The ones that do this are never the new believers, but people who have been long-time believers.

C.S. Lewis said, “Of all bad men, religious men are worse” (Reflections on The Psalms, p. 32)

And they often would not qualify as elders, because their lives are not in order, not under Christ’s order.

I say this, because the worse case is that the false teacher becomes a leader in the church.

Listen to Hayne Griffin on this:

Failure to confront problems within the church, whether theologically or practically based, may be indicative of a basic indifference with regard to God’s truth or the nurturing of truly Christian relationships. The fear of giving offense and a highly individualized view of personal faith may discourage church leaders from following the biblical mandate to rebuke. The restoration that is possible both in fellowship and in sound doctrine is compromised by this reluctance to confront. Loving, sensitive, yet firm confrontation can result in stronger relationships and restored unity or perhaps a needed purging of those who deny the truth. (7)

I have to care enough to confront (8), be willing to be assertive (9), and set boundaries (10).

Both Jesus and Paul would tell us to look at someone’s life, their fruit.  Bad acts, with whatever you want to say: good, interesting, intriguing, thoughtful, moving; teaching, in a life, means a bad person.

A person’s walk, not their talk, really reveals who they are.  People can talk up a storm.  “Wow!”, we say after hearing them.  But what about who they are outside of their ‘show’?

Let me also note this, that it is a lie, a deception to say that what you believe and how you live (act and behave) are seperate.

The whole idea of the Christian life is that obedience comes out of salvation.  We live like Christ, because Christ has saved us.  To not live like Christ and in Christ, but to believe and preach Christ, is antithetical and deceived.

That person becomes a false teacher, because they are living a double life, and are selling religion, but not the living Christ.

Something terrible happens to a man or a woman who comes in the name of Jesus, but secretly and deliberately does not live their lives in Christ and for Christ.

For you know that such a person has gone astray and is sinning; he is self-condemned.              -Titus 3:11

You don’t want to be that person.  This is a person that should be warned to stop and if they don’t, asked to leave.  Their behavior is not appropriate.

“Gone astray”, means they are more than “out there”, or “free range”, but rather:

  • Out of line (MSG)
  • Turned away from the truth (NLT)
  • Twisted (CEB, CEV)
  • Such a one is entwined with his sin (TPT)

The person who gets this way is a Christian in name only.

Because they simply don’t have Christ living through them.  They don’t die daily.  They have not taken up their crosses and denied themselves, because we can see there is no fruit.

Self-condemned simply means that by their own actions, by their own unbelief, they condemn themselves.

The seemingly harshness of asking someone to stop and then asking them to leave is simply meeting the stubbornness of that person.  There are some people that you can not argue with, because they have a closed mind.  They only want to change your mind to their mind, instead of arriving at the truth together.

If someone is running people over, we need to tell them to stop.  And after warning them twice, and they persist; the only thing we can do, as leaders, is tell them to leave.  Their own actions precipitated their ejection.  All we are doing is protecting people from abuse.

__________________________________
Footnotes:

1. The Pastoral Epistles (The New International Greek Testament Commentary), Knight, p. 353
2. The Pastoral Epistles, Simpson, cited by Guthrie, p. 208
3. The Pastoral Epistles, Tyndale NT Commentaries, Guthrie, pp. 208-9
4.  1, 2 Timothy, Titus: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (The New American Commentary), Lea & Griffin, p. 328
5. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, 2:268
6.  Hiebert, “Titus,” in Ephesians-Philemon, vol. 11 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 424.
7. Ibid., p. 290
8. Caring Enough to Confront, David Augsburger
9. When I Say No, I Feel Guilty, Manuel J. Smith
10. Boundaries, Cloud and Townsend

Appendix:

The harsh word for Cretans

Paul tells Titus to be assertive with these people who are ruining the new Cretan churches.  Paul even engages in a harsh word for them in these verses:

One of their very own prophets said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.”  This testimony is true. For this reason, rebuke them sharply, so that they may be sound in the faith  and may not pay attention to Jewish myths and the commands of people who reject the truth.   -Titus 1:12-14

Did Paul (and this is scripture!), just call these people, “always liars, evil beasts, and lazy gluttons”?  Think about if you have ever been taken aback by an insult that a leader leveled, and then look at this scripture.  Apparently, there is such a thing as sanctified name calling.

Paul (Gal 1:9) and Peter ( 2 Peter 2:12) and Jude (12-13) have very harsh words for false teachers.  Why?  Because leading people astray about things relating to Christ or how to walk with God, is a very serious sin.  Why?  Because they lead people astray.  James says don’t become a teacher in the church lightly, because we will be judged more scrupulously (James 3:1).

Fun Facts:

  • Titus is one of the three people that Paul called his sons.  The other two were Timothy and Onesimus.
  • Titus and Tim were not pastors. (D. Edmond Hiebert, Titus and Philemon, p. 7.)
  • Titus is Paul’s second to last letter, written between 1 and 2 Timothy (Philip H. Towner, 1-2 Timothy & Titus, p. 19).
  • Homer said that Crete had 100 cites (Barclay, p. 268.).

When You Meet Together

What is the outcome of this, brothers and sisters? When you meet together, each one has a psalm, a teaching, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. All these things must be done to build up the church.
-1 Cor. 14:26

I have a question.  What is a meeting?  Is a meeting just a gathering of people, where anything happens; or does every meeting have one thing in common; that you meet there?

Is going to a movie theater a meeting?  What if it is a film festival and there is a panel discussion and interview with the filmmakers, including questions and answers?  Is it a meeting then?

I believe it’s a meeting if you meet.  If you can say, “I met someone”, you were at a meeting.

There are “meet and greet” times built into events that are not meetings.  It’s not a meeting, but an event.  The organizers know people like to meet; so they build the meet time in.  That does not make it a meeting, but an event where meet time is built in.

We have gatherings where the main thing is a speaker who speaks in a monologue.  But it it is not a meeting in the truest sense, because a meeting is where we meet.

Meeting means face time.  It means I see your face and you see mine, but it’s more than that.  It means we all see each others faces and each person has a chance, many chances, to speak, to share and to express.

Meeting means we all meet each other.

Monologue and performance is not a true meeting.  The more you break up and stop the monologue or performance, the more meeting can take place, because meeting is about, “I met people”.

It is true that in order to hear and be clear, we do need solo speech time.  I might say, “I need y’all to hush while I share, so you can meet me and hear what I bring to the meeting.”

But the whole ‘meeting time’ is not my monologue or performance, because real soon, someone else gets to share or ask me a question or respond to what I just said.  You might not want to ask me something, but you might want to ask or say something to the person seated next to you, and that is ok too.

A meeting is about meeting.

The scripture from Apostle Paul says, “When you meet together, each one has…”  Each one has means, each one has.  It means that everyone gets to play.  It means everybody gets to share.  It means all can participate in the meeting.  It does is not say, “when you meet together, the speaker will speak or preach for 30, 60, or 90 minutes”.  But that is what many meetings are. 

In this text which is descriptive, Paul describes a different kind of meeting, than what most western Christians are familiar with.  From our modern (modernity), western (Grecian-euro) influenced culture; we might look at the Corinthian Church Paul writes to as aberant (naughty and off the rails).  We might view the whole letter as correction with some beautiful side notes, like the love chapter.

When Paul says, “when you meet together”, we might hear it as a rebuke.  This was a mess, chaos.  But, if you read all of chapter 14, or chapters 12 through 14; you will find out that there is much commendation, with some rebuke or correction.  The only way to see the Corinthian church or what they were doing as all bad, is to come to the text with a gigantic bias and we don’t want to do that.

The meeting of the church that Paul describes here is a meeting where everyone gets a chance to participate.  We are so used to going to church meetings where we go to hear monologues or see the “one man show”.

We have lost the art of leadership which is to create a space where everyone gets to participate.

The job of the shepherd is to protect the sheep from wolves and lead them to pasture.

“When you meet, each one has.”  The meeting is a pot-luck buffet.  Each person brings something.  If one person has had a bad week, they might bring a sorrowful song of lament.  We want to hear them, acknowledge them (get them), and comfort them.  We might want to come along side them as they trade their sorrows for the joy of the Lord, or we might just sit beside them in their grieving

Each person may bring something.  What did you bring to share?

We come to church, the church meeting, having spent time with God.  We might have been on assignment, or we might have received something from God, we want to share.  ‘Each one’, means more than one, everyone.

What is the outcome of all this meeting and sharing?  The building up of the church.  The variety of sharing and caring, meeting and receiving each other is mutual edification.  There is a spiritual nutritional benefit from the variety of sharing that all the people bring.

Preparing For the Harvest

As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and day and night will not cease.

-Genesis 8:22
A whole bunch of people are going to get saved, become Christians, and will need to be made disciples of Jesus.  I believe a huge harvest is coming soon.  God has been preparing his people for this.  Are we ready?
These are some thoughts of mine, in no particular order, about being ready for and receiving the harvest of people who will flow into our lives.
A huge number of people are going to suddenly become pastors, who have previously been minding their own business and walking with God on the sidelines.  The pastors who have been pastors will step back and be equippers, coaches, consultants, and fathers & mothers to this whole new tier of pastoral ministers about to be released in the kingdom.
  1. Be ready for and willing for God to inconvenience you, with people.
  2. You can only plan to be open to what God does.
  3. The people God sends or gives you to care for will take up your time and resources.
  4. The people that God sends you will make your plans change.
  5. You will be surprised and at first think of who you could give these people to or connect them with, rather than caring for them yourselves.
  6. Become resigned to the fact that some of and even the majority of the people will be with you for years or a lifetime.
  7. See each person God sends to you as a gift.
  8. You will get less sleep and have to care after the people God sends you.
  9. There will be messes and your stuff might get broken by the new people.
  10. The first thing they will need is natural and spiritual food and shelter, then learning how to live.
  11. Get ready to be needed by people who will need what you have, to make it.
  12. You will have to learn and practice boundaries, in love.
  13. Expect fits and starts, relapses, and even betrayals.  Don’t quit over these.
  14. Also beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.  Especially watch over and tend to the weakest ones.
  15. Also beware of inauthentic or false conversions: be wise as serpents and gentle as doves.
  16. Each one that God sends to you, hold lightly.  Every person has in them, through God, the capability to become a leader (servant leader) themselves.  Leaving your home and starting their own is the goal from day one for the majority.
  17. Many of us who have dutifully tithed and offered to others are going to shift to giving our whole lives to God.
  18. We are all going to shift into all being missionaries and pastors, rather than paying or supporting others.
  19. We are going to more live our lives for the sake of others, rather than for ourselves.
  20. “Give and it shall be given”, will come alive in your life, like never before.
My pastor, I grew up with, had a vision of potatoes on a conveyor belt.  Someone would separate the potatoes that did not look as good.  The Lord told my pastor that those would be his church.
Church is messy.  Community is messy.  Love is the key.  Love and grace.  Don’t be a perfectionist or idealist.
The most profound thing I heard and then read lately, that hit me, was a quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, from “Life Together“, that is this:

Those who love their dream of a Christian community more than the Christian community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.’ (p. 36)


And here is more, from that same section:

‘God hates this wishful dreaming because it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. Those who dream of this idealized community demand that it be fulfilled by God, by others, and by themselves. They enter the community of Christians with their demands, set up their own law, and judge one another and even God accordingly.’ (p. 36)

‘Because God already has laid the only foundation of our community, because God has united us in one body with other Christians in Jesus Christ long before we entered into common life with them, we enter into that life together with other Christians, not as those who make demands, but as those who thankfully receive…. We do not complain about what God does not give us; rather we are thankful for what God does give us daily.’ (p. 36)

‘Therefore, will not the very moment of great disillusionment with my brother or sister be incomparably wholesome for me because it so thoroughly teaches us that both of us can never live by our own words and deeds, but only by that one Word and deed that really binds us together, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ? The bright day of Christian community dawns wherever the early morning mists of dreamy visions are lifting.’ (p. 37)

‘When pastors lose faith in a Christian community in which they have been placed and begin to make accusations against it, they had better examine themselves first to see whether the underlying problem is not their own idealized image, which should be shattered by God.’ (p. 38)

‘…the Christian community has not been given to us by God for us to be continually taking its temperature. The more thankfully we daily receive what is given to us, the more assuredly and consistently will community increase and grow from day to day as God pleases.’ (38)

‘Christian community is not an ideal we have to realize, but rather a reality created by God in Christ in which we may participate. The more clearly we learn to recognize that the ground and strength and promise of all our community is in Jesus Christ alone, the more calmly we will learn to think about our community and pray and hope for it.’ (p. 38)

‘Self-centred love loves the other for the sake of itself; spiritual love loves the other for the sake of Christ.’ (p. 42)


-I pulled these quotes from Tim Chester.  I first read Life Together 30 years ago.  It’s a great book.

Musical Instruments Are Endorsed by the NT

What then, brothers and sisters? Whenever you come together, each one has a hymn, a teaching, a revelation, another tongue, or an interpretation. Everything is to be done for building up.

And don’t get drunk with wine, which leads to reckless living, but be filled by the Spirit: speaking to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music with your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another in the fear of Christ.

Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.

-1 Cor. 14:24, Eph. 5:18-21, Col. 3:16
I read an article from November, 2010; from Scot McKnight, where he asked his readers how they would respond to this question:

“How would you respond to someone who believes that instrumental music is not an acceptable form of worship?
Typically we have stated our reasoning is that instruments were not used/authorized in the New Testament (even though Revelation speaks of using them in the New Heaven/New Earth) therefore we cannot use them.


There are a number of Christian tribes who do not use instruments ever in worship.  A number of these are enumerated in the 62 comments that the post garnered.  I personally was unaware of this issue until about 15 years ago.
Among the a capella only people, usually the argument is given that since instruments were not used in the ancient NT church, we can not use them today.  If you point out that the Psalms mention the harp and other instruments, they will say that is not NT, so we can’t do that.  There is also some evidence for instruments in heaven, in the book of Revelation.  I think they would say it’s prophetic or in heaven, so it doesn’t apply to the church on earth (something along those lines).
I did not realize, until yesterday, when I read the comment, by a man named Eric W., that the various Greek dictionaries tell us that the word ‘psalms’, that occurs in Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, and 1 Corinthians 14 (translated hymn in some translations), means, 
(“Scripture set to music”). Originally, a psalm  was sung and accompanied by a plucked musical instrument (typically a harp), especially the OT Psalms.

[The Psalms of the OT were often sung and were accompanied by sophisticated musical arrangements.]

copyright © 1987, 2011 by Helps Ministries, Inc.For complete text and additional resources visit: TheDiscoveryBible.com
And:

ψάλλω psallō sing; sing praise*
This vb., which occurs 5 times in the NT, actually means “pluck / play a stringed instrument” or “sing to the accompaniment of a harp.” In the NT it always refers to a song of praise to God (dat.). In the LXX ψάλλω usually translates Heb. zāmar, esp. in the Psalms, and can refer to the playing of an instrument (LXX Pss 32:2; 104:2; 146:7, and elsewhere) or, less frequently, to the praise itself that is sung (LXX Pss 9:3; 65:4; a taunt-song: Ps 68:12 LXX).

-Balz, H. R., & Schneider, G. (1990-). Vol. 3: Exegetical dictionary of the New Testament (495). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.

And, the NET Bible has this for ‘psalms’, [πσαλμοσ(5568)]
1) a striking, twanging 1a) of a striking the chords of a musical instrument 1b) of a pious song, a psalm
My take is that since musical instruments are sometimes used in unspiritual, worldly, sensual ways, or sheerly in performance for entertainment; some Christians have shunned using them, and even taken the preference that becomes shunning, making it into a doctrine; and the extreme of that doctrine, believed by some even today, is that you might go to hell for playing musical instruments in the church.
This Greek word for ‘psalms’, clearly means “scripture set to music, played on instruments”.  This practice, in the church is mentioned three times.  There is no discussion or debate about this found in Acts or the letters, simply because it was a given and not an issue.
Instruments have always been permitted, permissible.  There is no mention of church buildings or sunday school for children, yet we have found great value in these and other modern practices.  How would we categorize or describe Christians that thought meeting in its own building or having sunday school for the children was wrong and could even pave the way to hell for you?  
“A capella is better, but not best or the only way.”  That’s a much better way of stating what you believe.
Best and the way is the way Jesus was talking about to the Samaritan woman.  Best and the way is the way described by Paul in Romans, that is a full commitment to worship in and with your whole being during your whole life.  Worship, the best worship, as described by David and the Psalms and through the NT is a lifestyle, not an event or a set of time.
Worship is a heart matter.  How we worship is permissible in a huge variety of ways, including art, dance, rap, spoken words, and through every and any instrument(s).  But our main worship and that from which our musical worship flows, is from our lives lived before God, 24/7.

Ordination, Offices, Function and Authority (2)

But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.”

-Matthew 20:25-28
In churches there are structures of governance.  If you walk into a church meeting, you might ask, “who is in charge?”  And when someone writes, speaks, prays, counsels or does music; somebody might ask, “by what authority?”, or, “who authorized you?”
Some people make these questions more important or a bigger deal.  You mention an author that you read and people might ask who they are or where they are from and what group they are attached to.  And it gets difficult to describe the affiliations or make-up of someone’s pedigree, because their are thousands of streams or tribes in the body of Christ.
My friends and I were starting a home group once and a man who was a friend and tried out the group, was very concerned that none of us who were co-leading had ordination papers or were pastors on a payroll or something.  I knew a pastor who’s regional overseer was concerned about groups that were meeting outside the walls of the church property and that this pastor was beginning to dress more casually, when meeting with the church.  And I saw a person’s article in an online magazine, who was wearing the priestly collar, in which they were questioning another person’s authority to teach or lead in blog posts or through speaking and writing, outside of some sanctioned arena of influence.

All of these stories get me thinking about this topic of ordination, offices, function and authority.  The church ‘authorities’ questioned Jesus about, “who authorized you?’ (Mark 11:27-8).  Seems like the same thing still goes on today.  And although people are ordained in the high to the low churches and we have big Christian publishing houses and medium and small; in all these mechanisms or spheres of authority, we have faulty people.

I’m saying that we assume that because a person is ordained with a group, or has a book contract or record contract with a publisher or label, that they ‘must be ok’.  And if they ‘go bad’, they will be dealt with or disciplined by that organization.  But scandal is always a part of institutional power, perhaps because power outside of God or power that is not from and through God is corrupt power.

One of the words that authoritarians use is, ‘laity’.  They refer to we who are not in the clergy class as being ‘lay people’.  The problem is that there is no clergy/laity dichotomy in the NT.

We are actually all clergy and laity.  A huge variety of gifts are in us all and many of those gifts have leadership attributes or abilities that we may function in for the benefit of others.  The leadership structure in the kingdom is flat, with one person at the top, who is Christ.

Every time you want to argue that there is clergy and they are the ones over others, in charge, the authorities, the bosses or whatever title you want to employ; you must check yourself with Jesus words from Matthew 20.  No dominating exercising of power over other people.  Rather, you get to serve and be a slave; and servants or slaves are not in any way ‘over’ others, but under them, lifting them up and beside them, holding them up and guiding them and protecting them.

Most every church has officers.  Officers are those who are appointed, ordained, chosen or commissioned to be ‘in charge’ of some task or duty.  This includes the treasurer, the person who makes the coffee and provides or coordinates the food, the person in charge of child care and men on the board of elders who make decisions about a church’s facilities, properties, corporate vision or partnerships (to name a few of the things elders might do).

In the NT, we see the church being led by a plurality of elders.  Even the Apostles that Jesus left behind exercised a plurality of leadership.  Circle back and re-read Matthew 20.  In my life, I have witnessed a popular form of church governance that has perhaps waned a bit in recent years; that is patterned not after the plurality of elders model, but after Moses.

God can call a church or guide a church to have a ‘Moses type’ leadership structure.  And I believe that God does, but it is a special calling and is the exception and not the rule, nor the pattern expressed in the pages of the NT.  Churches that began with a dynamic leader called to be a ‘Moses type’ autocrat, must either reproduce Joshua’s who are still autocratic,  but maybe, maybe less so; or be transformed into more of what we see in the NT.

What is silly and even ugly is when a dynamic one-of-a-kind leader gets copied by the next gen of leaders who are actors or caricatures of the original person.  And we end up making a norm out of an exceptional person.

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