Saturday, July 29, 2006

Shaking My Head at Shakespeare

Last evening Krista and I attended a performance at The Frazier International Museum of History. The performance takes a comedi look at the entire body of writing that Shakespeare has done. "The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged," as it was called, is a three man show in which the actors, recognizing they are actors performing a show, attempt to present a brief survey of the entire body of work that Shakespeare wrote. It was a clever show, hilarious at points, and very postmodern (aware of itself as a play. Very MacBeth like in that it was a play within a play.) There were moments of sheer hilarity, fun, and just plain entertainment. In my estimation it was a brilliant idea to take a stab at something so grand. As the three actors attempt to cover all the works of Shakespeare they do so in a very unique way. Their "reverant irreverance" brought forth some clever artistic expressions of the plays of Shakespeare. So all the comedies were done as one, "The Love Boat Goes to Verona". The histories were done as a football game in which the crown (the football) passes from one monarch to the next in the order of Shakespeare's plays. The tragadies, consuming most of the time, began with Romeo and Juliet (acted out with three men, which took on some fun itself) and concluded with a speedy, then backwards, performance of Hamlet. It was a fun evening.

But all of that makes me sad to say these next few words. I cannot recommend it to you. Why? Simply put the show contained far more crude, and filthy "humor" than I am comfortable with. Now one must allow for some, as Shakespeare's plays themselves deal with incest, lust, death, be-headings, and the like. Yet Shakespeare's way of dealing with them was not to indulge the flesh and glorify sin, which unfortunately was the aim of the writers in this production. Four or five "jokes" were strongly sexual (including two displays in which a character, dressed as a woman, pretends to masturbate on stage). Others jokes mocked morality, religion, and abortion. It was rather sad, I must say. Here I had hoped for a nice evening with my wife enjoying the classic works of Shakespeare in a fun new light, and found myself having to shake my head more than I would have liked. A cleaner version of this show would have revealed the great talent of the writers and actors, it would have made for a more interesting show in which the lowest level humour was not attained, and would have allowed me to encourage all to see it. But as it stands "The Complete Works of Shakespeare, Abridged" is just too filthy to recommend. I suppose I am not really shaking my head at Shakespeare, then, but at this modern interpretation of the genius playwrite.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Ascol on Education

Tom Ascol has a three part series going on over at his blog on "Confessional Integrity and Theological Education." The content mainly deals with a history of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, beginning with its founding, its fall, and its return to Confessional integrity, as well as some of his recent concerns on the issue. It's both well written and informative and I encourage you to read it and learn about one of the greatest theological seminaries in the world, and some of the still pressing issues about it.

Check it out at

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Questioning Paul?

Sometime last month a gentleman posted a response to my article on legalism in which he denied the apostolic authority and divine inspiration of the apostle Paul. He wrote:

Legalism....Have you ever questioned Paul?Paul says we are not under the law, but the Bible says God'scommandments are forever and ever (Psalm 111)I seriously believe Paul was a false apostle

He then proceeded to list 4 arguments for his anti-Pauline theology. I deleted the response in fear that someone might read it and be led astray, I am now prepared, however, to respond to his arguments.

He states that Paul was a false apostle based on:

1. He wasn't ordained an apostle by Christ (Matt. 10).
This criticism goes against the profession of Paul, but our friend does not accept any profession of Paul's. However, he does accept the work of Luke in the book of Acts as revealed testimony, for he quotes it in defense of his arguments. So let us turn to Luke's work in Acts to defend the apostolic ministry of Paul. Acts records Jesus' words to Ananias saying that he should go and seek out Saul of Tarsus for "he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name" (Acts 9: 15, ESV). Christ has specifically chosen Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles.

2. He didn't qualify to be an apostle (Acts 1:16-26).
It might be stated that this criticism is really a subset of the former, and so while I appeal to the former defense (that Paul was chosen by Christ) I will also here add to it. I assume that our friend is here arguing that Paul was not "one of the men who had accompanied [the other apostles] all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among [them]." Paul had seen the risen Lord (Acts 9:17), which is usually considered the second requirement for apostleship. While it must be conceeded that Paul did not meet this first requirement context must alos be taken into account. The office of the 12th Apostle was a position which God had ordained for ministry to the nation of Israel. This was not Paul's ministry, he was chosen, by Christ, to go to the Gentiles; so Paul calls himself the apostle to the Gentiles. John MacArthur wisely writes, "While Paul was in no way inferior to the twelve, he was not one of their number. By his own testimony he was 'in no respect...inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody' (2 Cor. 12:11). He was a unique apostle. The mission of the twelve was primarily to teh nation of Israel, while he was the apostle sent to the Gentiles (Romans 11:13)" (MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Acts1-12).

3. Paul's Doctrine is Proven False.
This is by far the critics most legnthy criticism, but also, I might add, his most shallow and sloppy. His first agrument is grounded on the shaky foundation that Paul said Christ appeared to the "twelve" in 1 Cor. 15:5, while the Gospel writers attest only to Christ's appearance before the 11.

For starters let it be said that this has absolutely no bearing on Paul's theology. Even if we were to concede an error here it would be a mistake in Paul's recollection, not a damaging affect to his doctrinal belief. But I will not permit even this. There are no errors in the Word of God. Among scholars today is agreed upon, generally, that the expression "the twelve" was used to apply to the apostles even after Judas' death. It was an accepted title for the group. Furthermore Jesus appeared to over 500 witnesses, not all are listed. This is such a poor hermeneutic and takes nothing else of the actual content of Paul's letters into account.

Secondly our critic applies a text to Paul which offers no textual evidence for doing so. He writes: "Paul is a liar, and a proven false witness. Christ, in Revelation 2:2 commends the church of Epheus for figuring out false aposles. He said, “…thou hast tried them which say they are apsostles, and are not, and hast found them liars. Remember, Paul preached at Epheus."

His own bias is the only thing that led him to apply this text to Paul. There were a number of preachers in Ephesus, he chooses Paul simply because it feeds his argument. Paul left Timothy in Ephesus to counter the false teachings of Hymenaeus and Alexander. The assumption that the false teacher was Paul is pure bias and finds no textual support.

4. My friend concludes his criticims with "Fact 4," as he puts it (using "fact" for the first time in this argument makes one wonder if he ment the others to be purely speculative). This final critic suggests "The Apostles did not beleive Paul was a disciple."

Here again our critic applies a poor hermeneutic. He writes: Acts 9:2626And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple.After Barnabas told the apostles that Paul had “seen the Lord” and that he preached boldy in the name of Jesus, the Apostles didn’t tell him to join them, but they sent him home to Tarsus. Remember, Jesus told us (Mat 13:57) that a prophet is not without honour except in his own country and in his own house . The apostles sent Paul to a place that no one would believe him.

This so-called "fact" is purely speculative as well, however, for we find nothing in the text stating that (or even necessarily implying that). The apostles feared Saul because he was a former murderer of Christians, they feared this might be a trick. But after Barnabas explains Saul's conversion the apostles do not send him away as an attempt to de-rail his ministry. Our friend has left out part of the story and mis-represented the truth of what the apolstles did. Here was it really says:

And he [Paul] spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.

They did not send him away so that no one would believe him, they sent him away to save his life.

But the most convincing argument for Paul's apostolic authority our friend has completely ignored. In 2 Peter 3:14-18 the apostle Peter clearly ascribes "Scripture" to Paul's letters. He writes: "Our brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures." There were some who were twisting Paul's words, perhaps like this gentleman has done, and Peter says they do the same thing with "OTHER SCRIPTURES". Meaning he was calling Paul's words Scripture, recognizing them to be divinely inspired.

Questioning Paul? I think after a thorough review it seems we should question our critic, and not the divinely inspired word of God.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Fighting Sin with a Knowledge of God's Holiness

With T-shirts declaring that "Jesus is my Homeboy," and constant talk of how God is our "buddy" it may have been lost in our culture that God is holy! When asked what he felt most Christians needed to learn R.C. Sproul responded by saying that God is holy! How sad that even the church should lose the practical knowledge of God's holiness.

God's holiness is so important for us on several levels. One His holiness means complete freedom from all moral evil. God won't ever be inclined to betray you as His child. He won't ever trick you, decieve you, or prove Himself un-trustworthy, for His holiness prevents such defects in His character.

Secondly God's holiness is his absolute moral perfection. In talks of God's goodness we saw that He is the standard of goodness and all that is good derives its nature from God's goodness. But what a comfort it is to know that He is not only good in some areas, but all! His absolute moral perfection is a testimony to the complete and perfect goodness of our God.

But we must not undermine the importance of this holiness for one other reason. It is a threat to us who are sinners. Our sins are offenses to God and His holiness demands that He punish sin, and as such that means there is a threat to us who sin against Him. There are only two ways that God punishes sin: (1) Either He punished Christ for your sins, in which case you must repent and beleive upon Jesus solely for your salvation from this righteous wrath, (2) or you will face the punishment from God yourself, and it will be an eternity in hell.

Now for Christians we must recognize that our salvation is not disconnected from real life, but that it has real implications for how we live day to day. Jesus tells us that you may know a tree by its fruit. Thus a good tree produces good fruit, and a bad tree produces bad fruit. So if we sin and find no remorse in our hearts, no longing to be holy as God is holy, then we evidence that we are not truly saved, and as such the warnings of Scripture about hell apply to us. Fear sinning because you know that God is holy.

As I said this holiness is good for us. We must fear sinning because God is holy, but we may also rejoice in knowing that if we are truly God's He will not let us go even though we will fall throughout our lives here on earth. This is the great news of 1 John 1:9, "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Rejoice in God's holiness and trust Him because of it!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Fighting Sin with a Knowledge of God's Truthfulness

In a world where truth is constantly called into question, and completely denied, and where even our close friends can sometimes go back on their world what a comfort it is to read these passages about God:

"Thy lovingkindness is great to the heavens, and thy truth to the clouds" (Psalm 57:10)

"Thou, O Lord, art a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth" (Psalm 86:15)

"God is not a man that he should lie...has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?" (Numbers 23:19)

The very fact that Christ's death was prophesied, our salvation was accomplished, that we were elected and secured for eternity (Rom. 8:30), proves God's trustworthiness. Trust God for "it is impossible for God to lie..." (Heb. 6:18).

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Fightings Sin With a Knowledge of God's Goodness

Good has lost much of its meaning today. Usually today we say something is good if we think that it is accetable, but not the best. As little kids are often prone to say: there is good, goodest, and best. Good seems to be a the low end of the measuring stick. But the word good had a place of beauty and significance in years gone by.

Plato spoke of the good and the beautiful as the ultimate realities of life. Good meant a plethora of things, such true, honest, beautiful, and more. It is with this greater definition and higher understanding of good that the Bible speaks of God as being good.

Luke 18:19 tells us that "No one is good but God alone." Psalm 100:5 reads, "The LORD is good." That famous Psalm (34:8) exhorts us to "Taste and see that the LORD is good!"
One of the most beautiful descriptions of God in all of Scripture refers to Him as good. Exodus 34:6-7 reads, "Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, 'The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.'"

What a God! His goodness should compel us to come to Him, to rush into His big arms, and to trust that "Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow" (James 1:17).

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Fighting Sin with a Knowledge of God's Sovereignty

I wrote yesterday about the connection between our sin and a lack of the knowledge of God. Many sins in our lives are connected to what we don't understand, or misunderstand about the character and nature of God. Particularly significant to this discussion are sins that are related to a lack of trusting God. To help us all see how truly trustworth God is I begin today with the doctrine of God's sovereignty.

Slowly we all have to come to realize that no matter how much we feel in control we really are not. No matter how many things we align, no matter how well we plan, and scheme, and organize, we can never be in control. But the good news for believers is that God is working all things out, and for the good of His children (Romans 8:28). God is in control of all things, nothing is left out of His reach, no event, action, or illness is to far for His long arms to control them. The Bible itself affirms God’s sovereign control despite our not being able to understand all of its out-workings (Psalm 115:3, 135; Proverbs 16:9, 21:1; Ephesians 1:11; Romans 13:1; Acts 4:27-28). Here are a few examples.

Joseph was sold into slavery:
And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. (Gen. 45:5)

So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. (Gen. 45:8)

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. (Gen. 50: 20)

The Exodus:
And the Lord said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do before Pharaoh all the miracles that I have put in your power. But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.” (Ex. 4:21)

But I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and though I multiply my signs and wonders in the land of Egypt, Pharaoh will not listen to you. Then I will lay my hand on Egypt and bring my hosts, my people the children of Israel, out of Egypt by great acts of judgment. (Ex. 7:3-4)

For the scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘I have raised you up for he very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.’ (Rom. 9:17).

He turned their hearts to hate his people. (Psalm 105:25)

The Crucifixion:
For truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever you hand and your plan had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:27)

This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. (Acts 2:23)

Take comfrot, friends, in knowing that nothing either suprises or is out of God's pre-determined plan for the course of this world. He is sovereign and because of His omnipotence and control there is nothing that He cannot do, trust Him because He is able!

God “does according to His will among the hosts of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and none can stay His hand or say to Him, ‘What have you done?’” (Daniel 4:35).

Monday, July 17, 2006

Sin and the Knowledge of God

I beleive that these two elements are completely intertwined. That is to say that the more or less that we know of and about God the more or less we will tend towards sin. How are they so connected, you ask? I am discovering more and more that many common and difficult sins are a result of not recognizing who God is, specifically in relation to His trustworthiness.

I was recently amazed at how many sins can often stem from a lack of trusting God, the list is longer than I care to document, but here are a few: Worry, impatience, depression, OCD, fear, etc. Though these sins do not alway stem from lack of trusting God, those of us who struggle with them must come to a realization that at the heart of the problem there may be a problem of the heart. Lack of trusting God, because we do not know who He is, can lead to all sorts of sins, addictions, compulsions, and fears. Elyse Fitzpatrick has wisely written:

The only way to have a life that is like a lush tree by a river [a life of growth, safety, and joy] is to trust in God. It seems to me that my greatest struggle is learning to trust in Him. It's not that I don't trust Him for certain things- like my eternal home with Him; its just that when it comes down to my everyday life, I frequently act as though I can handle difficult circumstances better than He can.

What observation she offers to us. Trusting God will help us all in the struggle against certain sins, and knowing more about Him will help us to trust Him. To that end, over the next week I will be posting on different attributes of God's character in hopes that through this study we can all learn just how trustworthy and faithful is our God.

"Our God is in the Heavens; He does all that He pleases" (Psalm 115:3)

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Seeking God's Will For Our Lives

How do Christians seek God's will and how should they? This is the subject taken up by theologian and author J.I. Packer in his article "Paths of Righteousness". What's the answer to these questions? Read the article and you might just be suprised.

Baptist History in Recent Years

The 18th and 19th Centuries brought a number of difficulties and challenges to the Christian faith. Both the Enlightenment and Darwinism respectively offered criticism to the doctrine of God, and yet when one reads of the recent church history the church can take great joy in God's work to preserve the faith. The 20th Century in particular bears the marks of hard labor done by such men as Al Mohler and Paige Patterson. J. Gresham Machen certainly paved the way in his landmark work Christianity and Liberalism, as well did E.Y. Mullins, B.B. Warfield and others who were including in the work of the Fundamentalists. But for Baptists in particular it was the work of Patterson, in sounding the alarm against liberalism in the SBC, and Mohler, in reforming Southern Seminary, that is most important. Think of where we'd be if such godly men had not been raised up to defend the faith! God preserves His church now just as he has throughout all of history. While much has been written on the early church and even on the church during the 18th and 19th Centuries, it seems that a great deal of scholarship and historical documentation could be used to publish works on the great reformations in Baptist life in the last several decades. There are, I am sure, still many Baptists who don't know these facts and whether you are a Southern Baptist or not, these victories stand as victories for all Baptists and as such all should know about them.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Pastor Is...

The much of the Evangelical community today the office of pastor is seen in a variety of lights, many of which fail to grasp the true role of the pastor.

The Pastor as CEO of the Church continues to be the more favorable view. This conception of the office sees the church as an organization of which the Pastor is president. It is his duty to provide the church with all that it desires, lead them through programs, and grow their numbers. The success of this type of pastor is judged by his ability to numerically grow the church's membership, finances, and square acrage.

The Pastor as Social Activist is a popular model in some northern churches. This vision of pastoral ministry uses the pastor as the motivator for social action in the community and world. His main responsibility, then, is to scout out oppurtunities for the church to engage in social work and to provide the necessary motivation to get the congregation into action. His success is judged based on the number of people he helps and charitable orginazations the church starts.

The Pastor as Inspirational Speaker is the description of more pastors than most are willing to admit. This pastor may not even realize that this is his label, but the work that he does reveals that it is. He is to give encouragement to the congregation, build their self-esteem, and more often than not make them laugh. Is main priority is to be "relevant," and make the crowd "feel good". His success is determined by how funny, relevant, and "helpful" he is. And as well his ministry at large continues to be judged by numbers.

There are many other ideas of what the pastor is but Mark Dever's description of pastoral ministry is the most in accord with Scripture that we find in modern ministry books. In his book The Deliberate Church Dever writes, "Pastoring is ultimately about ensuring salvation for ourselves and others" (82). To support this view Dever points his readers to 1 Timothy 4:13-16. There we read Paul's words to the young pastor: Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and your teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers."

What a view of ministry this is! Pastors are God's spokesman to the Church. They are God's stewards of His sheep, guardians and propagators of His message. This means that it is the pastors job to teach and preach the word of God. To help the church apply it to their lives, to counsel them, love them, and lead them through preaching and biblical application of the text. This vision of pastoral ministry, then, is judged a success by its faithfulness to Scripture. Numbers are nice, but God determines a pastor a success in ministry if he faithfully follows God's commands. It is this vision of pastoral ministry that we need to recover, and thankfully when we do God is pleased and we find the church having the utmost relevance for its culture.

This is what the Pastor IS!

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Soccer and Sin

The World Cup was a bit of a dissapointment for me. It is the number one sporting event in the World and the international community at large becomes absorbed with it (even to the point that whole Embacies have shut down for it), but Americans have remained almost completely oblivious to it. This years cup may have gotten a bit more publicity in America, but American simply don't care for Soccer. I had hoped that would change as I am personally a fan of it. But after watching the Cup game today I was left feeling only dissapointed.

When France scored early on in the match I thought for sure it would be a good game. Italy's speedy goal in the 19th minute of play seemed to confirm that. But not only did the game end in penalty kicks (which garners a cheap win that in only a minimal way displays a team's skill), but Zinedine Zidane, France's star player, had an outburst of the most horrific kind.

Zidane has played with a level of class throughout the tournament that has been unparalleled by other atheletes. He doesn't take dives, like so many players did in this tournament, nor does he argue much with the referees. These facts are what made his viscious head butt of an Italian opponent so amazing. France had dominated most of the second half, and were playing well in the double overtimes. The foul was sparked by some antagonistic verbal fighting between the two. Following the banter Zidane simply lowerd his head and plowed straight into the Italian instigator, it was horrifying.

This outlandish reaction by Zidane has marred his career, and ruined the World Cup for him, for France, and for me. Yet it is a prime example of just how sinful man is. I do not know what Zinedine Zidane is like in real life, but on the field he has been both a hero and a good sportsman. Yet we are reminded by this display that no man is so good that he doesn't need salvation. Every man needs Christ's atoning sacrifice for their sins. As far as Soccer goes Zidane's display was not good, but on a theological reminder it serves as a warning and humbling example that all men need Christ!

Sunday, July 02, 2006

An Open Response to Scott Greening's Article on Eldership

Scott Greening is right about one thing: In the past decade “many individuals from ‘congregational’ churches are pursuing elder rule…”[1] In the March issue of The Baptist Bulletin, a magazine for the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, Greening argues that the switch in church polity to elders by Baptist churches goes against the Biblical case for congregational rule. Greening does, I believe, provide a decent argument for congregationalism, something I am quite in favor of and believe that the Bible does teach. The problem with his argument, however, is its failure to understand elder “led” churches can be in agreement with congregationally “ruled” churches.

I stress the distinction between “led” and “ruled” because I believe it is the distinction that our Reformed Baptist forebears held, and one that allowed them to hold to both a plurality of elders in Church leadership and yet a congregationally ruled church. So J.L. Reynolds, a 19th century Baptist leader, writes in favor of a plurality of elders:

The apostolic churches seem, in general, to have had a plurality of elders as well as deacons. The apostle addressed his epistle to the church at Philippi “with the bishops ad deacons;” sent for “the elders of the church at Ephesus;” and Paul and Barnabas as well as Titus “ordained elders” in the churches of Asia Minor and Crete. It seems, therefore, a fair inference that this was their usual practice.[2]

When we turn to the inspired constitution of the Church, and ascertain that a pastor is to execute only the laws of Christ; that his power is restricted in these wholesome and well-defined limits, all just grounds of jealousy are removed; he and his people are equally under obligation to the Redeemer.

[The Pastor] is to warn and rebuke the disobedient, and, if they prove obstinate and perverse, to bring their case before the Church, for its solemn adjudication.[3]

Elsewhere Reynolds adds that it is the churches responsibility to appoint its own elders and all officers.[4] Baptists only a few centuries ago, then, did not hold these two positions at odds.[5] Of course more importantly, as Reynolds explains through his Scripture references, neither does the Bible hold them to be incompatible.

Greening argues that an eldership is inconsistent with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers and that elders inadvertently become mediators between God and man. So he says:

If we take seriously Christ’s role as our one and only formal mediator, and if we accept that the Bible commands the church to corporately determine God’s will based on the doctrine of sanctification, then any organized church polity other than congregational government constitutes a set of mediators between God and the congregation.[6]

This inference seems highly questionable. It seems that Greening’s assumption is that any form of leadership in the church is effectively mediatory. On the basis of this narrow statement any pastor who preached the word or taught doctrine before having taken a church vote is guilty of acting as a mediator. This argument seems to have little logic.

Secondly, Greening argues that a plurality of elders is incompatible with the biblical doctrine of sanctification. Listen this reasoning:

It is difficult to imagine how a church progressing toward a goal of corporate sanctification would never or rarely seek God’s will as a body. Congregational church government is uniquely equipped to achieve this New Testament command.[7]

Such a comment as this makes one wonder where Greening has derived his understanding of eldership (certainly not from those who Biblically apply it).[8] This is perhaps where Greenings arguments fall so short; they are put up against a straw man. What he has painted a picture of in his article is a totalitarian ecclesiastical regime, and in light of this image he has argued against eldership. No Biblical Eldership ever seeks to subvert Christ’s role as the only mediator, nor does it replace communal seeking of God’s will. A distinction between elder led and congregational rule would have prevented this mistake. Furthermore sanctification as a body has to do with encouraging one another, holding one another accountable, and edifying and teaching one another, how corporate seeking of God’s will directly pertains to corporate sanctification Greening has not made clear.[9]

The distinction between elder “led” and elder “rule” is huge and would have saved Mr. Greening much ink. This distinction clarifies that while the elders are in charge of directing the spiritual well being of the body, through preaching, teaching, and correcting, and are charged with maintaining the churches doctrinal and methodological orthodoxy, the congregation is not exempt from responsibility. Not only does the church appoint its officers, as Reynolds explains, but it holds its elders accountable. Furthermore, and this is the point which Greening sees as most incompatible, the Congregation still has control of the church. The elders “leading” is essentially done through teaching from the word of God. In positions that are difficult and unclear, where theological controversies arise among the members, the elders should generally be trusted to lead the congregation. But, as Mark Dever writes, “All of the duties elders have, all of our responsibilities and obligations have been given us by the congregation we serve.”[10] The elders lead, but the congregation rules.

Congregations are to hold their leaders accountable, counsel them, and correct them when they are straying from the Word of God. Yet the Bible also makes clear that they are to submit to their elders, and make their ministry a joy, not a burden.[11] The Biblical commands on these congregational responsibilities cannot be ignored; Mr. Greening would do well to deal with them in his argumentation.

The simple fact of the matter is that Mr. Greening has identified eldership strictly with Presbyterianism. Arguably this is not unreasonable, yet it ignores the history of Baptistic churches which have held eldership and which currently hold it in agreement with congregational polity. Furthermore by so narrowly identifying it with Episcopalian and Presbyterian churches he has not argued against eldership at all, but only against a form of eldership.[12] On page 20 of the magazine He writes:

A set of leaders who formally (Episcopalian) or practically (Presbyterian) does not dialogue with the congregation in the decision-making process places a mediatory position between the congregation and God.[13]

This argument has no bearing on an eldership applied in the context of a congregational polity, and so again misses the point of attacking eldership directly. Elder “led” churches do not rob the church of its voice and authority, and as such is not incompatible with Congregationalism. Baptists can have both, and since it is the form found in scripture we should.

Mr. Greening, your “Doctrinal Case for Congregational Rule” has touched on none of the relevant passages addressing Elders. You’ve very nicely defended congregationalism, but have failed to see any of the passages speaking on elders, this would not only have made for a more informed article, but may very well have made the article unnecessary. Baptists and Elders are not opposites, they’re Biblical.

[1] Scott Greening, “The Doctrinal Case for Congregational Rule.” The Baptist Bulletin.71:9, 2006. 19.
[2] J.L. Reynolds, “Church Polity or the Kingdom of Christ.” Polity: Biblical Arguments on How to Conduct Church Life. A Collection of Historic Baptist Documents. ed. Mark E. Dever (Washington D.C.: 9 Marks, 2001 ) 349.
[3] Ibid. 356.
[4] Ibid. 360-361.
[5] Other Baptists holding to a plurality of Elders include: Benjamin Keach (17th Century), Benjamin Griffith (18th Century), Samuel Jones, W.B. Johnson, William Williams, and C.H. Spurgeon (19th Century), and A.H. Strong (20th Century). Today there are a number of Baptist Churches that hold to both a Congregational rule and an Elder led polity (most notably Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C.).
[6] Greening, 20.
[7] Greening, 20.
[8] For an understanding of Biblical Eldership see Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004) and Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership. (Colorado Springs: Lewis & Roth, 1988)
[9] Perhaps this is the reader’s own ignorance but I am more inclined to believe it is the writer’s fault.
[10] Mark Dever, “Baptists and Elders.” Originally delivered at the Issues in Baptist Polity Confrence 2004. Available online at
[11] Note Hebrews 13:17
[12] There are a number of Presbyterian churches that also do not hold the form of eldership displayed in Greening’s article, I do not know whether such is the case in the Episcopalian church, though I am sure there are some exceptions.
[13] Greening, 20.