Book Recommendation for Man Stuck in Anabaptist View of Elders

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Mike Payne

Puritan Board Freshman
Hello, I am looking for a book recommendation for a man who holds to Anabaptist ideas about elders.

I have been talking to a young man who holds to most reformed doctrines, but believes the reformed view of elders is a hold over from popish traditions. He believes that any heretic should be able to run around the church, and the only thing the elders can do is to instruct the flock and/or try to convince him, and let the chips fall where they may. However, they have no authority to stop his speaking, run him out as this would be, in his eyes "Lording it over the flock". To stop him or run him out is tyranny in his eyes. He sees his plight as being under tyranny since this is where he finds himself - restrained after a few month long bout of arguing with the elders. It went to Mat 18:16, he said he would submit, so he is still in that church, but his attitude is that he is under tyranny, but he needs to learn to bare it and suffer, to learn patience. As a result, his attitude toward the elders is not good I can tell from my discussions with him.

I discussed the authority of an elder and that it is a real thing. He attends a reformed church, and used to be hostile to creeds until he studied it out. So, he does have some teachability and asked me what was the best book he could read or sermon series that would correct him if he is wrong.

I did call Reformation Heritage Books today and the gentleman I spoke to recommended two books they carry:

An abridged booklet by Samuel Miller: The Ruling Elder
A book by Thomas Withrow: The Apostolic Church, Which Is It?

I then realized, I have google Puritan Board a few hundred times with questions in my mind over the years, so I signed up today, to ask you for recommendations? He will read it, so this is a good opportunity to help a brother.

I think his intelligence level is best served by an easy read. He is not unintelligent, but some books are written at a very high and academic level for learned men, that I would wish to avoid such books.

I really appreciate your advice.


Stephen L Smith

Staff member
Although I have not read them, I had noticed that RHB stock a number of quality books on Elders.
A recent one is The Elder: Today's Ministry Rooted in All of Scripture (Van Dam)
The book by Samuel Miller looks excellent.


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
I wonder if this brother condones any exercises of human authority, in any sphere. What does he think is the role of fathers and mothers? Are Christian parents free--obligated even--to discipline their children by all reasonable means? What does it mean that the elder must to "rule his own house well?" How does effective home-rule stand for a signal of competence to rule in the church, if the latter is only supposed to amount to dispensing advice?

Yes, there is poor church governance; and a session that always "reaches for the stick" and makes a loud noise every time there is a disciplinary matter to address is probably on its way to seriously damaging a whole generation of sheep. The first method of handing out correction--particularly to adults with mature reasoning faculties--is by verbal counsel, at the most private level possible.

On the other hand, I think addressing his concern with patience and without condescension is wise. I agree that his thinking is fundamentally Anabaptist, but also that referring him to books by Witherow (Presbyterianism vs. Congregationalism and Episcopacy) and Miller (pro Presbyterian eldership) is not likely to incline him toward consenting to a Baptist-elder model of polity.

This brother will probably object, saying that he's the more consistent with certain of his principles on this point, than the Baptist brother who shares some of those principles and some principles with the Presbyterian. It's a Presbyterian contention that there continues to exist a religious "ministry" under the New Covenant. The Anabaptist gets quite consistent with the principle that there is no such interposition of human authority since the New Covenant.

Baptist churches take various mediating positions between those two poles. A Baptist defense of the church's ministry, including takes on elders and their authority, will have distinctives suited to it at variance to Presbyterian conviction. I suggest looking for a book that will not sound so immediately confirming of his prejudice against those he views as akin to promoting prelatical forms (not that they actually do).

Mike Payne

Puritan Board Freshman
Great. Thank you. I have not yet shared any book title with him. Since I know his elders, I will run the title by them before I pass it on. I am hoping by explaining his attitude, an appropriate book might exist. He wanted to disseminate some teacher that the elders identified as aberrant, and while he agreed the particular author had serious errors, he became hostile to the elders for this and has regularly asked me why his elders can't just let the Bible correct the flock instead of Lording it over by not disseminating the particular book and isolating them from so and so. They tried to explain to him for about two months, but he became hostile in his contention and it manifested itself in many disorderly outbursts of communications. He has piped down, but thinks his elders are tyrants. Just as he once saw creeds as horrible evils, but was convinced otherwise by studying it, I am hopeful a treatise dealing with this idea would be very helpful. Now, after discussing his situation with him and trying to help him see, and using examples such as you did in your post, I am at a stopping point in trying to help him since I have to move on. I told him he should look into it. He agrees and is very grateful for all the time I have given him. So, I am looking at a book or sermon series that may help him see. Thank you all again for any title that you can offer.
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