Counsel Needed: Church Government Issues - Responding to Pragmatism

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Puritan Board Professor
Well, I have just had a very frustrating conversation with a good, well-meaning friend who is unfortunately incredibly pragmatic as regards anything the church does. I will freely admit I am HORRIBLE at communicating the ideas that go against the grain of the modern church (especially broad evangelicalism). I also need a great deal more charity in dealing with modern evangelicalism and its adherents, as I can come off as a loudmouthed idiot sometimes. Nonetheless, this conversation did come out with some serious issues between my friend and I (My friend is a moderately Arminian SBC self-identified Fundamentalist who holds to a very "essentials only, nothing else matters" (nothing else including sacramentology, church government, Calvinist Soteriology, Dispensationalism, etc...)" approach to doctrine).

In short, what are the specific Scriptural bases on why elder-driven church government, whether traditionally Congregational or Presbyterian, is THE biblical church government, as opposed to the Pastor only+Deacons or worse (Pastor-only, with corporation-like leadership structure) approach taken by many ordinary Baptist ones. While he acknowledges the tendency of the (non-elder-ruled) Baptist church with a tendency towards trendiness, he then says that Presbyterian government is no different than a worldly stockholders' meeting at a corporation, especially with regard to officer elections. He said that Scripture really doesn't lay out that many guidelines on how the Church actually should operate, beyond the barest of frameworks, and that all forms of Church government copy consciously from and are susceptible to the World in one way or another.

The main bone of our discussion is with Saddleback Church-type, highly Pastor-as-CEO systems. The conversation started with my sending my friend the link Robin posted here. He doesn't see a problem with paying the church a fee to sign up for a Sunday School Class/Seminar as is the case here.

An example of this would be with a local variant of the Ultra-MegaChurch, Prestonwood Baptist Church, which is the largest SBC church and has bowling alleys and a fitness club (both of which you pay to use), Starbucks, and whole food court as well. For reference, Prestonwood has 20,000+ members.

Based on the passages of Christ throwing the money-changers out of the Temple (especially with regard to their baseness polluting the Church), I for some reason have always had a very cynical view of the House of God selling anything as a Church. I even cringe a bit with the WTS seminary bookstore in Park Cities Presbyterian's Basement - though that has made me wonder a lot, and it does seem like I might be overreacting. It is for these same reasons I have a lot of question marks around Coke Machines in the churches.

Am I just being a hopeless Legalist here on this issue? If so, I welcome correction

Well, in regard to Prestonwood specifically, at one point on my campus, I was involved in an orginally quasi-Calvinistic Baptist Student Ministries, and Prestonwood's college minister came to speak to one of our lunch gatherings, and when asked whether he'd met Jack Graham (then SBC President and Head Pastor of Prestonwood) - he said no, even though he'd been on the church staff for six months. As far as I'm concerned, that's an incredibly unwise, unbiblical approach to church government, but I struggle to directly refute it (that degree of hierarchy) with Scripture being wrong. My friend sees no problem with churches being structured just like ordinary businesses, as long as they can bring glory to God in doing so.

There's also a double standard he takes on the fact that he gets upset when I criticize Arminian Baptist, PDL-type, "Church, Inc." movements, yet I get sandblasted for Calvinism all the time, which is something he holds as being one side of the coin where Arminianism is also partially true. Additionally, he has no problem with blasting Presbyterian conceptions of infant Baptism. I certainly don't mind having friends where religious conversations are rather unwise - it's just I want to try to convey some wisdom so that he'd stand against post-modern, ultra-pragmatic junk within his own pond.

I do this precisely because whatever the Baptist and quasi-Baptist groups do now, my denomination will be fighting dearly over in 5-10 years. There's already a PCA church in my area that (from its web site and Sunday School classes in the past is already pro-PDL, and I worry one of my elders (thankfully not one of the TEs) might well be at least somewhat sympathetic to FV from some comments on his blog. Having come from an apostate denomination and local church, I am justifiably cynical to ecclesiastical pragmatism, doctrinal reductionism, and general trendiness. This especially includes contemporary, rock-concertesque music.

If I need to clarify anything, please let me know, as my writing style is not known for being the most concise or most clear in its initial drafting.

R. Scott Clark

Puritan Board Senior
See this bibliography, esp. the Wells' series.

See this essay by Hart. He challenges the assumption that we can use just any old metaphor for ministry. There are biblical metaphors.

Mod Ref has run a number of critiques of the megachurches, e.g., The Malling of the Church etc. They are working on their website and it should have everything up in Jan. See the Horton titles in the Bibliography.

At root is that we think the faith needs to be "translated" (William Willimon's word) to the Modern world. No, it doesn't. God's Word is already translated, as it were, i.e., it's already God's condescension to us.

Pragmatism, whether "conservative" or "evangelical," or "liberal" is all the same thing, it is the exercise of human autonomy over the Word of God. Luke or Mark, (not to mention Jesus!) knew nothing of "urban" life? Nonsense.

The whole pragmatic model fails on its own grounds. I'm not aware of any evidence that they are making any statistical dent in the culture. The same percentage of folk, or perhaps even a smaller percentage, goes to church now as have for decades. The main thing the mega-churches seem to have done is to shift sheep from smaller pens into the larger pens.

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