Congregational Government is From Satan: Your Thoughts?

Recently I’ve been reading and watching sermons and blog posts from James McDonald of  Harvest Bible Chapel.    I have really been interested in his Elephant Room program in which prominent pastors discuss and debate controversial topics. 

Just yesterday, McDonald posted a rather controversial post on his blog – Congregational Government is From Satan.  Ouch!  This Baptist was quite taken aback…   Here are his main points:

1) Congregational Meetings Are Forums for Division
2) Voting Is Not Biblical
3) Eldership Is Sometimes Unpopular
4) Congregationalism Crushes Pastors
5) Priesthood Not Eldership of All Believers

So, I’m still taking some time to process this article.  I thought there were some good points, but I’m not quite sure I’m ready to jump off the congregational ship just yet.  But, I am curious to know the thoughts of my blog readers (both of you).  So please, first read the whole article and then leave your comments here.

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2 thoughts on “Congregational Government is From Satan: Your Thoughts?

  1. Here’s my take, numbered but not in any correlation to the numbers in McDonald’s article:

    1) McDonald makes much of little. Yes, the scriptures do not speak of congregational voting, that is true. However, scriptures speak very little of the organization of the church at all. We know the character that ought to be required of those chosen to guide worship and teaching, to pastor the flock, but that’s about it. In fact, I’d posit that almost nothing of what we experience as “church” today, either in organization or practice, looks at all like what NT believers would have experienced.

    2) Yes, there can be problems with congregational church government, small divisions can be given greater power because of the system of voting, etc. That isn’t so much a problem of the organization as a result of human involvement. Other forms of church government have problems as well. Does he think that a church split has never happened under the governance of elders? I know that they have. In that case, rather than actually airing and discussing divisions, since there is no platform to do so, people merely leave. Humans cause the struggle for unity, not forms of governance.

    3) Yes, the position of elder is discussed in the Bible. As I recall, however, there is very little said about what elders are to do and what the role of the rest of the church body is to be. Thus, he sets out a distinctive that isn’t really offered as he says it is. While voting isn’t “biblical” in the sense that it isn’t mentioned (pretty sure it wasn’t a big part of 1st century Jewish society), that doesn’t mean it’s anti-biblical or in the least bit “satanic,” as he calls it. Again, very little of our current form of church worship and practice is in the bible, does that then make it anti-biblical? Satanic?

    4) My over-riding sense upon reading his article is that he (or a pastor close to him) is taking flack for some decision or transition made or desired to be made, and he sat down to figure out why congregational church government is wrong. I will admit that I could be totally wrong on that; however, that is the impression I immediately got from this article. He is proposing a system (on very small bits of not all that specific scripture) that puts the pastor and elders on an unquestioned pedestal because, according to him, congregational government (not sinful and weak humanity–both congregants and the pastors themselves) “crushes pastors.” Also, he seems to have an issue with any form of disagreement. The first two sentences under his first point are evidence of an extreme bias against disagreeing with a pastoral proposal. He doesn’t seem to consider that perhaps many congregants are disagreeing with a proposal because they truly believe it will not further the work of Christ in the church. McDonald seems to assume that the pastor and elders are always and will always be correct about the path of the church at all times. Humans, even ones seeking to serve Christ, just aren’t that flawless.

    If anything, every one of his issues regarding the functional weaknesses of congregational church government is addressed by properly thought out organization. Don’t have a pure democracy. Have procedures for dealing with disunity when it arrives. The NT doesn’t actually give much in the way of instructions for church governance and practice. I’m always uneasy when someone claims to have the “biblical” set-up gathered from what little it does say. The gospel and the church are simple and presented simply in scripture because it is meant to be universal, for all times and cultures. I get the sense the McDonald isn’t getting that. Perhaps he believes that God would want His church to introduce hierarchy when the gospel comes to a communally oriented culture, but I don’t see that in scripture any more than I see a condemnation of congregational church governance.

    Also, I apologize if my response got a little random or disjointed there. I was thinking and typing at the same time. hahaha

  2. He is proposing a system … that puts the pastor and elders on an unquestioned pedestal because….

    This was my first thought.

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