What is "biblical"?Kenny has written an interesting post on the most biblical form of church government. I’ll be honest. I was very disappointed in it. How could a person suggest a biblical model(s) for church government without mentioning the Old Testament. I’m disappointed, Kenny. Disappointed indeed. Why embrace a Marcionite canon?!?! Why do you only pull from the New Testament for your different models? I have contacted the proper ecclesiastical authorities and you will be swiftly disciplined (excommunicated!).

Calm down, Kenny. I’m joking!

But seriously, I like how Kenny has laid out the different “biblical” models for church government. He observes the following models:

  1. Apostolic
  2. Episcopal
  3. Presbyterian
  4. Congregational

On my first reading of Kenny’s post, I actually wanted to do one of three things. First, I wanted to suggest that, to be fair, there are way more than these four models. Within the broad category of Congregationalism there are a variety of ways that Congregationalism is carried out. The same can be true about different forms of Presbyterianism, etc. But for what it’s worth, I think Kenny’s point was to get us thinking about the fact that our use of “biblical” as an adjective needs to be nuanced a bit. At the very least we should grant that different church polity models all appeal to Scripture. Point granted, Kenny.

Second, I wanted to agree with his point that church’s should be more sensitive (discerning!) about what model will be best for their specific situation. If a church has fifteen people but strongly adheres to a plurality of elders model and requires via their by-laws for seven elders, I’d argue that you are headed in a direction that may become highly unhealthy. Local churches are unique and have different situations at work. Point granted, Kenny.

Third, I want to actually push Kenny further. While he notes these four models and I’m suggesting there are more, I want to drive his point home further by asking this question: where is the Old Testament in your church government models? Better yet, where is the Old Testament in all Christian churches? If the Old Testament we had Patriarchs, Judges, Prophets, Kings, Priests, etc. Those different “offices” called for different forms of government, right? So if we are going to talk about having a “biblical” church government, we need to do better than simply consider twenty seven books of our sixty six book canon. We can’t overlook thirty nine books via our “canon within a canon” thinking. Point expanded, Kenny. Point expanded!

I want to prove (?) Kenny’s point a bit more by suggesting that if we are going to talk about embracing a “biblical” model of government and leadership, we need to realize that it’s far more diverse than we may think. While the New Testament provides a variety of approaches, the Old Testament provides important contributions too.

So let’s assume, for a moment, that Kenny is correct concerning what is best for our churches when it comes to church government. He provides two helpful questions (among others):

“What structures and methods would work best for us as we keep our unique mission and challenges in mind as a congregation?”

“What does our group need in order to truly function based on mission?”

These are excellent questions, Kenny. Job well done. Please forgive me for calling you a Marcionite (have you ever been accused of that?!?!).

All jokes aside, I appreciate where Kenny’s going because he’s simply raising the point that church leadership structures often ignore the pragmatic issue of function. Will having eight pastors in a church of nine help you fulfill the mission of God? Can you function well with that model? Those are great questions. So simply dropping the adjective “biblical” in front of your model may not be as “biblical” as you think. Especially if you ignore the majority of the Bible (Old Testament).

Alright, I’ve gotten that off my chest. Now I want to further this conversation but making a couple of observations:

First, I think there are better models than others. Not all “biblical” models are healthy or even “on the table” for some Evangelicals because they simply see them as impossible. Case in point: the “Apostolic” model. Being that I do not believe there are (A)postles today, I can easily move past that model. Furthermore, I think there are models that have more biblical support than others. For example, I truly believe that on an exegetical level, it’s hard to argue against the plurality of pastoral leaders in local churches. You see it throughout the NT history (cf. Acts 20:17ff) and NT epistles (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-8, etc.).

Second, and related to the first, I think in certain models you have healthier principles at work. The plurality of leaders, regardless of what you call it, is, I think, safer. You have accountability and can save yourself a lot of heartache.

Third, might the emphasis on discerning the Spirit’s work in the local church lead to models that are more effective than a reductionistic perspective that only sees one or two models in the Bible? I think there is some freedom in observing that the Bible offers a number of options for different situations in different stages of the life of the church.

So Kenny the Marcionite has some really helpful thoughts for us to consider. Let’s be careful when we talk about our “biblical” model of church government, especially if we’re ignoring the Old Testament.

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