Congregationalism: Part 4 – Authority Over Elders

keysIf the congregation is both able and authorized to affirm or deny who belongs to God and God’s gospel, then this must mean the congregation is able and authorized affirm the gospel itself, and reject a false gospel.

Jeremiah says the law is written on our hearts (Jer. 31:33-34). Paul says we have the Spirit of God and understands things given to us by God (1 Cor. 2:12-13). John says you are anointed and this comes with the necessary knowledge (1 John 2:20, 27).

In Don’t Fire Your Church Members, Jonathan Leeman says this abut recognizing true teaching:

The saints don’t need seminary degrees. They don’t need to be ordained. The Spirit of God provides all the training they need for recognizing a true knowledge of God. And Christ provides the office. The alternative is difficult to fathom: why would God grant that his people be “taught by the Spirit” about “the deep things of God” (1 Cor. 2:10, 13 NIV), and yet not grant them veto power over a false teacher? Paul couldn’t fathom it. He upbraids the Galatian churches for tolerating false teachers (Gal. 1:6-9). (53)

Let’s look at that example in Galatians:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

This letter is written to the churches in Galatia, and Paul’s condemnation is against the churches. This is not written to an elder or a council of elders. Perhaps the false teachers were the elders. If that were the case, Paul’s command to reject false teaching would certainly mean removing the elders responsible for the false teaching. Paul demands that even if an apostle teaches falsely, the churches have the responsibility to do something about it. And I doubt the course of action should be handed off to another office.

Leeman puts it this way:

Paul does not tell the churches in Galatia to remove these false teachers pending the presbytery or the bishop’s approval. One can only imagine the splatter of angry ink on parchment in Paul’s next letter as several members of the Galatian congregations responded to this first letter by writing, “Thank you for your counsel. We have referred this matter to the presbytery for further investigation.” No. Paul expected them to have recognized the problem for themselves already and to have acted. (111)

Indeed, based on this clear command from Paul, every church should give the whole congregation some means to remove false teachers, including elders. The congregation has the responsibility, and therefore the authority, to do so.

I would also assume, if the congregation has this responsibility to remove false teachers, they also have a responsibility to affirm true teaching and its teachers. Therefore, every church should give the congregation some means to appoint elders, who are entrusted with teaching and leading the church in sound doctrine.

Next, we will look at some objections to these interpretations.

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