Baptism Baptist History Baptist Theology Credobaptism Early Church Sufficiency of Scripture

Why I Am A Baptist

In recent years there has been a hesitancy with regard to having “Baptist” in the name of a church or to even label oneself as such. I deeply resonate with folks who feel this way. By the time I graduated from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), I was very discouraged by some of what I saw going on in the SBC. 

That being understood, I’d like to explain why I feel being Baptist is still very important, as well as the fact that being Baptist really has nothing to do with the SBC. My stance is that the SBC’s many recent failures should not discourage someone from being a Baptist. There is a rich Baptist heritage going back over a millennium that should be considered when thinking about church names and congregational beliefs.

As far as church names go, it’s true that having “Baptist” in the name is not a biblical requirement, and that’s not primarily the purpose of this article. Even though there are good reasons for doing so (mainly as one of many guardrails for protecting the body from biblical error for both the present and the future), it’s certainly not a command.

My main purpose here is to show that the historical convictions of Baptists are very important because, on the whole, Baptists have consistently upheld critical truths about God and His Word with greater conviction than other Christian groups. They recognize all of Scripture as God’s Word and desire to treasure and apply all of its teachings to all of life. 

I also find that Baptists overall have been the most dedicated to accurately applying Scripture outside the pretense of creeds, confessions, status, popular opinion, and charismatic personalities. And while not perfect by any means, I find that Baptists have had the best discernment of the Scriptures, because of their deep commitment to God’s Word as the final authority in all matters of faith and practice (Sola Scriptura). They have also shown themselves more able and willing to modify errant beliefs.

And throughout the centuries, Baptists have been the greatest defenders of the supremacy of God’s Word, from the earliest “proto-Baptists” who were martyred for their credobaptist beliefs, to those who took on the established title in more recent centuries after the Protestant Reformation. This deep faithfulness of Baptists to the truths of Scripture has resulted in some of the most impressive and boldest heroes of the faith. 

So I believe that being a Baptist is something to be proud of, not because of tradition or any institution, but because of the biblical principles and precepts it actually stands for, which is mainly the firmly held conviction that the Bible is God-breathed and that Christ is the preeminent King of Glory (James 2:1). Other denominations do the same, but I believe that Baptists do it best. So I feel it is important to look beyond the SBC and recent personal experiences. 

Instead, we should look into the rich history and beliefs of what the word “Baptist” actually stands for, which is a dedicated group of independent congregations that have existed far before the SBC and remains to this day much, much broader than the SBC.  My family has attended and belonged to several Baptist churches that were outside of the SBC, and we have many dear Baptist brothers and sisters in Christ who are in independent Baptist churches or those of other loose Baptist affiliations, and yet all of these are united in Baptist history and Baptist distinctives and we stand side-by-side with them in faith and doctrine. 

A Brief History

As I have studied Baptist history and belief over the years, I found that my heart resonates deeply with the biblical convictions held and sacrifices made by many great Baptists that have come before us. Here are a few of many great Baptists worth considering.

Take Thomas Helwys for example. He was one of the first great English Baptists who died in prison around 1616 as a result of religious persecution by King James I and the Church of England (CoE). Helwys refused to submit to the King and the CoE’s demand to adhere to the Book of Common Prayer stating, “For we do freely profess that our lord the king has no more power over their consciences than over ours, and that is none at all…. For men’s religion to God is between God and themselves. The king shall not answer for it. Neither may the king be judge between God and man. This is made evident to our lord the king by the scriptures.” He was a great defender of religious liberty, freedom of conscience, and the priesthood of the believer. These are all important biblical doctrines that Baptists hold dearly to this day. He fought and gave his life for these convictions that most of us take for granted.

John Bunyan, author of one of the top 10 best-selling books of all time, Pilgrim’s Progress, was also a Baptist. He was a passionate preacher of the Gospel, and also a staunch defender of religious liberty and freedom of conscience, much to the disapproval of the CoE and the monarchy it controlled at the time. Bunyan was in prison for 12 years for refusing to stop preaching without the approval of the CoE and for being a nonconformist. Upon being imprisoned, Bunyan stated, “I will stay in prison till the moss grows on my eye lids rather than disobey God.” I highly recommend his works if you have never read them. His applications of Scripture will have a significant impact on your life.

John Gill is one of the most gifted theologians of all time. He also happens to be Baptist. He is one of the only Christians ever to single-handedly write a commentary on every single verse in the Bible. His accurate application of the Scriptures, knowledge of Hebrew and Greek, all areas of history, and emphasis on the supremacy of Christ’s work have been a major support to the church until this day. He faithfully pastored his church for 51 years which would later be succeeded by none other than Charles Spurgeon.

And of course there is Charles Spurgeon, the Baptist who needs no introduction, the “Prince of Preachers,” who was a passionate Baptist. Besides being perhaps the greatest preacher of all time, he was a great defender of Christian liberty and justice, defending the rights of the oppressed. This included the outward opposition to slavery, which at the time was vigorously upheld by none other than the Southern Baptist Convention. Spurgeon received many threatening and insulting letters from SBC members as a consequence. Nevertheless Spurgeon stood by his convictions of biblical truth, and never backed down.

And there are so many more. I could go on and on about the likes of John Smyth, Roger Williams, and John Clarke, all of whom were great English Baptists of the 16th and 17th centuries who sacrificed to teach and preserve crucial biblical truths like believer’s baptism, freedom of conscience, and the priesthood of the believer. Many do not realize the price that all these men paid so that we can all worship and serve God freely without the coercion of the government or a nationally sanctioned church. These men counted the cost, and decided that full obedience to Christ’s Word and religious liberty was worth the cost. That is primarily what it means to be Baptist.

And well before these early English Baptists, there have been numerous “pre-baptist” or at least baptistic groups and individuals since the very beginning of the church, such as Tertullian and the Montantists of the second century, the Waldenses, the Lollards, and so on whose only authority was Christ and His Word. These groups were all severely persecuted in various ways including imprisonment and death for their refusal to obey the unbiblical practices and beliefs of the Catholic (and sometimes even the Protestant!) church. Most of these ancient Baptist groups are forgotten, but the one commonality among them all is that they all strived to remain faithful to Christ and His Word, even if it meant going against powerful national church institutions.

Further, pages and pages could be written about the many famous Baptist evangelists who dedicated their lives to bringing the Word to the unsaved, like Adoniram and Ann Judson, Billy Graham, William Carey, Gladys Aylward, and Lottie Moon.  Baptists have always been passionate about evangelism and missions and founded many of the enduring missions organizations that endure to this day and continue to bring the good news all around the world. And there are many modern-day baptists like John Piper, D.A. Carson, and Alistair Begg who are Baptist not because of the SBC, but Baptist by conviction regarding what the Bible teaches.

So my appeal to you is to remember that being a Baptist is not about being a part of the SBC or past experience. There is a deep and rich history of upholding God’s Word without compromise that goes back over a millennium, at least as far back as the great Tertullian. Baptists have always upheld the values of the Reformation before there even was a Reformation — even before there was Luther. The Baptist heritage is one to be very proud of and not to be easily forgotten or discarded.

Critical Distinct Baptist Doctrines

But how much this matters is determined by Scripture. Even if there is a rich history of Baptist heroes going back over a millenia, what are the biblical doctrines that these men and women of the faith counted so dearly? Here is a brief summary of common Baptist distinctives–beliefs which collectively are utterly unique among other denominations and yet are the defining marks of what it means to be Baptist, whether independent, SBC, or other Baptist affiliation:

  1. Biblical Authority – The Bible is the final authority in all matters of faith and practice, because the Bible is inspired and breathed out by God. It bears the absolute authority of God Himself. Whatever the Bible affirms, Baptists accept as divine truth. No human opinion, church institution, or government can override the authority of God’s Word. Final authority is not found in popes, bishops, church councils, or any other group’s consent. Even creeds and confessions of faith, which attempt to articulate the theology of Scripture, do not carry Scripture’s divine authority. 2 Timothy 3:15–17; 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Peter 1:20, 21
  2. Autonomy of the Local Church – The local church is an independent body accountable ultimately to the Lord Jesus Christ, the King and Head of the church. All human authority for governing the local church resides within the local church itself. Thus the church is autonomous, or self-governing. No religious hierarchy outside the local church may dictate a church’s beliefs or practices. Autonomy does not mean isolation. A Baptist church may fellowship with other churches around mutual interests and in an associational tie, but a Baptist church cannot be a “member” of any other body. Colossians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 8:1–5, 19, 23
  3. Priesthood of the Believer – “Priest” is defined as “one authorized to perform the sacred rites of a religion, especially as a mediatory agent between humans and God.” Every believer today is a priest of God and may enter into His presence in prayer directly through our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ. No other mediator is needed between God and people. As priests, although no Christian is infallible, we can study and apply God’s Word for ourselves and each other, pray for others, and offer spiritual worship to God. We all have equal access to God—whether we are a pastor or not. 1 Peter 2:5, 9; Revelation 5:9, 10
  4. Two Ordinances – The local church should practice two ordinances: (1) baptism of believers by immersion in water, identifying the individual with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection, and (2) the Lord’s Supper, or communion, commemorating His death for our sins. Matthew 28:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 11:23–32
  5. Individual Soul (Religious) Liberty – Every individual, whether a believer or an unbeliever, has the liberty to choose what he believes is right in the religious realm. No one should be forced to assent to any belief against his will. Baptists have always opposed religious persecution. However, this liberty does not exempt one from responsibility to the Word of God or from accountability to God Himself. Romans 14:5, 12; 2 Corinthians 4:2; Titus 1:9
  6. Saved, Baptized Church Membership – Local church membership is restricted to individuals who give a believable testimony of personal faith in Christ and have according to Christ’s command, publicly identified themselves with Him in biblical believer’s baptism. When the members of a local church are believers, a oneness in Christ exists, and the members can endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Membership however would not exclude Christian paedobaptists (who hold to infant baptism) since these, who are also members of heaven, should not be excluded as members of the local church. Acts 2:41–47; 1 Corinthians 12:12; 2 Corinthians 6:14; Ephesians 4:3
  7. Two Offices – The Bible mandates only two offices in the church–elder and deacon. The three terms—“pastor,” “elder,” and “bishop,” or “overseer”—all refer to the same office. The two offices of pastor and deacon exist within the local church, not as a hierarchy outside or over the local church. 1 Timothy 3:1–13; Acts 20:17–38; Philippians 1:1
  8. Congregational Governance – Through the example of the Early Church and instructions of the New Testament, the local church is to be governed according to the consent of the whole congregation, with the caring oversight and shepherding of the elders by example. God has given clear instructions that major decisions of the church such as officer election,  church discipline, and preservation of biblical truth should involve the consent of the whole congregation. Acts 1:15-26; Acts 6:1-6; Acts 15:1-35; 1 Corinthians 12:26; Galatians 1:6-9; 2 Corinthians 1:1-7; Matthew 18:15-17
  9. Separation of Church and State – God established both the church and the civil government, and He gave each its own distinct sphere of operation. The government’s purposes are outlined in Romans 13:1–7 and the church’s purposes in Matthew 28:19 and 20. Neither should control the other, nor should there be an alliance between the two. Christians in a free society can properly influence the government toward righteousness, which is not the same as a denomination or group of churches controlling the government. Christians are citizens of heaven and are to set their minds on heavenly things, not dominion of earthly governments. Matthew 22:15–22; Acts 5:17–29; Philippians 3:20; Colossians 3:15; Colossians 3:2

Adapted from here.


I hope that at least some of this has been helpful and given you some things to think about as far as the weightiness and beauty of what “Baptist” actually means.

Throughout the centuries, Baptists have been Baptists whether or not it was popular, because they were people who passionately treasured Scripture to their own hurt, even if it meant ridicule, persecution, or even death. I encourage everyone to consider the rich heritage of what it means to be Baptist and be careful to not to easily discount the incredible history of Baptists that is so deeply rooted in sound biblical doctrine and marked by the lives of so many Baptists who have sacrificed their life’s work, even their blood, so that we could all enjoy the religious freedoms we enjoy today. 

So when you think of “Baptist,” I would encourage you to associate your thoughts with what “Baptist” actually means — a richness and heritage of biblical convictions..

If you would like to learn more about Baptist history, it is very much worth the time. Here are a few resources I recommend.

Exegetical Inerrancy Reformers Sufficiency of Scripture

The Sufficiency Of Scripture

Before the end of the first century, several of the early churches were already falling into serious biblical error. The age of the apostles had not yet ended. In fact, John the apostle was still alive. One of those errors was the teaching of antinomianism, which teaches the freedom to sin. Several churches were dealing with the indulgence of sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. In Revelation 2 we see God either warning or commending these churches, depending on how they responded to these false teachings.

I point this out to show that it does not take long for a church to veer off course and into serious biblical error. This has always been a potential danger and the early church was no exception. With each passing century the early church became more and more corrupt with a lust for power and an embrace of increasingly false teaching. Before the end of the third century numerous churches already accepted teachings that were in opposition to the gospel, such as baptismal regeneration, which teaches salvation through baptism. 

By the 12th century, the Roman Catholic Church was in full power over both the people and the government with all of its corruption, and the Scriptures were intentionally hidden from the people, in order that the church could maintain its power and control. Very few people could know Jesus because the Scriptures were not widely available in the language of the common people, and the church at large did not teach the Gospel. The sermons were in Latin. Why did this happen? Because the church did not stay faithful to God’s Word and loved power and influence more than the truth.

In the 14th century John Wycliffe published an English version of the Bible based on the Latin Vulgate, against the approval of the Roman Catholic Church. He also published many writings against the false teachings of the Catholic church. Because of what he had done the Catholics despised Wycliffe. They hated him with such bitterness that 43 years after his death, his body was dug up from the grave and his remains burned and thrown into the river as he was pronounced a heretic. However, the spread of his work could not be stopped.

Later in the 16th century, on the heels of what John Wycliffe began, God raised up even more brave men like Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and John Rogers. These men risked their lives to restore the Word of God to the people. Two of these men, Tyndale and Rogers, were horrifically burned alive for their bible translations and their speaking out against false doctrine. Because of men like these, you and I are able to sit comfortably today in an air-conditioned room and read the Scriptures.

In 1536, John Rogers watched the body of his dear friend William Tyndale eventually drop into the flames as he was burned at the stake for translating the New Testament into English from the original languages for the first time in history. After Tyndale’s death, Rogers knew that he had to complete his mission, and that mission was to finish the work of Tyndale, which was the translation of the Old Testament into English from the Hebrew manuscripts for the first time ever. The very next year in 1537, under that pseudonym Thomas Mathew, the work was finished, and for the first time in history, English-speaking people had access to the entire Bible, translated from the original languages.

What John Rogers did was illegal. At the time the Roman Catholic Church falsely taught that the Bible was too advanced for the common man to understand. Rogers rightly disagreed. He was despised by the Catholics. He was eventually arrested, tried, and sentenced to be burned at the stake. In 1555, after a long imprisonment, he was marched to a large pile of wood and brush to be burned alive. Along the way to his death he passed by his wife and nine of his eleven children.

In Foxe’s Book of Martyrs it is said that Rogers refused to recant his rejection of transubstantiation. He would not recant. He believed, as the Bible teaches, in the sufficiency of Christ’s work on the cross. When he was asked to recant, John Rogers bravely replied, “That which I have preached I will seal with my blood.” Following this answer, Rogers was burned alive. He was the first of nearly 300 martyrs under the reign of Queen Mary I, also known as “Bloody Mary.”

How is it that a man can be so brave that he could watch his best friend be burned alive and then continue doing the very same work that got his friend killed, only to eventually face the very same fate? Because John Rogers treasured God and the perfect Truth of His Word, which taught Him how to know and serve God above all else. He poured out his life for all so that they too could know the life and teachings of Christ spread to the world through the words and writings of the apostles.

Shortly before his death in a letter to his family, Rogers wrote from prison saying,

Where I, among my iron bands,  inclosed in the dark, Not many days before my death,  I did compose this work And for example to your youth,  to whom I wish all good, I send you here God’s perfect truth,  and seal it with my blood. …

“God’s perfect truth.” That was the source of his bravery. Rogers sacrificed himself for the good of others so that they could have access to God’s perfect sufficient truth, so that they could also learn about Jesus and follow Him. And that is what I want to talk about today — the sufficiency of God’s perfect truth. The sufficiency of Scripture.

One of many biblical texts that teaches the sufficiency and supreme importance of trusting God’s truth as written by the apostles is found in 2 Thessalonians chapter 2. 

In this chapter we see that the church in Thessalonica is in distress. They are being deceived into believing that Jesus has already returned. The text says that they were being “shaken” and “alarmed” in their minds about what was being taught. “Alarmed” here also means “frightened” or “troubled.” What was the source of their trouble? Verse 2 explains that there was a person or persons who claimed to have a spirit or a prophetic utterance, and they were speaking and writing letters claiming that the Lord had already returned.

Paul goes on to exhort the Thessalonians saying, “Let no one deceive you.” It’s impossible that the Lord has already returned. In verse 5 he asks a rhetorical question, “Do you not remember what I already told you when I was with you?” He says, “I already told you what has to happen before Christ’s return. Do you not remember? Why are you being deceived?” But out of the love and grace Paul had for the Thessalonians, he goes on to explain everything to them again to reassure and calm their troubled minds.

Now after re-explaining everything, in verse 13 Paul further encourages the church by reminding them that God has chosen them to be saved and to be sanctified and made holy by the Spirit. Paul says to them, “God has saved you. He chose you. He is at work in you right now in you through the Spirit, and some day the Lord will return, and you will be with Him, but He is not here yet.

Then in verse 15, Paul makes a major shift in the tense and tone of the letter. He goes from reminding and encouraging them to speaking in the imperative tense. He commands them saying, “Based on everything I and the other apostles have taught you, and based on what I have just told you again, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by US, whether by our spoken word or by our letter.” He is saying, “Do NOT deviate from what we have spoken or written to you. Remain firmly and strongly convicted of the teaching you have already received from us.”

Then later in chapter 3, Paul twice commands the church to follow the instructions that they have received from him. In chapter 3 verse 6 he says, Now we command you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from every brother or sister who is idle and does not live according to the tradition received from us. (2Th 3:6 CSB)

Then again in verse 14 he says, “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take note of that person; don’t associate with him, so that he may be ashamed. Yet don’t consider him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.”  (2Th 3:14-15 CSB)

This is incredibly important to understand. Paul says if a church is troubled and even frightened regarding teaching that contradicts the teachings of himself and the other apostles, that church is to refer back to what has already been written. He says if there is an issue pertaining to biblical doctrine or the church, refer to the instructions already received from the apostles.

Now Paul makes it even more emphatic that the apostolic writings to Thessalonica and other churches who would have received this letter are not optional. In chapter 3 verse 6 he says that what he has written is a command in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. And in chapter 3 verse 13 he says if someone refuses to obey what has been written that they are to have nothing else to do with him in order to warn him as a brother.

Now notice that the warning Paul gives in chapter 3 verse 13 is not even about a major doctrine such as the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith. It’s in the context of a smaller issue regarding someone who is being lazy and not willing to work. And Paul says, “If someone does not obey what we have said in the letter about idleness, have nothing to do with him for his own good.” And remember he just said in verse 6 that this was a command in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. So if Paul’s command about something so small as laziness is this strong, how much more important are the biblical writings about even greater things?

What does this mean for the local church? It means that like the church at Thessalonica, the local church must hold fast with firm conviction to all the writings of the apostles. There are not some that can be treated with less concern. The local church must consider all the writings of the apostles as the words and commands of Christ Himself.

This truth about Scripture is further supported in Paul’s first letter to Timothy in chapter 6. In the previous chapters of this letter, Paul has given instructions on how to address issues in the church such as falsely teaching abstinence from marriage and certain foods, how to treat older men and women, how to support and instruct widows and orphans, and how masters should treat their slaves. At the end of all this instruction, Paul says in 6:3-4, 

If anyone teaches false doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing, but has an unhealthy interest in disputes and arguments over words. From these come envy, quarreling, slander, evil suspicions, and constant disagreement among people whose minds are depraved and deprived of the truth, who imagine that godliness is a way to material gain. (1Ti 6:3-5 CSB)

Paul equates his instructions for the church with the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. And several more times throughout this letter, Paul reinforces the absolute authoritativeness of his own apostolic traditions and writings.

In 1 Timothy 3:14 he says,

I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon. But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1Ti 3:14-15 CSB)

Here Paul equates his instruction as an authoritative blueprint for how God’s church is to be ordered, and as the church obeys this blueprint, they are functioning as the household of God, a pillar and foundation of the truth.

In 1 Timothy 4:6 he says,

If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, nourished by the words of the faith and the good teaching that you have followed. (1Ti 4:6 CSB)

Paul says that if you, Timothy, point out the things that I have taught you to the church, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, and you will be nourished by the words of the faith and the good teaching you have followed.

Later in verse 11 to reinforce the authoritativeness of his instructions he says, 

Command and teach these things. (1Ti 4:11 CSB)

And perhaps the most well-known passage about the divine inspiration and authority of the Scriptures is 2 Timothy 3:16-17 which says,

All Scripture is inspired and breathed by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

In light of these truths, every local church needs to ask some questions. Do we believe that all Scripture, every word, the writings of both the prophets and the apostles, are breathed out by God Himself? Do we believe that it is ALL profitable for teaching? For rebuking? For correction? For training in righteousness? 

Do we believe that ALL Scripture is given by God so that any man or any woman of God may be made complete and equipped for EVERY good work? 

As each local church seeks direction, one thing is clear. It must hold fast to the biblical teaching that Scripture, the teachings of the prophets and apostles, are sufficient to equip us for every good work that God would have us to do.

With these truths in mind, let’s look at some practical applications:

  1. First, when there is a question or uncertainty about what direction the local church is to take as a body or even as an individual Christian, the first question to ask is, what does God say through His prophets and apostles? What teaching of the apostles or prophets from Scripture either directly or even indirectly addresses this question?

    Because if Scripture really is sufficient to equip us for every good work, then everything needed to know about the good works God wants us to do is already in the Scriptures. Any “good work” that God wants a Christian to do, God has already made provision in his Word for training the Christian in it. There is no “good work” that God wants us to do other than those that are taught somewhere in Scripture: because God’s Word says it will equip us for “every good work.” The good works that God wants the church and individuals in the church to do are sufficiently defined in Scripture.

    Now of course Scripture isn’t going to tell us what time to meet, what music to sing, or how to arrange the chairs, but Scripture is sufficient to train us in every good work that God would have us to do both as a body and as individuals.
  2. Second, if the local church becomes troubled or doubtful as an individual or as a body regarding a matter of faith or biblical teaching, it should do as Paul instructed Thessalonica. Go back and review the traditions and teachings of the apostles and the prophets which are breathed out by God.

    Additionally each local church member, including its leaders, should exercise prayerful caution when reading other theologians, or pastors, or teachers, or authors, and we need to look more to what the plain teaching of Scripture in proper context says, because that is what the apostles instructed the churches to do.

    Now other resources can be very useful if they are biblical. There are many incredible biblical resources out there. But if we are looking at these resources first or looking at these with a priority that holds them as equal to or even above the plain teaching of Scripture, this is not what God in His Word says we should do. The prophets and apostles tell us that the Scriptures they have written are sufficient by themselves to tell us what we need to know and do.

  3. The prophets and apostles also teach that Scripture is perspicuous, which is a fancy word that means Scripture is clear. This does not mean that there aren’t difficult things in Scripture, but it does mean that the overwhelming majority of the Bible is clear in the essentials of all that it teaches, especially relating to the individual Christian and the Church as a whole.

    In fact, Scripture is so clear that the prophets and apostles command God’s people to teach it to their children.

    Ephesians 6:4 says, Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

    Deuteronomy 6:6-7 says, And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.

    Scripture is also so clear, that even the simple-minded can read it, understand it, and become wise by it.

    Psalm 19:7 says, The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.

    Proverbs 1:20-22 says, Wisdom cries aloud in the street… “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?”

    God’s Word insists and demands that even children and the simple-minded can understand it and become wise by it. And if Scripture can be understood by children and the simple-minded, then we do not need to fear arguments from supposed theologians and teachers that tell us that Scripture does not mean what it plainly says in proper context.

    Neither the prophets or the apostles ever suggest that historical, cultural, or scientific context is needed to understand their writings. They simply teach that the Scriptures, in and of themselves, are sufficient for the good works that God would have us to do. Contextual background can be very useful in enhancing our understanding, but it is not a requirement, nor should it ever contradict the plain and obvious meaning of the text, as many try to do in our day.

    Make no mistake, the devil has been lying and creating doubt about what God has plainly and clearly said from the beginning in the garden, when he asked Eve, “Did God really say?” To this day, the devil is fooling many about both the meaning and authority of the Scriptures. The devil is a liar. The devil is the father of lies. Do not be fooled. The teachings of the prophets and the apostles are the words of God and they are sufficient for every good work that God would have His people do.
  1. Thirdly, if any local church desires to build a strong biblical foundation, then each church must stand firm and hold fast to the traditions and teachings of the prophets and the apostles. And if the local church desires God’s blessing, it must hold fast to God’s Word, and it must hold it with conviction and zeal.

    God expects us to not only obey His Word but to do it with a zealous love for Him. In Rev 2:2-4,to the Church in Ephesus God said, “I know that you have persevered and endured hardships for the sake of my name, and have not grown weary. But I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first.”. Romans 12:11 says, Do not lack diligence in zeal; be fervent in the Spirit; serve the Lord. (Rom 12:11 CSB)

    For God to be with the local church on its journey, it must strive to trust and obey all of His Word with firm conviction and zealous love.
  2. Fourthly and lastly, the purpose of the church itself must be remembered, which is to exceedingly love and serve God with all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength…that we might give Him all the glory. How do we do that? By worshiping Him in spirit and in truth. The Father is seeking those who worship Him in spirit and truth. We worship Him with our whole spirit, our whole heart, according to His truth….according to the truth He has left for us through the teachings of the prophets and the apostles….as John Rogers called it….God’s perfect truth.

    Again that means some questions. Do we believe these Scriptures are God’s perfect truth? Do we believe that they are sufficient for teaching us how to know Christ, how to walk with Him, both as individuals and as a body? The apostles say they are sufficient. Do we trust the apostles? Are we going to trust that all they taught is from God and do what it says by faith and with zeal?

    If the local church obeys and follows the teachings of Christ and the apostles with conviction, God will bless what we are doing, not necessarily by increasing our numbers, but by blessing it with an increasingly deeper relationship with Him and with one another. And that is what matters.

    And so each local church should heed these things to avoid wandering off course and losing God’s favor, as God Himself warns. 

In closing, I want to leave you with the words of John Rogers who we talked about earlier. Shortly before being burned at the stake, he wrote some advice to his family while he was in prison. I quoted a short excerpt of this at the beginning of this message. As I read this, I ask that you listen closely to the heart of his message in order to understand why he was willing to die courageously and without fear, because he stood firm and held fast to God’s Word, and he was willing at all costs to make God’s Word, God’s perfect truth, accessible to the people. 

As you listen to these words, ask yourself some questions, Do you believe that the Scriptures are God’s perfect truth and are you willing to stand firm and hold fast to everything it teaches, even in the face of disagreement, unpopular opinion, or ridicule? 

Do you believe the Scriptures are so clear as to be understandable by children and the simple-minded to make them wise? Do you believe that the Scriptures contain all the commands and teachings of the Lord Jesus Himself that can equip us for every good work He wants us to do, and are to be cherished and followed with zeal? 

With that let me read the rest of John Rogers’ advice to his family before his execution. Remember that he wrote these words knowing he would be burned alive.

Give ear my children to my words Whom God hath dearly bought,
Lay up his laws within your heart, and print them in your thoughts.
I leave you here a little book for you to look upon,
That you may see your father's face when he is dead and gone:
Who for the hope of heavenly things, While he did here remain,
Gave over all his golden years to prison and to pain.
Where I, among my iron bands, inclosed in the dark,
Not many days before my death, I did compose this work:
And for example to your youth, to whom I wish all good,
I send you here God's perfect truth, and seal it with my blood. …
Give honor to your mother dear, remember well her pain,
And recompence her in her age, with the like love again. …
Beware of foul and filthy lust, let such things have no place,
Keep clean your vessels in the LORD, that he may you embrace.
Ye are the temples of the LORD, for you are dearly bought,
And they that do defile the same, shall surely come to nought.
Be never proud by any means, build not your house too high,
But always have before your eyes, that you are born to die. …
Seek first, I say, the living GOD, and always him adore,
And then be sure that he will bless, your basket and your store.
And I beseech Almighty GOD, replenish you with grace,
That I may meet you in the heavens, and see you face to face. …
Though here my body be adjudg'd in flaming fire to fry,
My soul I trust, will straight ascend to live with GOD on high.
What though this carcase smart awhile what though this life decay,
My soul I hope will be with GOD, and live with him for aye.
I know I am a sinner born, from the original,
And that I do deserve to die by my fore-father's fall:
But by our SAVIOUR'S precious blood, which on the cross was spilt,
Who freely offer'd up his life, to save our souls from guilt;
I hope redemption I shall have, and all who in him trust,
When I shall see him face to face, and live among the just.
Why then should I fear death's grim look since CHRIST for me did die,
For King and Caesar, rich and poor, the force of death must try.
When I am chained to the stake,
and fagots girt me round,
Then pray the LORD
my soul in heaven may be with glory crown'd.
Come welcome death the end of fears, I am prepar'd to die:
Those earthly flames will send my soul up to the Lord on high.
Farewell my children to the world, where you must yet remain;
The LORD of hosts be your defence, 'till we do meet again.
Farewell my true and loving wife, my children and my friends,
I hope in heaven to fee you a11, when all things have their end.
If you go on to serve the LORD, as you have now begun,
You shall walk safely all your days, until your life be done.
GOD grant you so to end your days, as he shall think it best,
That I may meet you in the heavens, where I do hope to rest.
Baptism Early Church Paedobaptism

List of early church primary sources on baptism for research

Ambrose, On the Sacraments.

Ambrose, On the Mysteries.

John Chrysostom, Baptismal Instructions.

John Chrysostom, Homily 25 on John.

Cyprian, Letter 58.

Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 19-21.

Gregory of Nazianzus, Oration on Baptism 28.

Hippolytus, Apostolic Tradition 16-23.

Justin Martyr, 1 Apology 61-62.

Origen, Homilies on Leviticus 8.3.

Origen, Homilies on Luke 14.

Origen, Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans 5.9.

Tertullian, On Baptism.

Theodore of Mopsuestia, Baptismal Homilies.

Whitaker: Documents of the Baptismal Liturgy Edward C. Whitaker

Christology Exegetical Grace

If God is For Us, Who Can Be Against Us? An Exegesis of Romans 8:31-39

Romans 8:31-39 is a passage that bears the very lifeblood of the gospel. It is about the reality of God’s love for us, which He has been able to show through the giving of His only Son. It is an intimate articulation of election and an emotional exposition of the astounding truth of the believer’s position in Christ. This passage is an excellent text to assure the believer of his security in Christ. It leaves no room for antinomianism, yet the passage is clear that God is the one who has made us righteous, and He is the one who will keep us righteous.

The research paper linked below takes a deep look at the grammatical and theological applications of one of the most beloved chapters in all of Scripture. I hope it is as much of a blessing to you to read it as it was for me to write it!


Church Government Ecclesiology

Biblical review of the office of elder/pastor and its requirements

The following is a bulleted word study of the most prominent passages which address the requirements for the office of elder. This section is not exhaustive by any means but seeks to be comprehensive enough as to get a good sense of the high calling of eldership. Some applications have also been added in effort to enhance and assist in thinking through the implications of these requirements.

  1. Not under compulsion – (ἀναγκαστῶς) An elder is to fulfill his office willingly (Also “deliberately” or “voluntarily”), not forcing oneself to do it out of duty. (1 Peter 5:1-5)
  2. Not domineering – An elder is not to act as a master or lord. (κατακυριεύω) (1 Peter 5:3) Worldly leaders lead as masters and lords (absolute authority), but elders should not. A worldly leadership style is displeasing in the sight of Christ. (Matthew 20:25-26) Christ says those who would be first among His people must be a servant (διάκονος, one who executes the commands of another) and a slave (δοῦλος, one who sacrificially gives himself up to another’s will for the sake of advancing Christ) to one another. There is no biblical justification for an elder to be considered a “boss” or as one with unquestionable authority.
  3. As an example – An elder is to lead as “an example to be imitated.” (τύπος) (1 Peter 5:3). The Greek literally says τύποι γινόμενοι (“example becoming”). In other words, an elder is to continuously become or prove himself as an example of Christ worthy of imitation to others. An elder is to continuously work on becoming someone who is worthy of being imitated. This means they must always be open to correction, otherwise they cannot become aware if they are failing to meet this requirement. The congregation submits to the elder’s lead willingingly. The elder’s disposition should be one that facilitates, builds up, encourages, and suggestively guides. A servant leader desires to step out of the way of the congregation so they can play their part in the church according to the gifts given them. An elder does not seek to control and micro-manage his congregation.
  4. Seeking the crown of glory – An elder seeks an imperishable, heavenly crown (στέφανος) which is given to those who fulfill the office of elder according to the biblical requirements listed above. His desire is not for earthly status or gain. That is why the calling and expectations of this office are so incredibly high and very few seek it. (1 Peter 5:4; James 3:1)
  5. Clothed in humility – An elder (and all of God’s people) are to lower themselves and their rank towards one another and to God. (ταπεινόω). The purpose of this humility is to trust that God will exalt each of His children in the proper time. To elevate ourselves to a position higher than we ought robs God of His glory and leads men to take credit for their efforts according to their own strength, rather than giving all credit to God. (1 Peter 5:6; Judges 7:2). God’s power is made perfect in our humility and weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)
  6. Noble – Or worthy of praise (καλός). 1 Timothy 3:2 reads literally, “it is a praiseworthy work he desires to do.” As the congregation observes the actions of an elder, they should be able to praise him for what he has done as they look back.
  7. Above reproach – (ἀνεπίλημπτος) An elder strives to be unrebukeable. He should not do anything that could possibly evoke severe criticism or censure according to God’s Word (literally “that cannot be laid hold of”). His character should display the fruit of the Spirit in all circumstances, and it should exceed the character of those who are under his charge. If he is reproached, he should be able and willing to explain his actions and words from a biblical standpoint, but if he cannot, he must keep a soft heart so that he can quickly ask for forgiveness and make changes where necessary. His sheep know the shepherd is not perfect. A hard-hearted pastor who cannot easily admit mistakes will not be able to remain above reproach due to pride. “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2) Pride comes before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18) Pride will swallow a man whole. God will assuredly reprove him severely if he persists. But a tender-hearted shepherd is sensitive to the enduring sickness of the heart (Jeremiah 17:9) and is always searching its depths for any sin that offends God according to His Word. (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6)
  8. Temperate – (νηφάλιος) Or sober. Historically applied to immoderate use of wine, but can be applied principally as well. An elder abstains from addiction to and even over-indulgence of pleasures. He avoids intoxication and inebriation from external substances that could affect his ability to shepherd God’s people with a sober and rational mind. That is not to say that he cannot enjoy God-given pleasures, but they should not control, consume, or become an idol to him. (1 Timothy 3:2; also v. 3 regarding “drunkenness”)
  9. Self-controlled – (σώφρων) Or sensible. An elder strives to curb his desires and impulsive behavior. He avoids passionate outbursts and seeks to behave with good reason and a sound mind at all times. Even biblical and Spirit-led expressions of passion are to be kept in check as to avoid uncontrolled impulses. An elder also avoids being controlled by pre-formed biases that lead to impulsive judgments and may inhibit sound and sensible reasoning, so that he may discern matters with impartiality. (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:8)
  10. Respectable – (κόσμιος) An elder should have a well-ordered life in terms of his behavior. An outside observer should be able to conclude that the overall behavior and life of an elder is complementary and worthy of respect. His life should be well-ordered, not chaotic. An elder lives a life of modesty. (1 Timothy 3:2)
  11. Hospitable – (φιλόξενος) An elder behaves generously towards others and acts fondly of those that visit him, especially those that are in his care. He seeks to make them feel welcome and comfortable around him under all circumstances. (1 Timothy 3:2: Titus 1:8)
  12. Able to teach – (διδακτικός) An elder is able to teach both the Scriptures and in general. Literally, he is apt to teach, meaning he cannot help but to be a teacher. He is given to teaching. It is a natural tendency for him. He has a desire for it. It is an essential and inevitable part of who an elder is. And he is always seeking to improve his skill. This also implies that an elder is an effective communicator and is able to articulate what he teaches in a clear and understandable way to any types and mixtures of audiences (of which he is always mindful). (1 Timothy 3:2)
  13. Not eager to argue – (πλήκτης) Or pugnacious. This especially is important because Paul repeats this qualification with two different words in the same verse. The elder does not seek out debates and quarrels. He is not driven by a contentious spirit. An elder is not a bully. However, the elder does not ignore and evade disagreement. When confronted and challenged, the elder seeks to answer graciously, gently, and biblically in order that others may also be guided in the truth as well. (1 Timothy 3:3; 1 Peter 3:15; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Titus 1:7; etc.) (See also ἄμαχος in v. 3)
  14. Gentle – (ἐπιεικής) Or fair, mild-mannered, patient. This word is elsewhere used in the context of showing graciousness (Philemon 4:5), mercy (James 3:17), and without pretense (James 3:17). The sense is that an elder is mild-mannered, an excellent listener, and has a pure and impartial heart that desires only the good of those who come to him. (1 Timothy 3:3)
  15. Not covetous – (ἀφιλάργυρος) Or greedy. The word is more specifically in the context of loving money, but can be principally applied to anything that can be an object of greed and covetousness. The elder does not covetously seek or desire profit or gain. This can apply to many things such as money, possessions, power, and popularity. The Greek word is where we get the word “avaricious” from, which means a greed for wealth and material gain. (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:7)
  16. Not overbearing – (αὐθάδης) Or self-willed, arrogant. An elder is one who is not driven by his own conceit. He is not caught up in his own sense of self-importance. He is not eager to assert his position of authority. (e.g. 2 Corinthians 10:1-18; Philemon 1:8-9) Even the apostle Paul wrote, “although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. ” An elder seeks first to humble himself. In Luke 14:11 Christ said, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Titus 1:7)
  17. Not quick tempered – (ὀργίλος) Or prone to anger. Literally, easily angered. This complements the requirements for an elder to be temperate and self-controlled. An easily-angered man is not fit for the office of elder because anger does not produce the righteousness of God (James 1:20), but rather the fruit of the Spirit which includes patience, kindness, and long-suffering (Galatians 5:22-23). An elder must be slow to wrath. The elder must excel as an example of these spiritual traits. (Titus 1:7)
  18. Lover of good – (φιλάγαθος) Or fond of what is good. An elder is full of goodness in his heart and desires to promote what is good in the sight of God and others — not in a political or earthly sense, but simply because of his love for goodness and desire to glorify God. (1 Corinthians 10:31) He sets an example as one who strives to meditate on and be driven by good and praiseworthy things. (Titus 1:7; Philippians 4:8)
  19. Just – (δίκαιος) Or rendering to each his due. The office of elder carries judicial responsibility. The elder must judge impartially according to sufficient evidence and testimonies presented to him. This implies that the elder must be aware of his own biases and mental tendencies in order that he can use objective discernment in judicial matters, especially those that are of significant and serious importance. (Titus 1:7; James 2:1-5; Proverbs 31:9; Proverbs 16:11)
  20. Devout – (ὅσιος) Or pious toward God. An elder sets an example as one single-mindedly focused on serving God and willfully following Him in all His ways while actively abhorring and avoiding what displeases Him. Every area of his life, both public and private, should be driven by his pursuit of holiness. (Titus 1:7)
  21. Hold fast the word – (ἀντέχω) Literally to hold before or against. To keep oneself directly opposite to anyone. An elder cleaves to the truth of God’s Word. He is opposed to anything and any person that opposes its truth. His grasp of the word is sound and stable, and he is able to both encourage by it and refute those who contradict it. (Titus 1:9)

Grace – Part 2: The Libor Scandal And Our Desperate Need Of God

Several years ago, widespread corruption among the world’s biggest banks emerged out of conspiracy theory into breaking world news, revealing the long hidden secret that what are known as Libor rates had been illegally manipulated for decades. Libor rates significantly affect everything from mortgages to student loans. As banks falsely reported artificially low borrowing rates, these banks were implicated together in the theft of many billions of dollars from millions upon millions of people. The magnitude of corruption was epically historic, not only in an international sense, but spiritually speaking was representative of the volume and degree of mass-coordinated evil that exists in broad daylight, as well as a truly perfect example of mankind’s utter and desperate need of God’s grace to have hope of salvation from the idolatry of money.

As Jesus said in the gospels…it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God. He said this for good reason. Money buys power, and power feels good. Incredibly good. It is nearly impossible for any man to resist, and only by the grace of God can any man be loosened from its seductive grip.

As many remain in money’s deceptively warm embrace, they continue their dark deeds in the swarm of industry. They are busy. They are important. They have significant responsibilities. Their vocational achievements give them purpose and identity. Their hearts are satiated with the fruits of their labor, and they are happy. The inebriation of accomplishment and financial accumulation flows in their veins, and it feels incredible. It feels right. They will not stop. They will never stop.

But lest we think ourselves better, there are many expressions of idolatry and thus many ways in which hearts darkened by sin find themselves starved of grace.

Some idolize the mind, having clothed themselves in the intellectual robes of religion and philosophy, persuading themselves and others that the Christian God is dead; that God cannot be defined or known in any narrow sense. “God is what you want him to be,” they say.

And still many idolize self-gain as civilly abused victims of under-privilege. They are common men, swallowed by self-pity and perpetually ailed by oppression. They cry against the elite who abuse them. Their life is strained and full of desperation. They chronically complain about every injustice and wander aimlessly on their journey without seeking the God of refuge. Though their woes are real, their hearts turn inwardly to themselves or the salvation of men instead of to the God in whom is their salvation.

There are others who idolize power as disguised as shepherds but are in truth vicious wolves. Their mouths salivate as they prey upon the weak and the innocent. Within the confines of their religious and philanthropic institutions they lie and deceive, seeking power and wealth, abusing their cause for their own personal gain. They distort the truth and mislead those with weaker minds, using them as puppets to accomplish their self-serving plans.

And the list goes on.

Each of these scenarios follow a common theme…men idolatrously lifting up in their worldly efforts to find identity and purpose in themselves; to attain a satisfied and valuable existence. These are the pursuits of men starved of grace and ignorant of the incomprehensible value they already have as humans made in the image of God, created for a life lived in harmony pleasing the only true and living God. As David wrote thousands of years ago:

Their idols are silver and gold,
the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them. Psalm 115:4-8

Without the grace that comes through Christ, none of us can turn away from our idols, not a single one. And we will always be defined by them, rather than our Creator. For those of us who have tasted the grace and goodness of God, let us always remember how ever desperate we are for God’s continued loving kindnesses and always give Him thanks. Without His undeserved love we could never have ears to hear or eyes to see.


Who the Christian is in Christ

In Christ by His mercy and grace….

…I am accepted:

  • I am God’s child (John 1:12)
  • I am Christ’s friend (John 15:15)
  • I have been justified (Romans 5:1)
  • I am united with the Lord and one with Him in spirit (1 Corinthians 6:17)
  • I have been bought with a price—I belong to God (1 Corinthians 6:20)
  • I am a member of Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:27)
  • I am a saint (Ephesians 1:1)
    I have been adopted as God’s child (Ephesians 1:5)
  • I have direct access to God through the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:18)
  • I have been redeemed and forgiven of all my sins (Colossians 1:14)
  • I am complete in Christ (Colossians 2:10)

…I am secure:

  • I am free from condemnation (Romans 8:1,2)
  • I am assured that all things work together for good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28)
  • I am free from any condemning charges against me (Romans 8:31-34)
  • I cannot be separated from the love of God (Romans 8:35-
    I have been established, anointed, and sealed by God (2 Corinthians 1:21,22)
  • I am hidden with Christ in God (Colossians 3:3)
    I am confident that the good work that God has begun in me will be perfected (Philippians 1:6)
  • I am a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20)
  • I have not been given a spirit of fear but of power, love, and a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7)
  • I can find grace and mercy in time of need (Hebrews 4:16)
  • I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me (1 John 5:18)

…I am precious:

  • I am the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13)
  • I am a branch of the true vine of Christ (John 15:1,5)
  • I have been chosen and appointed to bear good fruit (John 15:16)
  • I am called as God’s child to shine as a light to the world (Philippians 2:15)
  • I am God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16)
  • I am seated with Christ in the heavenly realm (Ephesians 2:6)
  • I am God’s workmanship for good works (Ephesians 2:10)
  • I may approach God with freedom and confidence (Ephesians 3:12)
  • I am part of God’s chosen race, royal priesthood, and holy nation (1 Peter 2:9)

Adapted and modified from Neil Anderson’s book, The Bondage Breaker.


Historical and Biblical Evidence for Elder Led Congregationalism

Historical evidence

Historical evidence carries absolutely no weight unless Scripture confirms it. That said, however, it is wise to consider those who have traveled the path before us to see if we might profit from their experiences and insight, as recommended by Proverbs 24:6, “in abundance of counselors there is victory.”

Working from present-day to Early Church history, it seems best to begin with some of the prominent and well-respected evangelical Christian thinkers of our day. In support of elder-led congregationalism, Mark Dever, senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church, member of the Together for the Gospel group, speaker at the Shepherd’s Conference, and author of Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, states:

Jesus taught His followers in Matthew 18 that the final court for matters of disputes between brothers was the congregation. So we read in Matt. 18:15-17 that the final step is to “tell it” he said, not to the elders . . . but to the ekklesia, that’s the church, or the congregation, as Tyndale translated it – the assembly. . . Biblical elder-led congregationalism is distinct from the kind of elder-rule we see in many independent and Bible churches because it recognizes that finally it must be the congregation as a whole who takes responsibility for its life together—for disputes and doctrine, for discipline and membership. The evidence is slight, but consistent and clear.3

Pastor and theologian John Piper also agrees:

Under Christ and his Word, the decisive court of appeal in the local church in deciding matters of disagreement is the gathered church assembly. (This is implied, first, in the fact that the leaders are not to lead by coercion, but by persuasion and free consent [1 Peter 5:3], second, in the fact that elders may be censured [1 Timothy 5:19], and third, in the fact that Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 5:4 depict the gathered church assembly as the decisive court of appeal in matters of discipline).4

Evangelical scholar and professor D. A. Carson, author of The Gagging of God: Christianity Confronts Pluralism, states:

In the New Testament, a final authority rests, in many cases, with the congregation. In 1 Corinthians 5, for example, there is an instance of church discipline that goes to the whole congregation, however much it may be instituted by the elders. Again, in Matthew 18, the Lord Jesus insists that when things come down to the crunch, you tell the conflict to the church. You tell it to the church – for not only is there wisdom in the whole church, but there is a final sanction in the whole church. . . In fact, in the New Testament, there is a running tension between the authority that rests with the church and the authority bound up with the elders/pastors/overseers. There’s a running tension because, quite frankly, either side can go bad.5

South Woods Baptist Church pastor Phil Newton writes in his book Elders in Congregregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership:

Plural eldership should not eliminate congregationalism.  It is true that some forms of plural eldership completely by-pass the congregation.  In the early church, however, the congregation was involved to some degree in all decisions.  The church is to hold the final authority, for instance, on matters of disciplining its membership (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor 5).  The church selected the deacon-prototypes upon the counsel of the apostles, thus providing a workable pattern for congregational involvement in recommending spiritual and temporal leaders (Acts 6:1-5).  After the apostles and elders established the church’s position regarding the problem raised by the Judaizers, the congregation became involved by approving the recommendation of sending messengers to the churches of Asia Minor as the official voice of the Jerusalem church.  The congregation as a whole was not part of the discussions or debates, but they were later informed, and affirmed the result of the council: “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas” (Acts 15:22).  Then it seemed good was a political term in the Greek world for “voting” or “passing a measure in the assembly.”6

Moving back in time to the 19th century, we can glean from the well-loved pastor Charles Spurgeon, also congregationalist, who shares in the same spirit in one of his sermons preached in 1861:

To our minds, the Scripture seems very explicit as to how this Church should be ordered.  We believe that every Church member should have equal rights and privileges; that there is no power in Church officers to execute anything unless they have the full authorization of the members of the Church.  We believe, however, that the Church should choose its pastor, and having chosen him, that they should love him and respect him for his work’s sake; that with him should be associated the deacons of the Church to take the oversight of pecuniary matters; and the elders of the Church to assist in all the works of the pastorate in the fear of God, being overseers of the flock.  Such a Church we believe to be scripturally ordered; and if it abide in the faith, rooted, and grounded, and settled, such a Church may expect the benediction of heaven, and so it shall become the pillar and ground of the truth.7

In the same century, we find that influential pastor and professor J. L. Reynolds published a book on church polity in 1849. In his discussion regarding the duties of a congregation he illustrates the spirit of elder-s a led congregationalism. He writes:

The Church possesses the right to choose its own officers. . . The evidence of the Scriptures in support of this position is clear and conclusive. They record instances of the election of an apostle, and of deacons, delegates, and elders, each by a popular vote. It need excite no surprise that the position has been vigorously assailed. The importance of the principle at stake, justifies both the attack and the defence. If the clergy have been invested with the sole power of appointment, they are right in contending for it. If, on the contrary, the Head of the Church has deposited this prerogative with those whose interests are most intimately involved in its exercise, it becomes them to resist clerical encroachment, with the vigilance and firmness of Christ’s freemen.8

An important document, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, was widely used as a foundational confession by Baptist churches for centuries, a practice which continues in many Reformed Baptist churches today. Chapter 26 section 9 deals with the selecting of officers of the church, and it communicates a congregationalist approach. It states:

The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of bishop or elder in a church, is, that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the church itself; and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands of the eldership of the church, if there be any before constituted therein; and of a deacon that he be chosen by the like suffrage, and set apart by prayer, and the like imposition of hands. ( Acts 14:23; 1 Timothy 4:14; Acts 6:3, 5, 6 ).9

The 1742 Philadelphia Confession of Faith reaffirmed these principles exactly:

8. A particular church, gathered and completely organized according to the mind of Christ, consists of officers and members; and the officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church (so called and gathered), for the peculiar administration of ordinances, and execution of power or duty, which he intrusts them with, or calls them to, to be continued to the end of the world, are bishops or elders, and deacons. (Acts 20:17, 28; Phil. 1:1)

9. The way appointed by Christ for the calling of any person, fitted and gifted by the Holy Spirit, unto the office of bishop or elder in a church, is, that he be chosen thereunto by the common suffrage of the church itself; and solemnly set apart by fasting and prayer, with imposition of hands of the eldership of the church, if there be any before constituted therein; and of a deacon that he be chosen by the like suffrage, and set apart by prayer, and the like imposition of hands. (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 4:14; Acts 6:3, 5, 6)10

Also in the 18th-century, famous American evangelist Jonathan Edwards was congregationalist in his actual church governance,11 although we could locate no references to church polity in his sermons.

John Gill, 18th-century pastor and theologian, writes in his An Exposition of the New Testament commentary on Acts 6:3:

…this sort of officers, deacons, must be members of the church, and of the same church to which they are ordained deacons; and that they must be chosen to that office by the whole community, or by the common suffrages and votes of the people.12

And on 2 Corinthians 2:6-8:

[Excommunication is to be] inflicted by many, not by the pastor only, or by the elders or more eminent persons in the church, but by the multitude, by the whole congregation… [then, upon repentance and restoration,] let your reception of him in this kind and friendly way be with the full consent, and by the joint vote and suffrage of the whole church, for so the word translated “confirm” signifies;

for as the ejection of a person out of a church must be done by the decree and vote of the church, or it is not authentic, so the reception of a person into it must be in like manner; and since this was to be done by the suffrage of the church, the apostle beseeches and exhorts them to do it.13

Matthew Henry, commentator and clergyman of the late 17th and early 18th centuries, in his Exposition of the Old and New Testaments, on his notes on Acts 6:1-7, says:

They pitched upon the persons. It is not probable that they all cast their eye upon the same men. Everyone had his friend, whom he thought well of. But the majority of votes fell upon the persons here named; and the rest both of the candidates and the electors acquiesced, and made no disturbance, as the members of societies in such cases ought to do. An apostle, who was an extraordinary officer, was chosen by lot, which is more immediately the act of God; but the overseers of the poor were chosen by the suffrage of the people, in which yet a regard is to be had to the providence of God, who has all men’s hearts and tongues in his hand.14 (emphasis added)

Early Church History

Early Church history is important because it gives the modern-day church an opportunity to see what struggles were faced in the past. It can be very helpful in determining how early Christians applied biblical doctrine in church practice, and we can also learn about how we might avoid making the same mistakes they did. By no means is Early Church history equated with Scripture, but it can certainly provide valuable insight about Church practice immediately following the apostolic period. Considering these things, we would like to present several significant points of Early Church history regarding church suffrage in the choosing of church officers.

The First Epistle of Clement. The first discussed source is commonly called The First Epistle of Clement. This letter was written to the same Corinthian church to which Paul had written a short time before Clement’s epistle. In this letter, Clement is writing on behalf of the church at Rome. This fact is attributed by the Greek manuscripts, as well as Dionysius of Corinth who, as early as A.D. 170, references the letter as “previously written to us through Clement.”15

As to the date of the letter, there is little doubt that it was written around A.D. 96 or 97 at the end of Domitian’s reign.16 While this letter was written after the apostolic period, the author of the letter is clear that some of the apostles, namely Peter and Paul, were part of his “own generation”.17 These apostles, then, passed within the same lifetime as the author of this letter. Moreover, the author states that some of the presbyters at Corinth were they themselves appointed by the apostles.18 Knowing that this letter of instruction was in the same generation as the apostles, we can be assured that this letter gives us a helpful glimpse into Church life immediately following the apostolic period.  Now that a historical foundation has been laid for this letter, let us read the relevant text. Clement writes to the Corinthian church:

44 Now our apostles, thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ, knew that there was going to be strife over the title of bishop. 2 It was for this reason and because they had been given an accurate knowledge of the future, that they appointed the officers we have mentioned. Furthermore, they later added a codicil to the effect that, should these die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry. 3 In the light of this, we view it as a breach of justice to remove from their ministry those who were appointed either by them [the apostles] or later on and with the whole church’s consent, by others of the proper standing, and who, long enjoying everybody’s approval, have ministered to Christ’s flock faultlessly, humbly, quietly, and unassumingly.19 (bold, italics added)

Here we see that, according to Clement, the apostles were given the duty to appoint bishops (elders) “because they had been given accurate knowledge of the future.” The apostles had direct communication with God. This fact we see attested to several times in examples in the New Testament  (i.e., 1 Cor. 7:10; 1 Pet. 2:16-21). The apostles were able to directly appoint bishops because they were directly guided by the Holy Spirit. Therefore we cannot use examples of divinely inspired church officer election found in Scripture to develop procedures by which elders are chosen in the modern church. There are at least two reasons for this. (1) The elders are not the modern-day equivalents to apostles. The Early Church (and Scripture itself, as we’ll see) clearly distinguished between the two offices, and therefore it is an error to equate the two. It was recognized, as evident in Clement’s letter, that the office of apostleship had ended with the death of the apostles.20 (2) With the end of the divinely inspired leadership of the apostles, the church’s leadership was, as explained by Clement, solely dependent upon the bishops “with the whole church’s consent.”21 The Church was no longer led under the direct revelation of the Holy Spirit, as that aspect of Church life had ended with the apostles. While the office of apostleship has many similar qualities as that of the office of elder, the task of appointing elders by direct appointment of the Holy Spirit has not been transferred upon the office of elder.

The Didache. To further attest to this Early Church practice, we may look at another resource known as the Didache, also known as The Teaching of the Apostles. This early document dates around A.D. 50-160. Despite unsurety about the actual date of the document, it is widely accepted that the Didache was used by churches for centuries as a kind of catechism.22 Even the great staunch defender of the faith, Athanasius of the 3rd and 4th centuries, mentioned the Didache as suitable for catechetical reading. In the 39th Festal Letter of Athanasius, which is famous for its detailing of the books that should be included in the canon, section 7 of the letter details the books Athanasius considers to be non-canonical yet beneficial for “instruction in the word of godliness.”23

Here is the quote in full:

But for greater exactness I add this also, writing of necessity; that there are other books besides these not indeed included in the Canon, but appointed by the Fathers to be read by those who newly join us, and who wish for instruction in the word of godliness. The Wisdom of Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach, and Esther, and Judith, and Tobit, and that which is called the Teaching of the Apostles, and the Shepherd.24 (italics, bold added)

Athanasius promoted the Didache as a supplement to the study of Scripture — certainly not as an equal to God’s Word, but similar to modern-day Sunday School material or devotional books that we use today. Even as supplemental material, the Didache gives us a picture of Early Church practices. Let us look at the section of the Didache which instructs congregational involvement in the selection of its officers:

14 On every Lord’s Day—his special day—come together and break bread and give thanks, first confessing your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. 2 Anyone at variance with his neighbor must not join you, until they are reconciled, lest your sacrifice be defiled. 3 For it was of this sacrifice that the Lord said, “Always and everywhere offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, says the Lord, and my name is marveled at by the nations.” You must, then, elect for yourselves bishops and deacons who are a credit to the Lord, men who are gentle, generous, faithful, and well tried. For their ministry to you is identical with that of the prophets and teachers. 2 You must not, therefore, despise them, for along with the prophets and teachers they enjoy a place of honor among you.25 (bold added)

The Didache explains that the church is to elect for themselves both bishops and deacons who are of a certain reputation. The election by the church as a whole is assumed, which suggests that this was simply the normal routine of the churches to which the Didache was addressed.

Catholicism and the Papacy. One other issue regarding church history and elections is the evolving history of Papal elections. We have already shown two documents illustrating the Early Church practice, immediately following the apostolic period, of electing church leadership via church suffrage. The studious John Gill also provides us with his research showing that this practice of church suffrage continued through the fifth century:

Song Clemens Romanus, who lived at the latter end of the apostolic age, says, the apostles appointed proper persons to the office of the ministry, “with the consent or choice of the whole church;” and this practice continued to the third century; in which century Cyprian was chosen bishop of Carthage, by the suffrage of the people;26 and so he says was Cornelius, bishop of Rome, in the same age; as was Fabianus, before him:27 the council of Nice, in the beginning of the fourth century, in their synodical epistle, to the churches in Egypt, ordered, that when any were removed by death, their places should be filled up by others, provided they were worthy, and such as the people chose; the bishop of Alexandria agreeing to and confirming the choice: in the same century Martin was chosen bishop of Tours, by a vast concourse of the people: indeed, the council at Laodicea, Can. XIII. in this century, ordered, that from thenceforward the people should not be allowed to choose their own ministers; which shows it had been practised before: yea, after, in the “fifth” century, Austin, in his old age, recommended to the people Eradius, to be his successor; which they showed their approbation of by their loud and repeated acclamations.28 (bold added)

It is clear from history that approval by the people during elections played a recognizable role in the early Catholic church.  This practice declined, however, and ultimately the Lateran Synod held in 769 officially abolished suffrage held by laymen in Rome, putting the capstone in the papacy’s supremacy.29 By 1139, during the Second Council of the Lateran, the Cardinals became the only body responsible for electing the Pope.30

As I will attempt to show in the next section, Scripture never allows or demonstrates that a group of men, separated from the rest of the body, have the level of authority to make decisions without the consent and suffrage of the whole church (including the elders), as the Catholic church practices. The only exception to this fact is when there is direct revelation from God. Even when there was direct revelation, as I will show, the church body was still actively involved in the decision-making process!

Biblical Evidence

κατακυριεύω. In attempting to define the authority of elders, one of the most helpful Scriptures can be found in 1 Peter 5:1-5 which states,

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.

The word “domineering” here in the ESV is the Greek word katakurieuō. In its particular tense in the verse, the word means “to hold in subjection, to be master of, exercise lordship over”.31 This word is again used in Matthew 20:25, in referring to the style of lordship authority exercised by the Gentiles. Christ explained to the disciples that they were not to exercise that sort of authority. Rather, they were to act as servants. The late well-respected Presbyterian scholar and pastor Albert Barnes writes of this word, in his commentary on 1 Peter 5:3,

The word here used (κατακυριεύω  katakurieuō) is rendered “exercise dominion over,” in Matthew 20:25; exercise lordship over, in Mark 10:42; and overcame, in Acts 19:16. It does not elsewhere occur in the New Testament. It refers properly to that kind of jurisdiction which civil rulers or magistrates exercise. This is an exercise of authority, as contradistinguished from the influence of reason, persuasion, and example. The latter pertains to the ministers of religion; the former is forbidden to them. Their dominion is not to be that of temporal lordship; it is to be that of love and truth. This command would prohibit all assumption of temporal power by the ministers of religion, and all conferring of titles of nobility on those who are preachers of the gospel. It needs scarcely to be said that it has been very little regarded in the church.32 (bold, italics added)

As stated by Barnes, the type of authority that is of the same character as civil government is not allowed among the shepherds of the church. Peter expressly forbid it, and most importantly, Christ expressly forbid it. Ecclesiastical government and worldly government are explicitly distinguished from one another, and the Church is not to pattern their form of government after civil rule. Worldly governments make decisions for the people. In some cases, worldly governments seek the consensus of the people, at times even allowing for a vote at their discretion. Voting privileges are quite frequent in some governments, but even with those, the privilege of voting is afforded the people by the government leadership. Are these aspects of civil government that should be part of a local church? What does the Bible actually say on this matter?

Astonishingly, not one clear instance of church leadership suffrage without the suffrage of the whole church , except through direct revelation of God, is ever found in Scripture. Interesting, in his book, Biblical Eldership, Alexander Strauch writes,

“. . . the New Testament provides no example of elders appointing elders, perpetuation of the eldership is implied in the elders’ role as congregational shepherds, stewards, and overseers. Perpetuating the eldership is a major aspect of church leadership responsibility.”33

Even an author supporting elder rule admits that there is no Scriptural example of elders appointing elders. How can an aspect of the church that is so pivotal and utterly crucial to the life of a church be merely “implied” in Scripture? Granted, the Scriptures do not lay out church government in encyclopedic fashion, but the only biblical examples of church officer election always involve selection by the whole church.

Three Clear Examples From Acts.

Example 1. The first of these examples can be found in Acts 1:15-26. Here we find that the apostles have returned to Jerusalem. In these verses Peter explains to a body of approximately “120 persons” (v. 15) that Judas Iscariot must be replaced. If church leadership carries the final authority for selecting new leadership, then why did Peter bother to (a) explain the situation to over one hundred “brothers,” (b) have the group as a whole put forward Barsabbas and Matthias as candidates, and (c) have the group as a whole cast lots to determine who was to be the replacement apostle? Didn’t the apostles have the authority within themselves to replace Judas? This question is not answered in the text, but what is clearly illustrated in this example is that this group of brothers (which included the apostles) in Jerusalem wholly participated in the selection of church leadership.

Late pastor and theologian J. L. Reynolds agrees on the matter:

If the apostles had considered themselves authorized, in any case, to act upon their own responsibility, it would have been on this occasion, when a vacancy was to be supplied in their own body. But we hear nothing of the apostolic power of appointment. They settle at the outset the principle which is to determine such matters, by committing the choice of an apostle, under God, to the people. The Church at Jerusalem was vested with the appointing power. Even if this extraordinary case were an exception, it would not negative the evidence in favor of popular suffrage, which is derived from other instances.34 (bold, italics added)

Example 2. The second example can be found in Acts 6:1-6. This is, of course, the most well known passage used to support congregational participation in the election of church leaders. As tritely used as it may be, it is nonetheless Scripture and therefore worthy of the same consideration as any other biblical text. There are at least two very important points to consider in this passage. (1) As with the previous example, the whole body of believers consented together to choose (not affirm) seven men of service. (2) It is clear that the apostles offered a solution that the body not only submitted to, but was also “pleased” with. Verse 5 says, “And what they said pleased the whole gathering. . .” Broken down, the pattern of the situation goes something like the following: ‘The church leadership called for a change in leadership based on the concern that they were lacking in their service. The body was pleased with what the apostles had to say. The body submitted to their leadership. The body voted on seven men. The apostles also approved of the men.’ While this scenario may not set the exact pattern for choosing church leadership today, the very least that this passage offers is a clear example that the whole congregation (including the apostles) bore its own responsibility in the selection of its leaders.

Example 3. The third example is found in Acts 15:1-35. In this example we see the two churches making two different decisions of consent as a body. In this chapter, Paul and Barnabas have experienced “no small dissension” (v. 2) with the some who were arguing for the necessity of circumcision. This was confusing the church body at Antioch where Paul and Barnabas were ministering. To deal with this problem, the whole church at Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem for help. The involvement of the entire congregation in this decision is plainly stated in verse 3 which states, “So, being sent on their way by the church. . .” The church participated together in the call for help.  That the delegation was sent to the elders and apostles in Jerusalem (v. 2) does not establish a lack of congregational involvement; rather, this is a clear case of one church applying to its sister church for clarification on an important doctrinal issue.  As the elders are the spiritual guardians and shepherds of the souls of the flock, they are obvious targets for wisdom regarding a spiritual issue.  The important thing to notice here is that the congregation was an active part of the request.  In response to the Antioch church’s call for aid, the Jerusalem church responded with two solutions.  (1) They responded with James’s apostolic “judgment” (v. 19). This is an action that was reached through the deliberation of apostles and elders together. It is difficult, then, to use this scenario as an example of elders making an important decision without the consent of the whole church, since the elders in this group also benefited from apostolic authority. (2) Moreover, the second response from Jerusalem was explicitly reached along with the willful consent of the whole church, as stated in verse 22 which reads, “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.” Again, we have another clear example of the whole church participating and deciding together in an important act of church life. Even though the Jerusalem church was blessed with the leadership of divinely-led apostles, the whole church still actively participated in the response to select delegates for the church at Antioch. The fact that apostles decided together with the whole church seems to significantly strengthen the importance of the whole body making important choices together. If any body of men in church history was qualified to make decisions apart from the will of the entire congregation, surely the Spirit-filled apostles would have fit the bill!  Yet, despite their divinely-led office, they brought the matter before the congregation, and they did what seemed good not only to themselves, but also to the whole church. J. L. Reynolds agrees:

The position which I have taken is confirmed by the fact that even in the appointment of individuals to less important duties than those which appertain to official station in the Church, the apostles invited the counsel and cooperation of the brethren, and submitted to their choice. Acts 15: 22–29, (comp. II. Cor. 8: 19,) records an instance of the election of delegates . . .  The letter which they bore was addressed in the name of “the apostles and elders and brethren,” evincing the participation of the Church in the Mission to Antioch.35 (emphasis added)

 Royal Priesthood. To further extend the discussion of Acts 15:1-35 above, it is important to ask the following question: Why would the apostles invite “the counsel and cooperation of the brethren” in the selection of persons with no “official station in the Church” when they had apostolic authority? If anyone had the authority to choose non-officer church representatives, the apostles did! Why, then, did they work alongside the brethren to select the delegates? Perhaps they did so because of the understanding the apostles had of the “temple” or “priesthood” of the church. For instance, the apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 2:

And coming to Him as to a living stone, rejected by men, but choice and precious in the sight of God, you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

Apostle Paul uses remarkably similar language in Ephesians 2:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.

Thus, it is important to have the mindset that a single local body is not merely different compartments of ministers and laypersons. Biblical language describes the church as “a spiritual house for a holy priesthood” and a body that “grows into a holy temple.” The whole body serves as a spiritual organism that grows together–or backslides together. Paul even writes in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” When one part of the body suffers, the whole body is held accountable. When Paul scolded the Corinthian church in 1 Corinthians 5:4-5, he held responsible not merely the church leadership, but the entire church for not having exercised church discipline. If the elders were responsible for “determining” if church discipline was necessary, then Paul should have rebuked only the elders, since the church would have never been granted the opportunity to exercise necessary discipline. Yet Paul rebukes the entire body! We see another example of this in Revelation 3:14-22 in the letter to the church at Laodicea where God rebukes the entire body for their “lukewarm” nature. God holds the entire church responsible for their state of health, because together they are a holy priesthood, a temple of the Lord and a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. If the church, the holy priesthood, then, is accountable to itself before God, then to place the elders in a position where they make decisions pertaining to the growth of the body without the rest of the church is to cut off part of the church from its own accountability before God. It’s like removing a vital organ from the human body. John Piper explains,

Under Christ the local congregation is the final authority in the church. . . What I mean is that under Christ–his word and his Spirit–the congregation, and not pastors or elders or deacons or bishops or popes, is the body that settles matters of faith and life. This is not only implied in the priesthood of all believers, but illustrated in Matthew 18:15-17 where the church is the last court of appeal in church discipline . . . So far then, Christ is the head of the church. All members of his body are priests and ministers. And therefore these members, as a congregation, are the final authority in the church under Christ, that is under his word and Spirit.36 (bold added)

As the royal priesthood, the whole church body together is accountable for its actions directly under the authority of Christ. If the elders decide while the congregation merely affirms, the unity of the priesthood directly under Christ’s authority is broken, since only part of the body is taking the role of a priesthood under God’s authority. To place the church’s accountability before God in only part of the priesthood is to prevent the other part of the body from their role in the church!  Elder rule proposes: “The congregation places themselves under the authority of the elders; the elders place themselves under the authority of God; the elders make a decision; the congregation affirms.” The biblical model proposes: “The whole church, with the leadership of the elders, places themselves under the authority of God; the whole church makes a decision (of course with the guidance and wisdom of the elders).” The elders do not represent the church before God. The church represents the church as a priesthood before God!  Distorting the immediacy of access and responsibility that New Testament believers have before God is a deeply disturbing concept.  The lack of hierarchy separating God and man is one of the most strikingly beautiful distinctions between Christianity and many false religions.

Four More Examples of Congregationalism, Regarding Discipline.

Example 4. The fourth example comes from Galatians 1. In this famous text, Paul is scolding the Galatian church for “deserting him who called [them] in the grace of Christ and…turning to a different gospel” (v. 6). Paul is so emphatic about the purity and truth of the gospel already preached to them by Paul that he uses a highly dramatic statement to bring across his point. He states, “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” (v. 8-9). Who is Paul rebuking? Who is Paul telling to exercise cursing against heresy? His charge–his entire epistle–is not merely to the church leadership, but rather to the entirety of the church. Paul is rebuking the whole church because as a body they are falling prey to false doctrine. What is his solution? Does he ask for the elders to reject the heretic so that the church can affirm the decision? No, Paul says that if anyone is preaching to you (the church at Galatia!) a different gospel, you let him be accursed! Whether the heresy comes from a lay person, an elder, an apostle, or even an angel, the solution is for the church as a collective whole, as Paul is addressing here, to reject the false teacher and have nothing to do with him. Especially worthy of note is that Paul explicitly includes sources from which heresy could never come–Spirit-filled apostles and even angels from heaven itself.  Paul vividly demonstrates that rank or office confer no special protection against the discipline process of the congregation, placing even himself under its authority.  Mark Dever agrees,

Paul implicitly taught the Galatians in Galatians 1 that the final court to settle disagreements in matters of doctrine is the congregation. Paul exhorted these young Christians in Galatia, that even if he—an apostle!—should come and preach a different gospel than the one they had already accepted, then they should reject him, or whoever the errant missionary is. It is interesting that Paul said this to young Christians—he wasn’t writing to the elders. And he was writing about the matters of the most theological importance—the gospel itself! And yet, he resided his trust in them. They knew the gospel that had saved them! The cognitive content of the gospel is more significant than even claims to apostolic call, let alone succession! And Paul assumes that that message is perspicuous, even to young believers.37 (bold added)

Example 5. The fifth example can be found in 1 Corinthians 5:4-5. In this well-known passage, Paul is dealing with an incestuous relationship within the Corinthian church. He is disturbed that the church has not already taken the appropriate action. In verse 1 he writes, “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans . . .” Paul was astonished that the church continued to “tolerate” this sinful behavior. Paul then tells them that they are to do what they should have done already. He says in verses 4 and 5, “When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.”  Paul says that the discipline must be carried out “when you are assembled.”  Not that the discipline would be predetermined by the elders and then announced or affirmed by the congregation, but that the actual delivery of the man to Satan would happen when the congregation is assembled.  The “you” Paul is commanding refers to the entire church–Paul didn’t just write his epistle to the elders at Corinth; he addressed himself to the congregation, “those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together” (1 Corinthians 1:2).  His command here is not a special aside to the elders, and the discipline was not to be examined by the church leadership first in any regard. The instructions for discipline were laid upon the responsibility of the whole church. Mark Dever follows,

Paul taught the Corinthians in I Corinthians 5 that the final court to settle matters of discipline is the congregation. Paul writes about the scandalous situation in the Corinthian church, and he writes not just to the pastor or leadership, but to the whole congregation! He tells the whole congregation that they are to act, and to continue to act in not associating with this man.38

Example 6. In his second letter addressed to the church at Corinth (“with all the saints who are in the whole of Achaia”, 2 Corinthians 1:1, again explicitly not just the leadership), Paul writes about the aftermath of church discipline that had been exercised by the church. After a period of rejection toward the offender, Paul encourages the church to “reaffirm your love for him.” In verses 6-7 he explains why, “For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.” The church as a whole had punished the offender, and now, as a body, the church is being encouraged by Paul to reinstate its love for the offender. Again, we see yet another example of church discipline where the elders do not first determine if discipline is necessary. In fact, church leadership has not even been mentioned in these three very serious cases of church discipline. This is certainly important. Of course the elders, as those who keep “watch over . . . souls” (Hebrews 13:17), are to be a crucial part in exercising wisdom in church discipline, but it is apparent from this example and the others that the elders are included with the whole church body to exercise church discipline together. John Gill expounds the Greek text as follows:

[The punishment was inflicted] not by the pastor only, or by the elders or more eminent persons in the church, but by the multitude, by the whole congregation, at least υπο των πλειονων, “by the more”; the greater, or major part; and not by one, or a few only: in inflicting this punishment, or laying on this censure in the public manner they did, they were certainly right, and to be commended; but inasmuch as there appeared signs of true repentance, it was sufficient, it had answered the purpose for which it was inflicted, and therefore it was high time to remove it: from whence we learn, that in case of gross enormities, there ought to be a public excommunication; and that this is to be done by the vote, and with the consent of the whole church, or the major part of it; and that in process of time, when the person thus dealt with has given the church satisfaction as to the truth and genuineness of his repentance, the censure ought to be taken off and he be cordially received into the communion of the church again. This “punishment”, or “rebuke”, επιτιμια, “by many”, is the same which the Jews call  התוכחה ברבים, “a reproof by many”; which is given by many, or in the presence of many.39 (bold added)

Example 7. If there is any question remaining regarding the process of church discipline, Matthew 18:15-17 divides the process of church discipline into three very clear, separate steps. Step 1: “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.” Step 2: “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” Step 3: “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” It is clear that the first step is a more private confrontation, the second step is confrontation along with the presence of one or two others, and the final step is confrontation along with the whole church. There is no room, then, for the insertion of a step in church discipline that requires the matter to be brought to the elders before being brought to the church. After the matter is confronted with witnesses, to whom does the passage say that the matter is to be brought? Is it the elders? Clearly not. The matter is to be brought before ekklesia, the assembly, the church. There is no other possible meaning for this Greek word. Again, the church leadership would be intimately involved in these three steps of discipline, but for the elders to act as an in-between step before bringing the matter to the church is not warranted in any of the previous three passages we have looked at, and it is explicitly unwarranted in Matthew 18:15-17. Mark Dever again agrees,

Jesus taught His followers in Matthew 18 that the final court for matters of disputes between brothers was the congregation. So we read in Matt. 18:15-17 that the final step is to “tell it” he said, not to the elders…but to the ekklesia, that’s the church, or the congregation, as Tyndale translated it – the assembly.40

Scholar D. A. Carson also agrees,

. . . in Matthew 18, the Lord Jesus insists that when things come down to the crunch, you tell the conflict to the church. You tell it to the church – for not only is there wisdom in the whole church, but there is a final sanction in the whole church.41

So we have seven total examples where Christian church bodies made important decisions of consent. The first three examples dealt with church suffrage of officers. In the first example, we see that the body put forth two candidates to replace Judas as an apostle, then cast lots together. In the second example, the body was pleased to choose seven men of service according to the wise guidance of the apostles. In the third example, we see one church deciding together to request help from one church which, in turn, chooses together to provide delegates for aid.      With regard to the church and discipline, we have seen four examples where the body was not only allowed but commanded to exercise church discipline. The first three examples stated involve the instruction of apostle Paul. In Galatians 1, he puts his teaching under the authority, accountability, and discipline of the whole church. The second example displays Paul’s passionate plea for the entire church at Corinth to exercise discipline against a sexual offender. The third example is the instruction of Paul to the entire Corinthian church to reaffirm their love for an offender that “the majority” had exercised punishment against. The fourth example presents instructions by Christ for church discipline in a three-step division. None of the examples and certainly none of the steps found in Matthew 18 involve bringing the matter solely to the elders.

Responses to Scriptural Arguments for Elder Rule

John 21:16. The relevant text in this verse used to support elder rule is “Tend [or feed] my sheep.” The proposed idea is that it is most sensible in the shepherd/sheep analogy for shepherds to make the decisions for the sheep. While a purely congregational government is clearly contrary to Scripture, and indeed it doesn’t make sense for the sheep to lead the shepherds, as shown above through Scripture, however, the elders shepherd the church through their leadership, guidance, and example, yet ultimately the responsibility for the church’s vitality or waywardness lies with the church as a whole.  It’s important not to read too much into the analogy of sheep and shepherd by using human logic, especially when Scripture elucidates the matter more fully.  Jesus’ command to Peter speaks of nothing concerning congregational involvement, and to attempt reading such into this text is eisegesis, particularly in consideration of other biblical examples.

Acts 14:23. The relevant text here is “[Paul and Barnabas] appointed elders for them in every church.” The argument for elder rule with this verse is that it supports the idea of elders appointing themselves. There are two problems with this proposition: (1) We cannot use examples of apostolic appointment, since they were under direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. God has not seen fit to grant us this option of leadership during the post-apostolic period. (2) Even if the apostles did not always make appointments under direct influence of the Holy Spirit, we have no clear biblical examples where any type of church leadership appoint church leadership without church consent unless guided by direct revelation! In fact, we have already seen in Acts 1 and 15 where the apostles even worked together with the church body to choose an apostle and delegates of aid. These arguments apply respectively to Acts 13, Acts 15 (directly addressed above also),  Titus 1:5, 1 Timothy 4:14, 1 Timothy 5:17, 2 Timothy 2:2, and 1 Peter 5 which have also been used to support elder rule.  Throughout all of these texts, it is vital not to confuse the offices of elder with apostle (or even direct apostolic guidance, as with Timothy).  When Scripture gives clear instruction, as in the case of church government, then grasping at examples that don’t clearly parallel to the post-Pentecostal church age and elevating them above Scripture’s more directly relevant examples and clear instructive commands is a grave error.

3 Mark Dever, Baptists and Elders, accessed online April 5, 2007,,,PTID314526%7CCHID598016%7CCIID1744980,00.html

4 John Piper, Biblical Eldership, accessed online April 1, 2007,

5 D.A. Carson, Defining Elders, accessed online April 5, 2007,,,PTID314526%7CCHID598016%7CCIID2157886,00.html

6 Phil Newton, Elders in Congregregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership. (Kregel Publications: Grand Rapids, 2005). p. 57.

7 C. H. Spurgeon, The Church Conservative and Aggressive, Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit, volume 7, pp. 658-659.

8 J.L. Reynolds, Church Polity or The Kingdom of Christ, in its Internal and External Development. (Harrold & Murray: Boston, 1849).

9 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, accessed online April 1, 2007,

10 1742 Philadelphia Confession of Faith, accessed online April 1, 2007,

11 Jonathan Edwards, accessed online April 2, 2007,

12 John Gill, Exposition of the New Testament (Streamwood, IL: Primitive Baptist Library, [1809] 1979)

13 Ibid.

14 Matthew Henry, Exposition of the Old and New Testaments. (Philadelphia: Towar & Hogan, 1828).

15 Eusebius, Hist. eccl. IV. 23:11

16 Cyril C. Richardson, Early Christian Fathers. (Westminster Press: Philadelphia, 1953). accessed online April 1, 2007, pp. 34-39.

17 The First Epistle of Clement 5:1

18 Clement 44

19 Ibid.

20 Clement 44:2

21 Clement 44:3

22 Richardson, Early Christian Fathers, pp.162-166.

23 Phillip Schaff, Athanasius: Select Works and Letters, (Christian Literature Publishing Co.: New York, 1892), p. 552.

24 Ibid.

25 Didache 14:1-15:2

26 Pontus the Deacon, Vita Caecilii Cypriani, accessed online April 3, 2007,

27 Philip Schaff, Eusebius Pamphilius: Church History, Life of Constantine, Oration in Praise of Constantine, (Christian Literature Publishing Co.: 1890), p. 275.

28 John Gill, A Body of Practical Divinity, (Baptist Standard Bearer: Paris, Arkansas, [1770] 2000), accessed online April 1, 2007,

29 W.H.W. Fanning, W. H. W. “Papal Elections.” The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI. (Robert Appleton Company: New York, 1911)

30 Ibid.

31 Joseph Henry Thayer, Thayer’s Lexicon, (Hendrickson Publishers: Peabody, MA, [1887]1996).

32 Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament, (Kregel Publications: Grand Rapids, 1962).

33 Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call To Restore Biblical Church Leadership, (Lewis & Roth Publishers: Grand Rapids, 1991),p. 278.

34 Reynolds, Church Polity

35 Reynolds, Church Polity

36 John Piper, “Who Are the Elders?”, (1991) accessed online April 2, 2007,

37 Dever, “Baptists and Elders.”

38 Ibid.

39 John Gill, An Exposition of the New Testament, (Mathews & Leigh: London, 1809).

40 Mark Dever, “Baptists and Elders”.

41 Ibid.


New Covenant Theology Introduction

In summary, New Covenant Theology (NCT) teaches that the Mosaic Law Covenant is obsolete, taking the full force of Hebrews 8:13 where it says, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete.” NCT states that Christians are now under a better covenant, the New Covenant in Christ’s blood and under the law of the Spirit, not the law of Moses. NCT also sees the book of Hebrews, as well as the books of Romans and Galatians making strong supporting statements that support the NCT framework. NCT does not agree with the tripartite division of the law, and sees the Mosaic Law as a complete whole that cannot be divided.

For further reading, the following articles are recommended:


How Galatians 3:16 Refutes the Doctrine of Paedobaptism

Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. (Galatians 3:16 ESV)

Here Paul explains that the promises to Abraham were to Abraham and to Christ; not to the many people of Israel. The promise to Abraham was not for the physical people of Israel. It was a promise for Abraham alone which would be fulfilled by faith alone. That is why he says “not…referring to many, but referring to one.” Paedobaptism contradicts this teaching by believing that the promise to Abraham was a promise for all the people of Israel, but this is not the case. Paul says that the promise is to Abraham and his Offspring alone. Why circumcision then? Paul explains this in the later verses that the law was a guardian, “until the Offspring [Christ] should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary.” (Galatians 3:19)

So the point of physical circumcision then had no spiritual benefit to Israelites, because it was a sign of God’s promise to Abraham and only Abraham that the promise of faith would come in the person of Christ Who would come through his seed. This would also explain the reason why only the males were circumcised. If the sign of the promise was to illustrate faith and repentance, then it would have included both the males and females. That the physical sign was applied to males only is a hole in the paedobaptistic framework which Calvin and most other paedobaptists typically do not address.

Furthermore, circumcision did not mark someone as a descendant of Abraham or symbolize that they already were his descendent. Rather, circumcision was simply the sign that God would fulfill his promise to Abraham through the righteousness that comes by faith, in the work of Christ. Circumcision conferred no special privileges to the physical descendants of Abraham. Paul said very clearly to the Galatians, “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” All that matters, says Paul, are the benefits that come through being a new creation in Christ. Physical circumcision, however, counts for nothing.
In baptistic understanding, that only males receive the sign is easily explained in the realization that circumcision is a visual reminder of God’s promise that Christ would come through Abraham’s physical seed. This is inline with Paul’s explanation that the promise to Abraham was to him and his Offspring. Abraham’s Offspring would come through Abraham’s seed. What a powerful and graphic reminder of this promise was the event of circumcision. And that too is why circumcision is no longer necessary, because God’s promise to Abraham to bring Christ through Abraham’s physical seed has been fulfilled, and the promise based on faith in Christ has been reached.
To say that physical circumcision had any spiritual benefit is to directly contradict the apostle Paul’s teaching that the promise comes by faith, not by physical circumcision. Paul said that Abraham is the father of all who believed, and that only the children of the faith are counted as offspring of Abraham. This does not fit with the paedobaptistic idea that physical circumcision had inherent spiritual benefits, because the blessings of the Abrahamic promise came only ever through faith, because it was and is a promise based only in faith, and not any aspect of the law, which includes circumcision. It does however fit perfectly with Scripture’s teaching above, that the promise to Abraham was to Abraham and to his Offspring alone, and that circumcision was the reminder that that promise, based entirely and only in faith, would one day be fulfilled.