Monday, May 09, 2005

Polity Matters (Part 7): The Sufficiency of Scripture

As part of the assigned pre-reading for Capitol Hill Baptist Church's Weekender that, Lord willing, I'll be attending beginning Thursday, I read Pastor Mark Dever's pamphlet, A Display of God's Glory: Basics of Church Structure. The very foundation of Dever's elder-led congregational polity is the sufficiency of Scripture. This concept is increasingly in vogue on matters of counseling, but to this point it is much more sporadically applied to polity. Dever writes:
As Christians, we strive to found our lives on the teaching
of Scripture. The question, though, must be asked: Does
Scripture deal clearly with questions about the polity, or
organization, of the church? And if so, what exactly does
Scripture teach about it? Of course, we Christians believe
that Scripture is sufficient for our preaching and discipling,
for our spirituality and joy in following Christ, for church
growth and our understanding of evangelism. But is
Scripture even meant to tell us how we are to organize our
lives together as Christians in our churches, or are we left
simply to our own investigation of best practices? Is our
church polity a matter indifferent? Is it a matter to be determined
simply pragmatically, by whatever seems to work
best and to most effectively avoid problems?

I believe that God has revealed in His Word all that we
need to know in order to love and serve Him, and this
includes what we need to know even about the organization
of our churches. This has been the assumption of the
confessions of Baptists, Congregationalists, Presbyterians,
and many others in years past, and it has been assumed by
those men whom God has called to fill our pulpits. Let me
be clear. When we say that church polity can be found in
the pages of the New Testament, that does not mean that
we assume the correctness of our own practices and then
go in search of ways to justify them biblically. Rather, our
goal must be to look at the Bible, recognize some basic
aspects of structure and organization that are taught there,
and then organize our churches according to the Bible’s
This small clipping from the introduction is developed with thorough biblical evidence and argumentation throughout the pamphlet. I will merely summarize and perhaps take his point to its logical end.

Essentially, Dever makes the case that God intended to reveal in the text of the NT a pattern for church polity, and He gave us ample evidence to draw sound conclusions, even if the specific details are fuzzy in places. On the other hand, some argue that because Scripture does not teach a specific model for church polity comprehensively, modern churches are therefore free to choose a structure based on what they believe is most efficient.

Whether a given model of polity is most efficient or most effective or most beneficial in any other area is a matter certainly open for debate. What is not open for debate is that a choice of polity based on these concerns is rooted in pragmatism, not Scripture. To affirm both the sufficiency of Scripture and the prerogative of a church to establish its polity from pragmatic concerns is inherently contradictory.

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