Matthew 20:20-28 says,
“Then came to him the mother of Zebedee’s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom. But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father. And when the ten heard it, they were moved with indignation against the two brethren. But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant: Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
This may seem like a strange text for an article about Congregationalism, but I have noticed a trend among some churches and some of the brethren lately … a trend to be like John and James ready to set on thrones in the kingdom.
While this subject is a Baptist distinctive not all Baptist churches believe it. Let me explain.
From 2007-2020, I pastored a church in Ohio where the women members of the church could not vote, something that was foreign to me prior to accepting the pastorate there. Many years before I came, that church had made this into a rule and placed it into the bylaws. After I had been there for a while I preached a message presenting a Biblical defense of the whole congregation voting but the church never changed its position.
Fast forward a few years and now I am pastoring in Georgia where we do not have such a rule (praise the Lord), but I was on the phone with a Baptist preacher who told me the reason our church is small is because we have not adopted elder rule with a plurality of elders.
This got me to thinking about the subject again, and this is the reason for the article. I’m here to tell you that some churches might not be so bold as to make it a rule but they have “second class” members or a certain ruler or rulers who makes all the decisions.
Brethren, this ought not to be.
From our text, we learn that Jesus forbids anyone to practice over-lordship over his brethren. This would include even forbidding the Pastor from becoming a dictator.
“I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.” (3 John 9)
The Bible does have examples of those who would rule over the churches but they aren’t good examples! Diotrephes was one who was a mini-pope in the church, forbidding John from coming.
J.M. Carroll, in the book, The Trail of Blood, gave Marks of The New Testament Church. Mark number 4 is its polity being CONGREGATIONAL. We would agree with this identifying mark and even go so far as to say that if the church you are a member of is not congregational…if it is something else….it is not patterned after the New Testament.
J. B. Moody, in his book, Distinguishing Doctrines of the Baptists wrote, “The churches of Christ are congregational in a double sense: 1st, in limiting all authority to the congregation, and 2nd, in extending authority to all in the congregation.” (page 135)
David Benedict recorded this in his book Fifty Years Among the Baptists: “There is a tradition that the famous Thomas Jefferson caught the idea of some things in the Constitution of this republic while witnessing the doings of a small Baptist church in his neighborhood. As the story goes, some of the primordial principles of the great document which he afterwards penned were conceived from observing the successful movements of a little self-operating body which acknowledged no allegiance to any other power. This story has been currently reported, and on good authority, as I am inclined to believe.”
“Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:27–28)
Words do mean things. This is true in the Scriptures. Notice God has set the pastor IN the church…not over the church. This means he falls under its authority.
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11–12)
Notice he gave pastors not to rule over the church but to perfect the saints and edify the body of Christ. This is quite the opposite of what some pastors think or act like isn’t it?
What about those passages which seem to indicate pastoral authority or headship over the church?
Let’s examine these:
“And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.” (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13)
“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:17)
Some preachers slam their fist down on the pulpit and say if that doesn’t mean absolute pastoral authority then what does it mean?
Well, I can tell you it does not mean what they say it means!
“The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.” (1 Peter 5:1–3)
In Teachings on the Local Church, Brother Tom Ross wrote that the Pastor “has been appointed by the Holy Spirit to exercise spiritual oversight in the church which consists of leading and guiding the flock by example. He must not push the people, but gently lead them as a shepherd would lead a flock of sheep.”
Look over at what is commonly termed the “Qualifications for the Pastor.”
“This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” (1 Timothy 3:1–7)
Notice right there in verse 5 the comparison is made between the way a man manages his home vs the church. “(For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” Note there are two different words used.
According to Vine’s Dictionary,
Rule – “to stand before,” hence, “to lead, attend to” (indicating care and diligence), is translated “to rule” (middle voice), with reference to a local church, in Rom 12:8; perfect active in 1Ti 5:17; with reference to a family, 1Ti 3:4 and 1Ti 3:12 (middle voice); 1Ti 3:5 (2nd aorist, active). See MAINTAIN.
Care – “to take care of,” involving forethought and provision (epi indicating “the direction of the mind toward the object cared for”), Luk 10:34-35, of the Good Samaritan’s care for the wounded man, and in 1Ti 3:5, of a bishop’s (or overseer’s) care of a church—a significant association of ideas.
Check this out, folks. If my children get out of line I can whip them with a rod. The Bible is clear on that. (See Proverbs 13:24; 23:14) I rule my house. However the same does not apply in the church. It is a different word. If a man cannot rule his house how can he care for the church?
The Bible leaves no room for dictators in the church house, even if they have the title of a pastor but gives a great example of how the church should be.
Let us look at some New Testament examples:
1. The Example of The Body.
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many. If the foot shall say, Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear shall say, Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were an eye, where were the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where were the smelling? But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. And if they were all one member, where were the body? But now are they many members, yet but one body. And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular.” (1 Corinthians 12:12–27)
Look at your physical body. Your foot can’t say because its not the hand it isn’t important. The leg can’t say the arm is less important. How can a man say the woman is not important? Or how can those adult members discount the younger members? Did not Paul under the inspiration of the Spirit address them all equally in the letter to the church at Ephesus (even the children see Ephesians 6:1).
“Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.” (Matthew 18:15–17)
The Saviour gave us the rule for the adjustment of private differences among brethren: “If thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault.” If the offender, when told of his fault, does not give satisfaction, the offended brother is to take with him “one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.”
But if the offender “shall neglect to hear them,” what is to be done? Tell it to the church. What church? Evidently, the particular congregation to which the parties belong. Note well, we are not told to tell it to the men of the church for that would only be a part of the church. We are to take it to the entire church.
2. The Example of Jerusalem.
“These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren. And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,) Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus. For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. Now this man purchased a field with the reward of iniquity; and falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all his bowels gushed out. And it was known unto all the dwellers at Jerusalem; insomuch as that field is called in their proper tongue, Aceldama, that is to say, The field of blood. For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take. Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barsabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.” (Acts 1:14–26)
J.B. Moody wrote in 1901 in his book The Distinguishing Doctrines of Baptists, in commenting on this passage, “Who were the ‘they’ that voted in verse 26? Evidently the hundred and twenty, and that included the women. It can be settled by grammar as well as by Scripture.”
3. The churches of the New Testament admitted members into their communion.
“Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.” (Romans 14:1)
The language of this directive is “Receive into your fellowship and treat as a Christian him who is weak in the faith.” To whom was this addressed? Not to the pastor. Not to the “ruling elders.” Not even to the men of the church only. Hear me now, this was written to the church, “To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints…” (Romans 1:7)
4. The churches of the New Testament had the right to exclude unworthy members, and they exercised that right.
“In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 5:4–5)
Paul “judged” that the guilty man should be excluded, but he himself did not remove him. Who, then should remove him? For that the answer needs to be found by going back to whom this epistle was written to…
To whom was this epistle written? It was not written to the pastor. It is not addressed to the ruling elders. It is not even addressed to the men of the church. Look back at 1 Corinthians 1:2. It was written unto the church of God “which is at Corinth…”
“Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6)
Again who is this written to? A board of deacons? The pastor? The men of the church? No! 2 Thessalonians 1:1, note the words “…to the church of the Thessalonians…”
5. The churches of the New Testament had the right to restore disciplined members.
“Sufficient to such a man is this punishment, which was inflicted of many. So that contrariwise ye ought rather to forgive him, and comfort him, lest perhaps such a one should be swallowed up with overmuch sorrow. Wherefore I beseech you that ye would confirm your love toward him.” (2 Corinthians 2:6–8)
In the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul could not restore such a one any more than he could exclude him in the first place (he was not a member of the church in the first place). The apostle bowed to the great truth of church independence. Who was this addressed to? Let me be repetitive. Was this letter written to the pastor? The ruling elders? A board of deacons? The men of the church? No! It was written to the church. Notice the wording in 2 Corinthians 1:1.
Certainly, there is a place for the pastor(s), the women, and the men. But all equal. None have more authority than the other. The New Testament model is an elder led, congregationalist church model. I’ll write more on this later, but you can go back in history in the Trail of Blood books and you’ll find a small slip in error here led to a great big monstrous heresy later when one man became extremely power-hungry and even decided he could take the place not only of the authority of the church but of the headship of Jesus Christ. Congregationalism is a Baptist distinctive because it is Biblical. Let us hold to this precious truth!