I was meditating on the Scriptures last night and all of a sudden the Holy Spirit just starts to illiminate my mind with regards to the topic of church polity, so I would be posting a short series on this particular topic.
The topic of church polity is definitely a practical one, albeit somewhat boring to the average modern Evangelical. Certainly, in terms of doctrinal importance, such a topic is typically not considered very important, as believing and practicing different church polities is not a salvation issue, nor is it on the surface a theological consistency issue. It is definitely less important than issues such as Monergism/Synergism, Calvinism/ Arminianism, or even the controversy over the so-called Common Grace view held by neo-Amyraldians which I have covered some time back. Furthermore, modern day Evangelicals, especially in Singapore, typically do not even think about the topic, just accepting whatever church polity which is practised by the churches in which they are saved in (or which they happen to 'be' in 'somehow'), and in fact even shifting to churches or denominations with different modes of church polities when the need arises. Modern evangelicals are more interested in finding places where they can serve God in, which by the way is DEFINITELY important. For those who read more of the Scriptures and earnestly desire to obey God, holding on to correct doctrine would definitely feature as one of the criteria upon which they would judge whether to join (or remain) in a particular church.
Now, someone may therefore ask me why I would address this particular topic. Doesn't the church have enough problems already? One does not have to be the Apostle Paul, or other of the apostles or early church fathers, to know that the Christian churches are in a total mess. Within Evangelicalism itself, we have all kinds of heretics undermining the faith, and numerous compromisers to aid them in their task. The Word-faith heresy, the Thrid Wave Neo-Apostolic movement, the Purpose Driven and Seeker Sensitive compromise and deception, the Emerging apostasy; all these are enough to give anyone a headache. And these threats are not somewhere far off, to be clinically dissected, cooly analyzed and discussed. No, these threats are close by and present among us. For example, numerous churches in Singapore have embraced the Purpose Driven paradigm and the Seeker Sensitivite agenda. The charismatic
fringe mainstream is moving in the Word-faith and the Neo-apostolic direction. If anyone begs to differ, they can always try to explain why Lawrance Kong of FCBC calls himself an Apostle (capital A), or 'Apostle' Naomi Dowdy of Trinity Christian Center also. As with regards to Word-faith, let us see from their 2007 events calendar what kind of speakers City Harvest Church invites to speak to them: the Word-faith heretics Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Hagin Jr., not to mention the false apostle C. Peter Wagner. The others may not be any better, but at least I do not (yet) know them. As for Emergent, the apostate sodomite-friendly Free Community Church would suffice as an example. And if you want to talk about conservative churches, suffice it is to say that there are many rank liberals within so-called conservative circles, like the former Methodist Bishop turned apostate Yap Kim Hao. With the churches in a mess, and few, if any, good churches in sight, one wonders whether we should even touch upon this topic. After all, if it is hard if not impossible to find a church that satisfies the criteria of pure orthodoxy, should we even bother about the polity that the church practices?
I would submit that the topic is important, although not manifestly so, and here are some of the reasons why:
First of all, even if due to various reasons, the only sound church one can find to attend is one which practices a church polity which is not biblical, it is not an exercise in futility to find out which church polity is the biblical one. If such were indeed the case for any individual, that person could slowly work towards reformation within the church that he is currently in. Of course, I am here assuming that the leadership are true shepherds and not hirelings who would chase away the 'troublers of Israel' and are just orthodox in order to keep the status quo. Such a church would, of necessity anyway, slowly drift away from the truth of God's Word, since a failure to abide in Christ would result in fruitlessness (Jn. 15:5-6) and then compromise and more compromise as church leaders panic due to their fruitlessness, resulting in the entrance of all the Seeker Sensitive and Purpose Driven methods to help their churches 'grow'. Anyway, if not impeded by the leadership, one could continue to stay in that sound church to work towards reformation of the church in its other aspects.
Secondly, the reason why this topic is important is its practicality. A church cannot say that it does not care about the topic, because by default of its need to be functional as a church body, it MUST have a certain way of leadership which is dictated by the church polity adopted by the church. Definitely, churches, especially new churches set up by young denomination-independent leaders, will face this problem. Of course, churches can always just blunder their way through this and adopt whatever polity they can first think of, of which some churches do so. However, is this the correct method of deciding how to govern a church? By just adopting whatever method you know, and then having the possibility of having mid-course correction because the previously adopted polity doesn't work? Of course not! It is definitely unbiblical, and no one wants to make such a blunder in business anyway.
Thirdly, church polities, like political systems of countries, have their own strengths and weaknesses which affects the living of Christians within the various systems, their ministry opportunities, effectiveness, and definitely their role and status within the church. Certain church polities would be easier to be exploited by wolves in sheep's skin, and others may be harder for that to happen but then could be rendered ineffective by the younger lambs who may be easily led astray. Since such is the case, which church polity we embrace is important.
Lastly, and most importantly of all, the reason why this topic is important is because God is important; because His Word is important, and that He desires that we glorify Him in whatever we do (1 Cor. 10:31). As the Church is the Bride of Christ, we are to strive to reform her continually into what her bridegroom desires her to be, and that definitely includes Church Polity. God is definitely interested in how the Church is ruled, a fact upon which a cursory look at the pastoral Epistles of 1 Tim., 2 Tim. and Titus would clearly reveal.
So how is the Church to be governed? Does God prefer prelacy, presbyterianism, congregationalism, or something else? To that, let us look at the various polities and examine them in the light of Scripture.
[to be continued]