Thursday, December 05, 2013

Ray, Robbins and Congregationalism

The commands which Christ gave in Matthew 18 similarly involve discipline by the majority: Go to your brother first. If he will not hear you, take a witness. If he still does not listen, tell it to the church. If he will not listen to the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. The church does not mean the church leaders: It means the entire assembly.

Moreover, this procedure applies to all Christians, not just to laymen. There are no special courts set up for judging the clergy. All Christians are brothers, and to establish separate judicial procedures for leaders and for laity is unbiblical.

— John W. Robbins, "The Church," Trinity Review Sept/Oct 1989: 5

In my previous post, the recalcitrant slanderer Charlie Ray posted totally inane comments showing his inability to actually understand the issues being discussed. One of his points was that Robbins is Presbyterian, so any idea of Congregationalism is out of the picture. One wonders whether Ray has ACTUALLY READ Robbins' article, or maybe he doesn't even understand church polity. Just to give one (THE LAST ONE) instance of why it is futile to engage Charlie Ray, I would show that Robbins is actually promoting Congregationalism in his article.

What is Congregationalism? Congregationalism is church governance by the entire congregation. Congregational church governance does not mean there are no pastors or elders in a church, otherwise that would be anarchy. Rather, it just means that the congregation has the ultimate authority on all matter of church governance and policy. Pastors, elders and deacons are mere servants of the church without any ruling power. In other words, the church is a democracy, where every member has a say in the operating and governance of a local church.

The alternatives to Congregationalism are Presbyterianism and Episcopacy. Presbyterian church polity is a representative church polity. A local church elects (ruling) elders and deacons, and calls a minister(s), and it is those office bearers who represent the entire church in governing the church. Authority and decision-making in Presbyterian church polity is invested in the office bearers of a church, not the congregation per se. Episcopal church polity on the other hand is a hierarchical church polity. Local churches are under the authority of vicars, who are in turn under the authority of others in a chain of hierarchy with bishops (and even archbishops) at the top.

Now, understanding the differences between the 3 main church polities, let us look at the excerpt from Robbin's article again. To which church polity does Robbins' statements conform to? Congregationalism of course. There is no idea of any idea of representation in Robbins' article. Why does it even matter that Robbins was once a Presbyterian (PCA)? Does attending a Presbyterian church necessarily means that the person must be Presbyterian in conviction? Just as being in MacDonalds does not make one a hamburger, so attending a Presbyterian church does not mean that one is necessarily Presbyterian in conviction. Presbyterianism believe in special office bearers who represent the whole church (as per apostolic witness in Acts 15:6-21); Robbins does not. Presbyterianism believe in church discipline by these same office bearers; Robbins does not. So in what sense can it be said that Robbins is still a Presbyterian?

Whether Congregationalism is biblical or not is not the point of this post. But it should not be denied that Robbins is promoting Congregationalism in his article. As such, Robbins most certainly is not Presbyterian, and his view of the church is not the same as that of Gordon H Clark.


Charlie J. Ray said...

Pulling a few comments by Robbins out of context does not justify the proposition that Robbins was a congregationalist in his theological views on church polity.

The reasoning behind his point that elders in the local sessions should have other jobs as sources of income is that should the Presbyterian denomination go apostate--as it has in several cases in the past--then the session is self-supporting should the congregation split, etc., etc. In short, it's a contingency plan. In view of the many congregations in the UPCUSA that lost their church properties in the 1970s over the ordination of women issue and the ensuing split, that is understandable. The Episcopal congregations likewise suffered loss of their church properties when they pulled out of TEC.

Jumping to theological conclusions based on one article does not consider the entire body of John Robbins' work.

Furthermore, Paul Elliott and his session pulled out of the OPC over the Kinnaird case. His argument--which I believe is a legitimate one-- is that the OPC has gone over to the error of Norman Shepherd and Richard Gaffin's "union with Christ" reinterpretation of the WCF.

A denomination that has gone liberal or apostate has lost its ability to administer discipline. The same can be said for the PCA where the Federal Vision is now officially acceptable as doctrine. Heresy is still heresy.


Charlie J. Ray said...

I'm taking it that you object to the congregation calling its own minister? That's a standard practice across most denominational lines, including the Episcopal churches. The formalities are just that. Formalities.

Daniel C said...


this is why I don't wish to talk with you further. I'm astonished at how you can turn black to white, and white to black. Robbins' promotion of Congregationalism in your hands suddenly becomes "contingency plan for elders to have other sources of income." Nevermind that Robbins was writing about the normal practices of a Church, not contingency plans. Nevermind that NOWHERE in that article is the word "contingency" mentioned.

Also, it's amazing how you can say that I'm objecting to churches calling pastors. The way you distort the truth, you can join Obama's propaganda team

I have no further wish to interact with you. Please go off. It should be evident to EVERYONE that you constantly misread and misinterpret me