Sunday School: Elder-Led Congregationalism (Pt. 4)
Insofar as the congregation has authority over the who and what of the gospel, I believe
they possess and should exercise a vote (or something like it) in matters of membership
admission and removal, as well as in matters concerning the statement of faith and, by
implication, who the pastors are.
Furthermore, a church might decide to hold a congregational vote on any major decision
that affects the overall direction of gospel ministry among a particular people in a
11 Arguments for Congregationalism
1. The final court of appeal in a matter of discipline, which is the highest
authority in a church, is the church (Matt 18:17).
2. Jesus says that the church has the authority to make this assessment and
judgment because it possesses the keys (Matt 18:18).
3. Jesus promises that his authoritative presence abides with two or three
witnesses to his reign and to one another gathered in his name (Matt
18:20). This locates authority in a gathering. But to say that this promise
applies to a gathering smaller than a church would divide a local church
against itself and make the basic unit of kingdom authority something
smaller than a church, or create churches inside of churches.
4. There is no mention of bishops or elders in Matthew 16, 18, or 28, nor
does the New Testament give a single example of elders or overseers
unilaterally exercising the keys.
5. The apostles treat the gathered congregation as something of an equal
partner when selecting and affirming the seven proto-deacons.
6. Paul invokes the language of gathering with the authority of Jesus to act
in Jesus’ name from Matthew 18:20 when he charges not only the leaders
of the Corinthian church but the whole congregation to “hand this man
over to Satan” (1 Cor 5:4–5). The judgment, to be clear, does not occur
behind closed session doors.
7. Paul explicitly tells the whole congregation that it is their responsibility to
judge (1 Cor 5:12).
8. Paul tells the Galatian churches that they should act as a check even on
his apostolic authority when he departs from the gospel (Gal 1:6–9). They
don’t need to go outside the system to resolve the problem.
9. Paul affirms that the decision of the “majority” was sufficient for removing
a man from membership (2 Cor 2:6).
10. Churches can exist without elders (e.g., Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5).
11. Much of the New Testament is written to whole churches.
The elements are the basic furniture in a church that makes it a church, and a rightly
ordered one: the Bible, preaching and teaching, gatherings, singing, elders and deacons,
members, and so forth.
The forms are the way those elements are expressed, like the style of the furniture:
what translation of the Bible, what kind of preaching, what programmatic structures for
the teaching (Sunday school? Small groups?), and so forth.
The circumstances include things like time and place, whether you amplify sound
through a microphone, and all the inevitable questions humans have to answer as
This is overly simplistic, but we can almost say that the congregation makes decisions in
the elements area, while the elders make decisions in the forms and circumstances
They exercise this rule, however, by submitting to the elders’ training, instruction, and
leadership in how to vote, whether to hold thumbs up or down with any
decision that calls an element into question.