Sunday School: Elder-Led Congregationalism (Pt. 5)
Forms and Elements
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.
When it comes to matters in the “elements” column, a congregation’s trust and
submission basically depends on the elders’ own submission and faithfulness to Scripture.
One almost wants to say that in the “elements” column, the elders owe the people a
biblical proof text. If elders cannot justify their recommendations biblically, the
congregation need not submit.
When it comes to matters in the “forms” column, where Scripture does not make
specific recommendations, the congregations should generally trust and submit to their
elders, so long as what the elders do or recommend does not contradict Scripture
It’s tempting to say that the congregation basically rules through the “elements”
column since that is where they will make the preponderance of their binary decisions,
while the elders lead through the “forms” column since that is where they will make the
preponderance of their multi-choice decisions.
And describing the division of labour that way might be useful for practical purposes
(“What should the church generally vote on?”).
But the fuller picture to keep in mind is that the elders lead in both columns, and the
congregation must be said to have final (binary) rule in both columns (as when a
particular form puts an element at stake).