In Case You Missed It

At the Intersect Project, Amber Bowen discussed why Christians should actually listen to atheists. Amber writes:

What can we learn from the atheists’ perspective about us?

 

“Sometimes it’s good for us to actually listen to the atheists…. We hear, ‘You’re atheist, I’m going to plug my ears and I’m going to attack.’ So we’re always on the defensive, and we’re never on the listening side.

 

“One of the big problems we have — especially in this day and age — [is that] we’re really, really obsessed with forming our opinions about things. (‘Am I on this side, or am I on this side? Do I have this view, or do I have this view?’) And we’re really, really set on figuring out the rightness of the issues that we don’t ever take time to stop and examine our own hearts. We’re busier forming our opinions than we are at looking at our hearts.

 

“So… I’m going to throw out some big names: Freud, Marx, Nietzsche, Camus, Derrida — you guys should be shivering right now. These are hardcore atheists. These are the bad guys, right, in terms of Christian worldview… But in reality, I think that these guys function for us like the prophets of the Old Testament, or even like Jesus to the Pharisees, or like Paul saying to the churches, ‘Your works are dead. Why are you having Jesus plus all your works?’ or like James who criticizes cheap grace or the practice of favoritism in the church. These people are calling out things, and they can see things that we can’t because we’re within it. So we benefit from actually stopping our defense, listening to them and examining our hearts.

 

Earlier this week, the B&H Academic blog shared a post by Andreas Köstenberger, Benjamin Merkle, and Robert Plummer discussing a (brief) history of Text Criticism.

Even within the New Testament (NT) itself, we have evidence that the individual NT documents were copied by hand and that these copies circulated among the churches. In Colossians 4:16, Paul writes, “When this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you also read the letter from Laodicea.”

 

Over time, the early church grouped selections of inspired writings and copied them together. By the mid-second century, the four canonical Gospels and Paul’s letters were apparently grouped and copied as units. Not much later, the entire NT was grouped and copied as a recognized body of inspired writings. The earliest extant canonical list we have of the NT (the Muratorian Canon) has been dated to AD 190.

 

As early Christians copied, recopied, and copied copies (all by hand), small variations were inevitably introduced into the manuscripts. And, although Church Fathers sometimes speculated about copyist errors or the original reading of manuscripts, it was virtually impossible to codify accurately such discussion until one could reproduce a text without any variation. Thus, after the printing press was introduced to Europe in 1454, possibilities for comparing manuscripts with an unchanging standard arose.

 

Aaron Earls recently posted at his personal blog, The Wardrobe Door discussing why Americans change churches. Aaron writes:

At some point in their lives, half of Americans have searched for a new church to attend.

 

A new survey from Pew Research examines the attitudes surrounding the move and come away with some very interesting findings. Here are five takeaways for Christians hoping to understand the current American religious environment.

 

Keelan Cook recently shared why your community should affect the way you do ministry.

Methods in local church ministry and mission are too often based on the perceived goals of the church instead of the unique nature of their community. Before I sound too critical, I believe many local churches have noble goals, but they are often more self-serving than the church ever realizes. Many churches focus on growth and now diversity as success metrics. These are not bad things. In fact they are good things, but a poor understanding of them can subtly replace more biblical success metrics, such as making good disciples and multiplying gospel witness in the community. For instance, is it better to have one larger church in a city or multiple smaller churches? That is a hard question to answer. And when we talk about diversity, we often have a shallow understanding of that term. Sometimes, a church simply wants different colors of skin. They are not looking for real cultural diversity, or language diversity, or age diversity, or economic diversity. In fact, many churches are simply trying to figure out how to do church the way they want to and convince other kinds of people to come do it that way with them. This is not real diversity.

 

Dr. Bruce Ashford recently shared 6 go-t0 sources for political news and opinion.

For Christians who wish to be informed on matters of significance in the political arena but who are pressed for time, this article offers six “go-to” sources for political news and opinion. The first four sources are secular outlets; I follow them to keep abreast of breaking news and a variety of perspectives on the news. The last two sources are distinctively Christian outlets that provide conservative evangelical opinions on current events and political developments.

On Plural-Elder-Led Congregationalism

For nearly a decade, I’ve been convinced that the most faithful contemporary adaptation of New Testament polity is a plural-elder-led congregationalism. Since January 2012, I have been a part of the elder team at my local church, First Baptist Church of Durham.  I’m thrilled to be able to serve the Lord and His church as a full-time seminary professor and a voluntary pastor.

I’m convinced that plural-elder-led congregationalism is a healthier alternative to four polities that are very common among Free Church evangelicals, including Southern Baptists. Option 1 is pure democracy. In this polity, the whole congregation votes on nearly every decision. The pastors and church staff are often treated as mere employees of the church who direct various ministries, but who have no real authority in the church. All of the authority rests in the whole congregation assembled in a church conference or members meeting (often called a “business meeting”).

Option 2 is committee-led congregationalism. In this polity, the church uses democratic processes to make key decisions, but the real authority rests with certain key committees or similar small groups that are compromised of influential church members. In many Southern Baptist churches, the committee that runs the church is the so-called church council. In others, it might be the personnel committee, since these are the folks who keep tabs on the staff. A very common variation of this polity is deacon-led congregationalism, where the deacons function as the chief committee in the church’s hierarchy.

Option 3 is single-pastor-ruled benevolent autocracy. In this polity, the solo or senior pastor is called by the church, but after that, he wields most of the authority. In a larger church, he typically hires and fires all ministry staff, including other pastors. The lead pastor is as much a CEO as he is a shepherd. Members meetings are kept to a minimum; in some churches, only once a year. The pastor is the leader and the people follow his lead.

Option 4 is plural-elder-ruled benevolent oligarchy. In this polity, which is not as common as the others, a plurality of elders rules the church in much the same way as the single-pastor-ruled option. The difference is that the authority is vested in a small group rather than a single individual. In many ways, this polity could be called “poor man’s presbyterianism.” The church is ruled by her elders, but there is no presbytery or classis beyond the local congregation. This polity also frequently makes a presbyterian-like distinction between teaching elders and ruling elders; only the former are considered pastors.

No doubt these are simplistic summaries of the various polities found in our circles, but I doubt they are overly simplistic. I’m personally acquainted with many (sometimes tons) of SBC churches that hold to each of these polities pretty much exactly as I’ve described them. Options 1 and 2 are very common among traditional-minded, small and medium-sized churches in small towns and rural areas. Options 3 and 4 are more common in contemporary-minded, larger churches in suburban areas, as well as newer church plants.

Plural-elder-led congregationalism differs from each of these polities in various ways. Unlike Options 1–3, there is a plurality of pastors. Unlike option 4, all of the pastors are elders, and vice verse; the terms are synonymous. All may be paid staff, or some may be paid and some may be voluntary. Unlike Option 1, the elders/pastors have the freedom to exercise biblical pastoral authority over the congregation in matters of teaching and shepherding. Unlike Option 2, no committees or deacon “boards” are elevated to an unbiblical level of authority in the church. Unlike Option 3, all pastors are equals, even if, based upon prudence and giftedness, different pastors have different roles within the leadership team. Unlike Option 4, the final earthly authority still rests with the whole congregation as it corporately seeks God’s will under the lordship of Christ as it is revealed in the Scriptures.

If you are interested in reading more about the ins and outs of plural-elder-led congregationalism, including the biblical justification for the view, I would recommend the following books.

Thabiti Anyabwile, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons (Crossway, 2012).

Mark Dever, Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, 2nd ed. (Crossway, 2004), especially chapter 9.

John Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology (Kregel Academic, 2005), especially chapter 7.

Benjamin Merkle, 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons (Kregel Academic, 2007).

Benjamin Merkle, Why Elders? A Biblical and Practical Guide for Church Members (Kregel Academic, 2009).

Phil Newton, Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model of Church Leadership (Kregel Academic, 2005).