Thoughts about a meeting

We’re considering a change in our church that would change our church government to an “elder-based” system. The Bible doesn’t say a whole lot about how to organize a local church, but it seem pretty plain that elders were the group saddled with leadership. We currently have a fairly common set-up where leadership authority and responsibility are split between three “branches”.

We’ve been looking at this topic for a couple of years. A vote was planned for next Sunday. We had “one last” Question-Answer meeting last night. It was interesting.

Because of newly raised questions and concerns, we began the meeting noting that there would actually be no vote next Sunday. That was to me a sad way to start the meeting, but there we were.

The really valuable thing which came from the meeting was the clear message that the message hasn’t been clear enough. People want to know how moving to an elder-based system would be different. Much of what was being asked has already been worked through, but no materials reflecting that were provided, so I think it’s fair and right that folks want to “hold the horses” until they see some of the details and goals better.

But there were parts of the meeting that – I’m not sure how to say it – grieved me.

There were folks that don’t want to change things, which isn’t surprising or even bad. What was surprising were some of the reasons and arguments. No one had a Biblical challenge to the idea, such as saying they don’t believe it’s correct to pursue an elder-based system based on this or that Scriptural concept or passage.

The “arguments” offered stuck me as being exactly the kinds of things that an individual might express if they were presented the idea that they may not be following Scripture. (For those friends of mine who read this and are not Christian, this may all seem very odd, but there’s just a basic idea that if you’re a Christian, you generally give ascent to the concept that the Bible is authoritative and applicable.) Here is some of what I heard (paraphrased the best I can remember), and thoughts I had afterwards, or that I thought it would not be kind or appropriate to express at the moment. I’d already spoken far more in that meeting than I’d wanted to. Also, these are solely my thoughts, not representing anyone else. And I might be too grumpy. You are forewarned.

> Are you saying that we’ve been wrong for 130 years?

That’s a loaded question, because if people improperly personalize this, it could hurt those folks who have worked hardest over the years. Nevertheless, I’d like to ask in response “Are you saying we’ve been ‘right’ for 130 years?” It seems potentially presumptuous and prideful to rule out the possibility of our being wrong. Scripture is only useful for “correction” if there are things which can and should be corrected. If we see something about how to set up a church in Scripture that we are not doing, then yes, I’m saying we’ve been doing it wrong for 130 years. In fact, I’m personally saying that we should be repentant and even (dare one say this in the 21st century) ashamed. And that’s OK. People and groups of people sometimes fail and are imperfect. And sometimes they get more information and are able to improve. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

And far from attempting to “feel” 130 years of somehow cumulative guilt, how about just being thankful for the many people who worked so hard in an imperfect system to keep the church going for 130 years, and thankful to God for honoring our (always) imperfect efforts, and thankful for the Word which draws us ever-closer to Him?

> Comparing this to a car and it’s owner’s manual, it’s like were saying we see something different in the manual so we want to bring our car back to the dealership and have it changed to conform to the manual.

The analogy seemed meant to say that we are seeing something in the manual (Scripture) which is different than it is in our car (the church) and so we’re saying we should get the car adjusted (by changing the church constitution). Well, yes. Of course we should want that. If we say that Scripture is authoritative, and we find ourselves not in line with it, then yes, we need to change the thing which is out of compliance. What else? Is it suggested that we should not comply with the “manual”? Is it suggested that there’s a threshold of discomfort or inconvenience we must remain below, even if it means we are out of compliance with the “manual”?

Imagine this being applied to an individual. No don’t imagine. Go read, as one example, Matthew 19:16-30.

> If we’re saying we want to follow Scripture, it may take us places we might not want to go. I know church where the women wear head-coverings… do we then share all things communally…

This one stuck me on many levels. First, it’s a [non sequitur](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non_sequitur_%28logic%29), and almost feels like a rhetorical trick. I was able to note as much during the meeting; that it is a no more justifiable concern than saying “if you *don’t* follow Scripture in this case, you will surely and up with people getting drunk in church.” (A similar non sequitur which could instill fear or doubt.)

Second, I personally don’t look on issues such as head-coverings or belongings and the Christian community as difficult or troublesome at all. They’re fairly easy to figure out with some basic exegetical rules. Issues like that are interesting, but the issue on the table is clearly defined and has specific related texts.

But the real issue for me is this: what can a Christian mean by saying that? We are indeed explicitly told that we may need to follow in ways that are uncomfortable. This seems like something that would appear in Lewis’ *Screwtape Letters* or Bunyan’s *Pilgrim’s Progress*. I can’t even imagine what is being offered here. It’s fine to be a Christian, but let’s not take this following Scripture thing too seriously? Is this a caution? (That’s how it was offered.) A caution against looking at your Bible and trying to draw closer to it’s example and instruction in those places where you become convinced that you should?

I can’t understand this within a Christian context. Christian growth depends (at least in part) on a response to the Scripture we claim provides reliable information intended to [teach, reprove, and instruct](http://www.gnpcb.org/esv/search/?q=2+Timothy+3:16-17).

Should I be discouraged from stifling pride in my life because, who knows, I might one day also be required to give up gossip, too, and I’m not really sure I want to “go there”?

Are we afraid that Scripture is calling us to something wrong? A Christian must answer no. Are we afraid that Scripture is calling us to something uncomfortable? A Christian should answer “well, that’s not surprising.” A Christian may even add “Rats, I hate discomfort.”

It’s important to note that while these arguments seemed, well, poor, that it does not follow that this is some sort of judgement about the individuals. The very individuals who brought forward these ideas also drew appropriate attention to the lack of communication concerning purpose and details. In fact, these are folks who give above and beyond in many ways. Nevertheless, sincere and redeemed people can have both good and bad ideas.

My overarching worry is that the way I understand that bad ideas are corrected in a Christian context is by studying God’s word, but some of the arguments seem to suggest otherwise. Sometimes I wonder if people actually take Biblical authority seriously; to the point of having things in their life challenged. A question that I think I’ve asked when teaching Sunday School comes to mind: Have you ever had to change your mind about something important to you based on something you saw in Scripture? I feel like this is a chance to demonstrate corporately what should always be happening individually. Test all things; hold fast to that which is true.

OK, 1,300 words is plenty. I’m sure I’ve already run well afoul of Proverbs 10:19, *When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.*

2 thoughts on “Thoughts about a meeting”

  1. You are a deep thinker, and from one Baptist to another, the church meetings can’t decide on what color to paint the restrooms…no disrespect inteded. They joke about it around here. Arguing or stiff necked…. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, feller.” Who needs more of God’s revelation?? Get well soon and fight the good fight! I think they would rather put up with a stinker than a thinker. It’s less of a threat. Change requires courage and change usually brings fear. I thought “with God there is no fear”.

  2. I attend a church that went to the elder system back in the mid eighties. We are Baptist but went through the books of 1 and 2 Timothy and the congregation asked if we could go to this system. It works as long as you keep the right ratio of elders to congregation. I love it because we do not have the factions anymore and we have gotten to know our elders to be able to approach them about anything. We have a church that’s about 3,000. Our elders have made mistakes but were gracious and came back to us and let us know they messed up. I highly recommend it. If you would like I could get you in contact with one of our elders and they can give you more info. They have helped other churchs transition to the elder system

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