Thursday, April 26, 2007


How is a local church governed? Baptists are 'congregational'. They meet, free from any 'outside' control, as we said in the last post, to arrive at a consensus about God's will, through Bible study, prayer, and discussion. A British Baptist statement (1948) says such a church meeting is 'the occasion when, as individuals and as a community, we submit ourselves to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and stand under the judgment of God that we may know the mind of Christ'.

The aim of each congregation will be to reflect the character of Jesus in all that it does. So persons will matter more than agendas or programs or constitutions! We will love and respect those with whom we may disagree. Although Baptist church members' meetings are, in principle, democratic (any member is free to speak on any matter on the agenda), they are really, in essence, theocratic (ruled by God), so members don't have the right to say anything they please - but only what is loving, constructive, true, and that which humbly seeks the mind of Christ. Because they affirm diversity within their Fellowships they will sometimes 'agree to differ - agreeably' on some issues. So Baptists have generally been happy with 'majority voting' on all but really major issues (which may require a large majority, or, occasionally, total unanimity). Some churches seldom take a vote - they will discuss issues until a general consensus is achieved, or failing that, will defer the matter for further prayerful thought and consideration.

Here's an example of the discernment process practised in a Mennonite Church (From Marva Dawn's Joy in Divine Wisdom pp. 129-130: She applied to become a member of a Mennonite church, but had not been baptized by immersion as an adult):

'On the morning of the discernment process, I was asked to make a brief presentation of the importance to me of my infant baptism and of the nature of my faith in God as a result, because Mennonites actually first arose in protest to the requirement (often without faith) of infant baptism in countries where the state churches demanded it. In response to my faith statement, all the congregation members, who were seated at tables of eight, wrote down what they believed was the best procedure to follow concerning my request for membership.

'[They then] passed their comments to the person on the left so that everyone's remarks were read aloud objectively by the another person. Then each table came to a consensus about whether or not my membership appeal should be accepted. Then the consensus of each table was brought to the entire group, and a final consensus was reached to invite me into membership.'

Discussion: (1) Can you find any examples of 'democracy' in the New Testament churches? (2) Do you want to challenge the idea that 'any member can speak' at meetings? In Ancient Greece citizens could participate democratically in public debates, but in modern Western democracies a lot is delegated to our politicians and government bureaucrats. How much - and what sorts of matters - should be delegated to church leaders?

Rowland Croucher

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