Elders in Baptist churches? Conference examines the idea
(BPNews ) Feb 13, 2004, By Gary D. Myers
NEW ORLEANS (BP)--Elders and congregationalism. For many Baptists, these terms sound like polar opposites. However, according to some speakers at the "Issues in Baptist Polity" conference, the two may not be mutually exclusive.
The issue of the growing presence of elders in Baptist churches was one of the key discussions during the Feb. 5-7 sessions at the Baptist Center for Theology and Ministry of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
Mark Dever, pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., argued that a body of elders is the New Testament model of church structure. He made a clear distinction between "elder-led" and "elder-rule," flatly rejecting the Presbyterian model that makes a distinction between teaching elders and ruling elders. Instead, Dever offered a biblical argument for an elder-led form of congregationalism in which the congregation serves as a "final court of appeal" in the decision-making process....
"The biblical model is elder-directed or elder-led congregationalism," Dever said. "It is biblical and it is Baptist."
While there was support for elder-led congregationalism, the majority of speakers at the NOBTS polity conference denounced elder rule in Southern Baptist churches. Under the elder-rule model, the congregation has little or no say in the matters of the church. A select group rules and controls all or most of the decisions of the church.
In contrast, various presenters were at least open to the idea of elder-led model as a form of congregationalism. This is due in part to their general consensus on the biblical teaching about the number of church offices..."