Thursday, August 25, 2011

Common Myths about Plurality

Concerning the subject of a plurality of elders to lead a church; I find that there are some objections and misconceptions that are often raised but they seem to be misnomers when you really understand the concept of Biblical plural eldership. Most of these misconceptions come from a mindset that is operating in a purely congregational or single-pastor led mentality that is unable to compute the possibility that all three models are able to function together in one essential, Biblical government.  You don't have to choose between Congregational, Single Pastor or Plural Elder rule. It's a false dilemma. You can have a congregational church that is elder-led and has one lead pastor who casts vision and has the most leadership influence. You don't have to give up one for the sake of another. So, here are some myths concerning Biblical plural eldership that need to be busted.

Myth 1: Anything with more than one head is a monster.
The misconception is that you have three senior pastors all vying for supremacy and authority. This isn't the case in a plurality. Although there will be one pastor who does most of the preaching and teaching or is considered the lead pastor, the pastors are all equals who submit to each other and do not move forward on decisions without unanimity. None of them should be jockeying for preeminence. The single pastor led model can be argued against by looking at the one place where one pastor acted this way: 3 John 1:9-10  I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us.  10 Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church.
This is a real danger of having one man rule! Do you know any senior pastors who fire staff members because they called him by his first name instead of by his title? Sorta Diotrophetic isn't it? If Diotrophes had a plurality, maybe they would have thrown HIM out of the church instead of those who followed the Apostle John.

Myth 2: The Necessity of a Plurality requires choosing unqualified and uncalled men to fill a position. 
I understand that in the desire to raise up elders, a church could make the mistake of picking a couple of good guys and fill in the positions even though they don't measure up to all the qualifications. More often than not, the deacon led churches are guilty of doing this! They take men who are successful at business or have prominence in the community and make them deacons. Anyway, the truth is, elders must be called  because it is the Holy Ghost that makes them overseers (Acts 20:28) not the pastor or the congregation. Furthermore, an overseer must measure up to the qualifications set out in I Timothy and Titus and be apt to teach. There is no such thing as ruling elders and teaching elders - if you are not apt to teach, you are not apt to rule either! Elders rule by shepherding the flock: this requires the gift of pastor-teacher (Eph. 4:11).

Myth 3: Small churches can't afford to pay for multiple pastors.
Who says you have to pay all the elders equally? This isn't the case in 1 Timothy 5:17  Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine.
Those who labor in the word and doctrine more than others are paid more. Others do not necessarily have to be full time paid pastors. If the church can afford it, more power to them!

Myth 4: A good deacon board is just as adequate as a a plurality of elders.
No it isn't. Deacons are not given authority in scripture. Deacons are not called to be overseers and may not be gifted with the pastoral gift of governing (1Cor.12:28). They may or may not be gifted to teach either. Elders are a different species from deacons. This isn't to say that there can't be deacons who have the gifts of an elder, in which case, he may find that the Holy Spirit is calling him into eldership. If he should desire that office, then he needs to be recognized by the church and moved into eldership. The deacon's role is to serve the church's more earthly needs like distributing funds, feeding widows, counting money and preparing other things that would take a pastor away from the ministry of the word and doctrine (Acts 6:2).

Myth 5: Congregationalism is forfeited with a plurality of elders.
There are some elder rule models that strip the congregation of their biblical role of choosing elders, choosing deacons, and making other church-wide decisions. This is a problem among some Reformed churches, but it does not have to be the case. You can still have a plurality of elders leading the church in the context of a congregational church government. As Baptists, we believe in the autonomy of the local church and that the final court of appeals is the congregation at large. We see in the early church, the Apostles, Elders and the Congregation making a decision together in harmony: Acts 15:22  Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.
If the plurality of elders is leading the church, then the congregation needs to hold them accountable by making sure that what is taught is truly biblical and that they remain qualified in their character.

Myth 6: It's a Calvinist thing, and you'll drop the name "Baptist Church" to "Bible Church" next.
This is "guilt by association". Is it true that most Calvinist churches also have elders? Sure. But there are also non-Calvinist churches that also practice plurality of elders! Are there many "Bible Churches" that practice plurality? Yes, but There are also Baptist Churches that do so and have not dropped the Baptist name. Often times because something is associated primarily with another group that one may not agree with, the proverbial baby gets thrown out with the bathwater and thus plurality is rejected.

Myth 7: The elder's' (plural) of the "church" (singular) in Acts 20 was referring to "the various individual house churches" that all had one pastor in charge of each of them.
This scenario is definitely a possibility, but in the defense of "one pastor rule", the advocates of this position inadvertently are arguing for an Episcopalian Parish church government! The word "church" in Acts 20:17 no longer means a single local church, but now means a conglomerate of churches in a parish called "the church of  Ephesus".  I suppose a Bishop to oversee the parish would start making sense. Sorry, this argument doesn't cut it, especially when you look at Paul's practice in Acts 14:23  And when they had ordained them elders (plural)  in every church (singular), and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed.
What I also find a bit humorous is that the same pastors that deny the "universal church" concept are OK with "the church" in Acts 20:17 meaning something other than the local church.

I have to close with this one: One guy who used to be a deacon in my old church objected to plural eldership because the Mormons call their leaders "Elders" and that would be unbiblical compromise! He actually used to teach Sunday School for a while! There's a great example of "rightly dividing the word of truth!" that drives a lot of our Baptist churches.

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