“ . . but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” Prov 11.14
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
“. . . . Congregationalist polity, often known as congregationalism, is a system of church governance in which every local church congregation is independent, ecclesiastically sovereign, or “autonomous”.
Although “congregational rule” may seem to suggest that pure democracy reigns in congregational churches, this is seldom the case. It is granted, with few exceptions (namely in some Anabaptist churches), that God has given the government of the Church into the hands of an ordained ministry. What makes congregationalism unique is its system of checks and balances, which constrains the authority of the clergy, the lay officers, and the members.
Most importantly, the boundaries of the powers of the ministers and church officers are set by clear and constant reminders of the freedoms guaranteed by the Gospel to the laity, collectively and individually. With that freedom comes the responsibility upon each member to govern himself or herself under Christ. This requires lay people to exercise great charity and patience in debating issues with one another and to seek the glory and service of God as the foremost consideration in all of their decisions.
The authority of all of the people, including the officers, is limited in the local congregation by a definition of union, or a covenant, by which the terms of their cooperation together are spelled out and agreed to. This might be something as minimal as a charter specifying a handful of doctrines and behavioral expectations, or even a statement only guaranteeing specific freedoms. Or, it may be a constitution describing a comprehensive doctrinal system and specifying terms under which the local church is connected to other local churches, to which participating congregations give their assent. In congregationalism, rather uniquely, the church is understood to be a truly voluntary association.
Finally, the congregational theory strictly forbids ministers from ruling their local churches by themselves. Not only does the minister serve by the approval of the congregation, but committees further constrain the pastor from exercising power without consent by either the particular committee, or the entire congregation. It is a contradiction of the congregational principle if a minister makes decisions concerning the congregation without the vote of these other officers.
The other officers may be called “deacons”, “elders” or “session” (borrowing Presbyterian terminology), or even “vestry” (borrowing the Anglican term) — it is not their label that is important to the theory, but rather their lay status and their equal vote, together with the pastor, in deciding the issues of the church. While other forms of church government are more likely to define “tyranny” as “the imposition of unjust rule”, a congregationally governed church would more likely define tyranny as “transgression of liberty” or equivalently, “rule by one man”. To a congregationalist, no abuse of authority is worse than the concentration of all decisive power in the hands of one ruling body, or one person.
Following this sentiment, congregationalism has evolved over time to include even more participation of the congregation, more kinds of lay committees to whom various tasks are apportioned, and more decisions subject to the vote of the entire membership. . . . . ” (article abbreviated)
- Wayne Grudem, Electronic Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Whitefish, MT: Bits & Bytes Computer Resources, 2000)
- Stanley M. Horton, ed., Systematic Theology, A Pentecostal Perspective (rev. edn, Springfield, MO: Logion Press, 1994)
- Byron D. Klaus, Systematic Theology, ed. Stanley M. Horton (Springfield, MI: Logion P, 2007), pp. 567–96
- Michael L. Dusing, Systematic Theology, ed. Stanley M. Horton (Springfield, MI: Logion P, 2007), pp. 525–66
- Paul Fiddes, A leading question: the structure and authority of leadership in the local church (London: Baptist Publications, 1986)
- Paul Fiddes, Tracks and traces: Baptist identity in church and theology (Carlisle: Paternoster, 2003)