Saturday, December 19, 2009

Brand and Norman, eds. Perspective on Church Government - 5 Views of Church Polity - A short book review

Brand, Chad Owen and R. Stanton Norman, eds. Perspective on Church Government - 5 Views of Church Polity. Nashville: B&H, 2004.

According to the editors, this book was assembled with a desire to “drive [the reader] more and more to the Word of God to find answers to how the church ought to be led today” (23). For this purpose, besides the introduction, which includes a short historical overview, the book presents five different authors’ writings on their view on church polity and the respective replies.

In The Single-Elder-Led Church, Akin, while comfortable with a multiplicity of congregational approaches (40), seeks to defend that “the case for the single-elder position, as a scriptural acceptable option, can be made on biblical, theological, and practical grounds” (64). In his quest, one of his repeated arguments is that “who is giving leadership and direction to the church is far more important than how many are involved in this assignment” (26, 44). Overall, Akin offers a good defense of congregationalism and of the singularity of the terms pastor/elder/overseer. He is weak in his defense of a single-elder-led congregation, at times falling into inconsistencies and unwarranted assumptions. I am afraid this position has been accepted because of pragmatism, and I join with Zahl in failing “to see a strong enough nod to the fluid and free-floating gifts of the Holy Spirit” (76).

In The Presbytery-Led Church, Reymond attempts “to demonstrate that the Presbyterian form of government alone passes biblical muster” (93). Reynolds is too bold in his approach, in light of his weak defense. Reymond falls prey to circular reasoning (143) and anachronistic exegesis (144). Also, he is not always consistent in his terminology. His emphasis on connectionalism is appreciated, but his avocation of the necessity for an “ecclesiastical connectionalism” (112, 154) is not. As White states: “independence does not mean isolation from fellow believers but independence from nonbiblical ecclesiastical structures” (140).

In The Congregation-Led Church, Garrett states that congregationalism “is that form of church governance in which the final human authority rests with the local or particular congregation when it gathers for decision-making” (157, 198). He produces a solid scriptural defense combined with commentator evidence from all backgrounds, a historical summary, a theological defense, and a pragmatic defense. Garrett spends time demonstrating that congregationalism, while not always easy, allows all people in the congregation to grow spiritually. He offers a small section warning against some of the modern phenomena in Baptist life which he believes conducive to true congregationalism (190-2).

In The Bishop-Led Church, the Very Rev. Dr. Theol. Paul F. M. Zahl presents a refreshing, provocative, candid, and honest view which is pragmatic, lacks scriptural support, and preferentially honors a specific tradition. His approach includes two categories: esse and bene esse, but he errs when he states that an esse for church polity “can never be sustained from the [Biblical] text” (214-6). His two proposed advantages for episcopacy are not even well defended.

In The Plural-Elder-Led Church, White states his thesis: that “the Scriptures do in fact show us locally autonomous congregations functioning directly under the headship of the Word, . . . and the divinely instituted guidance of the elders” (260). He offers a standard defense of biblical plural eldership. His main purpose seems to be to discredit a fictitious higher ecclesiastical body. His division of teaching and ruling elders is “reading into the text what is ‘plainly’ not there” (288). He also offers some practical considerations, but falls short of producing an “incontrovertible” (284) presentation.

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