Friday, December 31, 2010

Baptism in the Theology of A. H. Strong - The Organization of the Church - Summary of Ecclesiology Part II

On the topic of organization and church government, Strong is convinced that a church as an organization will not only naturally happen, but is prescribed in Scripture. He believes that the NT depicts a developing organization, which existed only in germ before Christ's death, but which was "already complete in all essential particulars before the close of the inspired canon, so that the record of it may constitute a providential example of binding authority upon all subsequent ages." This organization should be properly populated with regenerate persons, but given his belief that Scripture depicts a visible church "comprehending some who are not true believers," Strong allows for the possibility that the organization might not.[12]

This institutional model is adaptable, according to Strong, but always follows a generic type that is democratic, and possesses only two orders of officials and only two ordinances.[13] Here Strong is again Christocentric, clarifying that this model is democratic insofar as the body is trying to interpret the will of Christ, its "sovereign and lawgiver," but with regard to its source of authority, Christ, it is an "absolute monarchy."[14] The two offices that Strong accepts as valid are: bishop, presbyter, or pastor; and deacon. Strong opposes Calvin's differentiation between teaching and ruling elders, since the same individual should be gifted with both the gifts of teaching and ruling.[15] This teaching / ruling pastor, when it comes to church discipline, does not have the role of "judge," but rather that of a "prosecuting attorney" of public offenses. Strong divides transgressions that require discipline into two categories: private and public. Each is to be dealt with according to different rules. Discipline needed for private matters is focused on the restoration of the erring believer, but discipline enacted for public sins seems to be primarily for the protection of the institution, and only secondarily for the restoration of the individual believer.[16]

[12] Strong considers that Ananias and Sapphira were not true believers. Strong, Systematic Theology, 894-97. One has to wonder if, by the use of his terminology, Strong is trying to constitute different categories. When he first introduces the concept of the invisible church and the individual church, he is very consistent in using the term individual and not visible. While here he refers to the "visible church as comprehending some who are not true believers" (emphasis mine), not the individual church. It could be that Strong allows for an invisible or universal church composed of true believers that takes form in an individual, but still invisible, church composed of true believers, that in turns organizes itself into a visible church, which ideally should be composed only of true believers, but practically is not.

[13] Ibid., 897. Later in the text, Strong equates democratic with congregational (904). To be noted is Strong's very Biblical understanding of congregationalism: "Should not the majority rule in a Baptist church? No, not a bare majority, when there are opposing convictions on the part of a large minority. What should rule is the mind of the Spirit. What indicates his mind is the gradual unification of conviction and opinion on the part of the whole body in support of some definite plan, so that the whole church moves together" (905).

[14] Ibid., 903. This is central to the understanding of Strong's view of the pastor. For Strong, "it should be the ambition of the pastor not 'to run the church,' but to teach the church intelligently and Scripturally to manage its own affairs. The word 'minister' means, not master, but servant. The true pastor inspires, but does not drive" (908). With Christ as the absolute head, the church does not need another head, instead, as Eph 4:11 states, it needs an equipper of the saints for the work of the ministry.

[15] Ibid., 914-15. The duties of the pastor, bishop, or elder are to be: 1) a spiritual teacher, 2) an administrator of the ordinances (to be discussed in more detail below), and 3) superintender of discipline and presiding officer at meetings. The duties of a deacon are to be: 1) a helper to the pastor by "forming a bond of union between pastor and people," 2) ministering to the sick and the poor, ministering in an "informal way" to the spiritual needs of the church, and tending to some "external duties" associated with the service of the sanctuary (see 916-18).

[16] Ibid., 924-26.

No comments:

Join my blog network
on Facebook