Monday, June 2, 2014

"Elders in the Life of the Church" by Phil Newton and Matt Schmucker: A Review

There is no evidence that the early church voted on every issue. Rather, the plural eldership competently and efficiently handled day-to-day matters. And the church respected and submitted to this leadership, knowing that trustworthy men stood before them by divine design. On occasion, the churches had to be reminded to obey and submit to the plural eldership; but the elders were not despots - the congregation exercised decisive roles in church life (1 Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:17). In other words, congregationalism certainly existed, but not to such a degree that the public assembly literally ran the church. (77)

I am a baptist and always have been. As a baptist, I have grown up in pastor/deacon-led congregationalism. Each church I have been a member of and ministered at understood the role of deacons different. To some, the deacons are like a board of elders with the pastor as a CEO-type. To others, the deacons are servants that make sure projects are completed and programs are ran well.

After years of studying the doctrine of the church and polity, it seems to me that elder-led congregationalism fits the biblical record the best. That is why I recently invested in Phil Newton and Matt Schmucker's book Elders in the Life of the Church: Rediscovering the Biblical model for Church Leadership (Kregel, 2014).

The book suggests it will defend elder-led polity in three areas: biblical exegesis, historical theology, and practical insights. Two brief points regarding this outline. First, the book is clearly favorable to Baptists (which I am one). This is a real weakness for those from other denominations and theological backgrounds. Secondly, though the historical discussion is helpful, especially as it relates to the Baptist record, it is sparse. I assumed in reading the book's introduction there would be a robust discussion of the historic record. Though it touches the issue lightly (especially at the beginning), it is not developed.

There are a lot of strengths about this book however. First, the authors provide great exegetical insight while weaving in their own experience in leading their own churches from deacon-led congregations to elder-led polity.

Secondly, the book is very practical in both general and particular terms. For example, the authors offer four duties of the elder: doctrine, discipline, direction, and distinction. Not only is it alliterated (which I guess deserves a few extra points), it simplifies the biblical revelation into easy-to understand and applicable points. Each elder ought to ask themselves where they stand with those four. Are they fulfilling them or failing at any of them?

Another example regards the how. How does a pastor led his congregation into adopting elder-led polity. One helpful strategy is given in the form of testimony from Jeff Noblit, the pastor of Grace Life Church in Mussel Shoals, AL. Before adopting elder-rule, Noblit established a pastor's council which functioned as quasi-elders as a means of introducing the congregation to the idea of elder-rule. This was really helpful to me.

Overall, this is a really helpful book. I would highly recommend it to pastors and churches looking into elder-rule and to those taking the steps to adopt it. I agree with the authors that though Baptists have largely abandoned a heritage of elder-rule, it seems to be making a comeback.

This book was given to me courtesy of Kregel Publications for the purpose of this review.

For more:
"Church Elders" by Jeramie Rinne: A Review
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Ecclesiology 1
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Ecclesiology 2
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Ecclesiology 3
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Ecclesiology 4
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Ecclesiology 5
"Christian Theology": Blogging Through Erickson - Ecclesiology 6
"Exploring Christian Theology" by Nathan Holsteen & Michael Svigel: A Review
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