Church Government: The Case for Elder-Led Congregationalism

In a world where everyone wants to make their own individual decisions, congregational church government presents a necessary corrective. It also prevents the individual from abdicating all responsibility whatsoever. As the biblical model of church government, congregationalism navigates between these two extremes: on the one hand, radical individualism; on the other, inexcusable abdication. In a congregational model of church government, the collective membership of the church is ultimately responsible for seeing to their own continued health and spiritual well-being. Because the members of the church have experienced the saving grace of Jesus Christ, they are better able to corporately discern the will of God and the leading of the Holy Spirit than any single individual or team of leaders.[1]

My thesis in this paper is that the biblical model for church government is elder-led congregationalism. By congregationalism, I mean that the final earthly authority in a local church is the collective membership of that local church. They are responsible for settling disputes, exercising discipline, appointing leaders, and guarding right doctrine. Practically, however, the church often exercises its authority by delegating certain responsibilities. The stewards of this delegated authority are the God-ordained offices of the local church, namely elders as leaders and deacons as servants. In this way, elders and deacons are empowered to exercise their gifts and meet specific needs while the ultimate earthly authority remains with the congregation as a whole. These office holders are held accountable by the congregation for how they exercise the responsibilities of their office. Although there is a level of delegated authority given to elders, the congregation as a whole is ultimately responsible both for who they allow to lead and how these individuals lead. The congregation should trust their elders, but this trust does not mean they are able to abdicate their God-given responsibility. Ultimately, the members of the congregation are responsible for what takes place within the local church. To prove that the local church is responsible for settling disputes, exercising discipline, appointing leaders, and guarding right doctrine, we now turn to what Scripture teaches.

Settling Disputes (Matthew 18)

Matthew 18:15-20 makes it clear that the local congregation is the final earthly authority for settling disputes among believers. Here, Jesus gives a hypothetical situation in order to teach how believers are to settle disputes among one another.[2]  The passage tells us that when one believer sins against another believer, the offended believer is responsible for approaching the offending believer and pointing out the sin.[3] The desired goal of the interaction is the restoration of the offender and therefore ought to take place in a private setting and in a way characterized by both kindness and gentleness.[4] If this initial interaction fails to result in the repentance and restoration of the offending believer, the offended believer is to bring two or three witnesses along for a second confrontation. Because more people are now involved, the situation is escalating and is therefore becoming more public, though it is still primarily a private matter at this point. The added publicity is intended to communicate to the offender the gravity of his offence. His sin is no small matter.

If after the second confrontation the offending believer remains unrepentant, the matter is to be brought “to the church” (Matt. 18:17), therefore bringing the matter into public view. R. T. France observes, “The object of the gathering is not to pronounce judgment but to strengthen the pastoral appeal, in the hope that the offender may yet ‘listen’ [Matt. 18:16].”[5] By bringing the matter to the attention of the church, the offender is meant to feel the weight of his sin so that he might repent and be restored to healthy fellowship.[6] Although the desired goal at every step of this process is the restoration of the offending believer, it is possible that the goal will not be achieved. If all three confrontations fail to result in the repentance of the offender, he is to be considered by the offended believer, the group of witnesses, and the church to be “a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17).[7] According to David Turner, “If the offender will not heed even the church, there is no higher earthly court of appeal. The only remaining course of action is to withdraw community fellowship and to regard the offender as a Gentile and a tax collector, as an outsider who cannot participate in the community’s activities.”[8] If all stages of the discipline process fail, the end result will be just as much a decision of the unrepentant offender as it will be a decision of the church. In effect, excommunication is both a judgment rendered by the church and “self-imposed exile”[9] inflicted by the unrepentant offender upon himself.

Among those things that are clear in this passage, it is evident that the church has the authority to dismiss a wayward, unrepentant sinner from its membership.[10] As Turner points out, “The locus of authority here is the local community, not just Peter or even the apostles as a group.”[11] The language of “binding” and “loosing” in 18:18 echoes Jesus’ earlier words to Peter in 16:19 about the “keys of the kingdom.”[12] Here, “Peter’s foundational authority is extended to the entire community of disciples.”[13] In this way, Jesus places incredible authority in the hands of the church, going so far as to say that what is bound and loosed on earth by the church will also be bound and loosed in heaven by God.[14] The responsibility of the church in administering discipline is to as accurately as possible reflect the kind of discipline that will one day be administered by God upon the sinner if he continues in his sin. As Wilkins explains, the church “is to come to a corporate consensus in which there is correspondence between heaven and earth in carrying out the will of the Father.”[15] The church’s exercise of the keys is a serious matter, one possibly “affecting the eternal destiny of the offending party.”[16] As such, it is not a matter to be taken lightly; rather, “it is an ominous matter, an aspect of doing God’s will on earth as it is in heaven (6:10). Repeated rejection of the overtures of a fellow disciple, of two or three additional witnesses, and then of the entire congregation is tantamount to rejection of Jesus and the Father.”[17] By administering discipline upon the sinner, the church is both settling a dispute among confessing believers and exercising its God-given authority to exercise discipline.[18] It is also important to note that no mention is made to church leadership in this text.[19] Instead, it is the collective membership of the church that bears the responsibility for settling disputes and exercising discipline.

Exercising Discipline (1 Corinthians 5)

Like Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 highlights the responsibility of the church to exercise discipline. In this text, Paul speaks of a situation in the Corinthian church that has caused even the pagans’ jaws to drop (5:1). Speaking to the church, Paul says that a sin “not tolerated even among pagans” is being tolerated “among you” (5:2).[20] According to a report received by Paul, a male member[21] of the church in Corinth has entered into an incestuous relationship with his stepmother.[22] For Paul, this should have been a clear example of “sexual immorality” to the Corinthian church (5:1).[23] For whatever reason, however, this man remained a member in good standing of their church (5:2). The source of the Corinthian church’s arrogance is not entirely clear. Their boasting may have arisen from a mistaken theological belief that in Christ “all things are lawful” (6:12), including incest.[24] However, their boasting may be better explained by a sociological rather than theological reason.[25] The man was likely an influential and wealthy individual who belonged to a higher social class.[26] The Corinthians were likely not boasting because of the sin, but in spite of it.[27] To discipline this man might have had negative consequences, such as the loss of a significant financial contributor and the opposition of an influential man.[28] However, “Paul is no respecter of persons and pays no regard to the man’s status.”[29] Instead, he urges them to have this man “removed from among you” (5:2). Regardless of the consequences, the church is to act, exercising discipline on this man both for the purity of the church and the ultimate good of the individual.[30] As was the case in Matthew 18:15-20, the discipline in view here is intended to bring about the restoration of the individual.[31]

It would be remiss of a reader, however, to overlook the recipient of Paul’s reprimand. It is the church that Paul reprimands, holding them responsible for overlooking a blatant sin.[32] He is “more vexed with the congregation than he is with the culprit. The man is committing an odious sin, but they have permitted the person guilty of such sin to continue as a member in good standing without taking any disciplinary action.”[33] Paul’s plea is directed at the church, not the incestuous man. The church was responsible for taking disciplinary action.[34] Although Paul clearly considers the man’s sin to be heinous, it seems that the Corinthian church’s refusal to exercise discipline on this man is even more heinous. The church’s inaction is as dangerous as the man’s scandal itself.[35] Instead of mourning, the church is arrogant (5:2). In v. 2, Paul makes it clear that the proper response to this sin should have been mourning followed by disciplinary action.[36] They were not to wait for God to deal with the man; they themselves were to take action at the next opportune time.[37] By refusing to address the sin, the Corinthian church was guilty of tolerating a blatant sin being committed within their body. According to Paul, this was unacceptable. In vv. 3-5, Paul tells the church that his apostolic judgment had already been rendered: this man ought to be delivered to Satan. As an apostle, Paul made known God’s verdict on this situation. His command to the Corinthian church was to act in such a way that his verdict would also be theirs.[38] What is of interest is that Paul ultimately leaves the responsibility to the church.[39] As was the case in Matthew 18, there is no mention of church leaders.[40] Although he has already pronounced judgment on this man, they are likewise to make the same decision. Paul refuses to relieve the Corinthian church of their responsibility; rather, he commands them to attend to it.[41] As in Matthew 18, the church here is to exercise the keys of the kingdom and remove this man from their fellowship (5:5).

The exercise of discipline in this case involves excommunication and removal from membership. According to Gordon Fee, Paul’s command in v. 5 to “deliver this man to Satan”[42] was “quasitechnical language for some kind of expulsion from the Christian community, probably from the gatherings of the assembly for worship, including the meals and supper in honor of the Lord.”[43] Using the language of Matthew 18, he was to be to them as “a Gentile and a tax collector” (Matt. 18:17). This man was to be removed from fellowship (v. 2), delivered to Satan (v. 5), cleansed out from among them (v. 7), and purged from their corporate presence (v. 13).[44] That Paul commands this man to be excommunicated four times in the course of these verses indicates the seriousness of the matter. In the time of the Old Testament, this man’s incestuous sin would have been punishable by death (Lev. 20:11). However, “Rome reserved capital jurisdiction for its own agents, but Jewish courts could practice excommunication for any crime for which the biblical sentence was death (such as consensual incest).”[45] Therefore, excommunication was seen as a serious punishment, reflecting the idea that this sinful man was “as good as dead” to them.[46] As far as they were to consider him, he was an unbeliever dead in his sins. However, the desired goal of their sentence upon this man was that he would repent and therefore be restored to their fellowship.[47] As this treatment has shown, the indisputable fact of this passage is that Paul taught that the collective membership of the church was responsible for exercising discipline. Up to this point, then, Scripture make it clear that the church is responsible for settling disputes and exercising discipline. However, this is not all they do.

Appointing Leaders (Acts 6)

Acts 6:1-7 teaches that the church is responsible for appointing leaders. As the church grew, it faced additional problems. Such is the situation in this passage. The Greek-speaking Jews in the church raised a complaint that “their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution” of goods (6:1). In response, the Twelve Apostles commissioned the whole number of the disciples to select seven men to address the need.[48] According to F.F. Bruce’s translation of v. 5, “What they said was approved by the whole company.”[49] In other words, the church accepted responsibility for appointing leaders and in vv. 5-6 a list of those who the church selected is given.[50] Mark Dever writes that what we see taking place in Acts 6 is the “apostles handing over responsibility to the congregation. They were recognizing in the assembly the same kind of ultimate authority, under God, that Jesus spoke of in Matthew 18.”[51] Although there is an indication at the end of v. 3 that the apostles are the ones who will appoint the Seven, the beginning of v. 3 seems to suggest that this responsibility belongs to the church. It may be appropriate, then, to consider the appointment of the Seven as being a joint endeavor of both the congregation and the Twelve Apostles.[52] However, I. Howard Marshall argues that the “choice of the seven candidates was made by the members of the church, and not by the apostles themselves.”[53] Even though the role of the apostles may not be entirely clear in this passage, the role of the congregation is.[54] They are responsible for appointing leaders who in turn will meet the needs of the church. According to Darrell Bock, “this unit shows the community using its own people to solve its own problems. The community hears the complaint, owns up to the problem, allows those closest to it to solve it, delegates the authority to get it done, and then goes to work. The issue is not denied or papered over but confronted directly as a community concern.”[55] The problem was both raised by members of the church and solved by members of the church.

Guarding Doctrine

The fourth responsibility of the church is to guard doctrine. Although no particular text makes this explicitly clear, the overarching teaching of the New Testament does. The first piece of evidence that supports this is the fact that Paul wrote the majority of his letters to entire congregations, not their leaders.[56] Paul’s magnum opus, the book of Romans, is addressed to “all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints” (Rom. 1:7). Additionally, his letters to Corinth, Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, Colossae, and Thessalonica were all addressed to the churches in those places. At any point in those letters, then, that Paul makes reference to the importance of protecting right doctrine or exposing false teachers, his teaching can be understood as directed to the churches in general, not just its leaders in particular. In this way, the church is responsible for protecting right doctrine. The second piece of evidence in support of this view is Galatians 1. Here, Paul writes to the churches in Galatia, telling them that anyone who teaches a different gospel from the one they had heard ought to be accursed (1:8, 9). Although God is ultimately the one who will curse the teachers of a false gospel, the church is not to listen to such teachers. This is why Paul wrote such a strong letter to them: they were allowing heresy to scratch a sinful itch. This was unacceptable because they were to protect true doctrine by refusing to listen to false doctrine. The third piece of evidence in support of this view is 2 Timothy 4:3. Here, Paul rebukes those who tolerate false teachers. Dever writes: “Whether in selecting them, or paying for them, or approving of their teaching, or in simply consenting to listen to them repeatedly, the congregation here is culpable. They are held guilty for tolerating false teaching, as are the false teachers themselves.”[57] It wasn’t just Paul that expected churches to guard right doctrine. According to John Hammett, “Peter, Paul, James, and John seemed to expect churches to take responsibility for their own doctrine.”[58] Although teachers in the church are to teach right doctrine and expose false doctrine, the church has the ultimate responsibility for what passes as sound doctrine in their assemblies.

Conclusion

Whether in settling disputes (Matt. 18:15-20), exercising discipline (1 Cor. 5), appointing leaders (Acts 6:1-6), or guarding right doctrine, the church has the God-given responsibility to see to its own health and well-being.[59] Simply put, the church is responsible for its discipline and doctrine.[60] Toward this end, the church is to exercise its congregational authority. One of the ways the church does this, however, is by delegating a certain degree of authority to its appointed leaders.[61] According to Scripture, there are two offices in the local church, that of the elder-overseer and the deacon.[62] This is seen, for example, in Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, where he writes: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons” (Phil. 1:7, emphasis added). Paul’s first letter to Timothy also indicates a two-office model. In the third chapter of his letter, Paul lists the qualifications for overseers and deacons (1 Tim. 3:1-13). No other offices are mentioned. A local church can choose to empower its elders and deacons with a high level of leadership, but it is ultimately the congregation that serves as the final earthly authority.[63] Scripture allows flexibility in terms of what responsibilities should and should not be delegated to elders and deacons. Under the guidance of the Spirit, a local congregation ought to use wisdom in determining what responsibilities it can entrust to its leaders. However, regardless of what responsibilities the church delegates to them, the church remains the highest earthly authority.[64] Congregationalism allows for leadership by its elders and deacons, but not government. Government is a responsibility uniquely reserved for the congregation as a whole.[65] As Mark Dever explains, “The most coherent way to understand the New Testament’s presentation of local church polity is to recognize the role of both individual leaders and the congregation as a whole.”[66]

The teaching of Scripture is clear: the final authority in the local church is the collective membership of that church. Christ, who is the head of the church, taught it and his church ought to believe it. Congregationalism protects Christ’s people from erring too far to one extreme, either radical individualism or inexcusable abdication. Collectively, the church is to reach consensus in matters of discipline and doctrine. No single individual can make decisions that are binding on the church, though the church can choose to entrust its leaders with a certain degree of responsibility. The leadership of elders is not incompatible with congregationalism. In fact, congregationalism gives greater meaning to leadership in the church because its leaders know the congregation trusts them to make wise and godly decisions on their behalf. However, they also recognize that leadership is a gift that is not to be abused. Ultimately, the church can choose to counteract a decision made by its leaders. This is a divinely ordained system of “checks and balances.” Speaking of congregationalism, John Hammett observes: “In this model, the congregation exercises the ultimate human authority in the church, under Christ’s divine authority. Christ exercises his headship through the members, as they all seek together to discern Christ’s will for the body.”[67] More than any other system of government, congregationalism understands that under the guidance of the Spirit, the collective membership of the local church is best equipped to look after its own health and well-being. In summary, Dever says it well:

“Congregationalism is simply the understanding that the last and final court of appeal in a matter of the life of the local church is not the bishop of Rome or Constantinople or Washington. It is not some international body, or some national Assembly, Conference or Convention. It is not the president of a denomination or the chairman of a board of trustees. It is not a regional synod or ministerial association. It is not a group of elders inside the local church, or the pastor. The last and final court of appeal in a matter of the life of the local church is, and should be, the local congregation itself.”[68]

In both their form and manner of government, may our local churches bring glory to the one who is their head, Christ Jesus our Lord.


[1] Mark Dever, A Display of God’s Glory (Washington, DC: 9Marks, 2001), 34.

[2] Early manuscripts omit “against you” in v. 15, thereby making this passage address more general occasions of sin within the church. The majority of later manuscripts include the additional words. If the words are retained, this passage deals with what an offended believer is to do when an offending believer sins against him. If omitted, this passage more broadly deals with the responsibility of every believer to lovingly approach other believers when they sin. See Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1992), 466-467; R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2007), 689n3, 692-693; David L. Turner, Matthew. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, eds. Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008), 444. France prefers to omit the words, whereas both Morris and Turner retain them. The ESV, NLT, and NIV (1984) include the additional words, whereas the NASB and NIV (2011) omit them. I have chosen to retain the words in my interpretation. If the words are omitted, this passage has to deal more specifically with discipline, which I believe is addressed specifically in 1 Corinthians 5.

[3] Proverbs 19:11 teaches that it is one’s glory to overlook an offense. In this situation, however, the offended believer is unable to overlook the offense. Instead, confrontation is necessary in order for reconciliation to take place between the two. It is sometimes better to overlook an offense, but this is not always possible. When something happens that cannot simply be overlooked, it is sometimes wiser to seek resolution. This passage sets out the process by which this can be done.

[4] Michael J. Wilkins, Matthew. The NIV Application Commentary, ed. Terry Muck (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2004), 618, 628, 636; See also Mark Dever, The Church: The Gospel Made Visible (Nashville, TN: B&H, 2012), 66; Turner, 447. Turner writes: “The goal is reconciliation and return to the fold, not severance from the flock” (446-447).

[5] France, 693.

[6] Morris, 468.

[7] Turner, 445. France argues the personal pronouns in these verses suggest that the offending believer is to be as a Gentile and a tax collector to the offended believer alone and not to the group of witnesses or to the church as a whole. The “you” in v. 17b (“let him be to you”) is singular, not plural. He writes, “It may be likely that the gathered community, whose warning has been ignored, will wish to share in the attitude described in v. 17b so that it becomes a community response to unrepented sin in its midst, but that can only be a matter of reading between the lines; all that v. 17b actually says is that the person who initiated the pastoral action is then to adopt this attitude for themselves. Commentators who use the formal language of ecclesiastical discipline or even ‘excommunication’ in connection with v. 17 seem regularly to fail to notice the singular ‘you’” (France, 690-691). Although France is correct to note the personal pronouns in this passage, there is little to no gain in bringing the matter before the church if the church is not also going to share in the verdict of the offended believer. If the unrepentant offender persists in his obstinate denial of sin, he is to be treated as an unbeliever by the entire believing community and not just the initial witnessing believer. In essence, he is to be excommunicated and therefore prohibited from enjoying the benefits of membership. This conclusion may appear to some as “a matter of reading between the lines,” but it is a likely as well as a logical conclusion to make.

[8] Turner, 445. According to Turner, excommunication does not require “absolute shunning or total withdrawal from personal contact” (445). Similarly, Wilkins argues that “since unbelievers are encouraged to come to the assembly to hear the gospel, it must mean something other than strict removal” (Wilkins, 619). The weakness of this view, however, is that it may fail to allow the disciplined ex-member to feel the weight of his sin and its destructive effect to both his relationship with God and with God’s people. Sin leads to separation. However, if he is permitted to attend corporate worship, in what way does he feel the weight of this separation? In this case, the sting of discipline is not felt. If considered along with 1 Corinthians 5:11, the excommunication mentioned here may be more severe than Turner or Wilkins would like.

[9] Turner, 452.

[10] Because membership in the local church is for believers only and the offender is now to be considered by the church to be a nonbeliever, it would follow that he is to be excluded from membership.

[11] Turner, 445-446.

[12] James Leo Garrett, Jr., “The Congregation-Led Church” in Perspectives on Church Government, eds. Chad Owen Brand and R. Stanton Norman (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2004), 161.

[13] Wilkins, 620. See also France, 697.

[14] This is not to say that what the church does on earth somehow obligates God to take a particular course of action. Leon Morris writes: “Jesus is not giving the church the right to make decisions that will then become binding on God. Such a thought is alien from anything in his teaching. He is saying that as the church is responsive to the guidance of God it will come to the decisions that have already been made in heaven” (Morris, 469). See also France, 697.

[15] Wilkins, 619.

[16] Turner, 445-446.

[17] Turner, 445.

[18] In this way, Matthew 18:15-20 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-13 overlap.

[19] France, 691, 696.

[20] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, eds. Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2003), 159.

[21] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1987), 201. Because the church is not commanded by Paul to take action against the woman, it is likely that she was not a member of the church (5:11-13). See also Garland, 158; Craig S. Keener, 1-2 Corinthians. The New Cambridge Bible Commentary, ed. Ben Witherington III [New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2005], 49.

[22] Garland, 157, 158. See also Fee, 200. In his commentary on this passage, Craig Keener writes: “Relations between sons and stepmothers were often notoriously uncomfortable in antiquity. They also could prove sexually tempting: given the typical practice of Romans (and especially Greeks) marrying younger wives, second marriages often yielded stepmothers in the age range of elder sons” (Keener, 48). According to Keener, incest was illegal under both Roman and Jewish law (Keener, 49).

[23] In his commentary on this passage, David Garland argues for stronger language: “The translation ‘sexual immorality’ seems too tame and sanitized to convey Paul’s revulsion for the transgression, and the word ‘whoredom’ may better capture his moral indignation” (Garland, 156-157).

[24] Fee, 202. See also Pheme Perkins, First Corinthians. Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament, eds. Mikeal C. Parsons and Charles H. Talbert (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2012), 91.

[25] Garland, 162.

[26] Garland, 158, 162-163; Keener, 49. See also Perkins, 85-94.

[27] Garland, 161; Keener, 49.

[28] Garland, 163, 185; Keener, 49. Seen this way, the situation sounds all too much like what often happens in today’s churches. An application of this text for the church is not to be selective in who it disciplines. Sin is sin and it needs to be addressed regardless of who happens to be the perpetrator.

[29] Garland, 163.

[30] Garland, 175; Fee, 227. See also Peter Naylor, A Study Commentary on 1 Corinthians (Webster, NY: Evangelical Press, 2004), 125. Garland writes: “Paul is concerned about both the church and the man. He frets about what this sin will do to the community if it is left undisciplined but he is also solicitous for the culprit’s ultimate destiny” (Garland, 175). Ultimately, “the man needs to be purged lest cheap forgiveness or benign neglect lull him into thinking that all things are permissible and he ends up being banished from God’s presence in the final judgment” (Garland, 177). That the action is to be taken for the purity of the church is clear in vv. 6-8; that is also for the good of the individual is clear in vv. 3-5 (Garland, 175).

[31] Naylor, 122; Garland, 175; Fee, 213, 214.

[32] Garland, 151-152.

[33] Garland, 153.

[34] Garland, 159, 168; Fee, 206, 214;  Dever, Display, 38.

[35] Naylor, 123. See also Dever, The Church, 68.

[36] Garland, 163; Garrett, 167.

[37] Garland, 164, 165.

[38] Garland, 168-169.

[39] According to Garland, Paul “does not intend to mold a spiritual community whose fitness report reads, ‘Works well under constant supervision.’ He wishes to instill in them a sense of responsibility for exercising discipline under the lordship of Christ” (Garland, 169).

[40] Garrett, 168.

[41] Naylor, 126.

[42] For an extended treatment of what it means to “deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh,” see Garland, 169-179.

[43] Fee, 208-209. Because the individual is no longer a member, he is excluded from the Lord’s Supper. Mark Dever writes: “The nature of the exclusion Paul enjoined is excommunication, which typically means excluding the parties in question from communion (the Lord’s Supper). In essence, this is a removal from church membership” (Dever, The Church, 67). See also Garland, 154.

[44] Fee, 197.

[45] Keener, 50.

[46] Keener writes: “To ‘purge the evil from your midst’ refers to capital punishment in Deuteronomy (13:5; 17:7; 19:9; 21:21; 24:7; cf. Josh 7:12-13), including for some sexual offenses (22:21, 24)… Paul, like his Jewish contemporaries, applied this punishment to banishment by an earthly court, leaving severer judgment, if necessary, to God” (Keener, 51).

[47] See 2 Corinthians 2:6-8 for a case in which Paul instructs the Corinthian church to readmit a repentant brother. In reference to 2 Corinthians 2:6-8, Garrett says that “congregational polity is represented by the text” (Garrett, 170).

[48] In this way, Acts 6 echoes the teaching of Matthew 18 about the church being responsible for settling disputes among believers in the church. See Dever, The Church, 47.

[49] F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts. The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1988), 119.

[50] There is debate about whether the Seven are deacons. Although the noun for diaconate is used here, the office of deacon is not mentioned. Bock (Darrell Bock, Acts. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, eds. Robert W. Yarbrough and Robert H. Stein [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007], 262) and Bruce (122) do not consider the Seven to be deacons. Dever, however, sees Acts 6 as the “clearest picture of the diaconal office in practice” (Dever, The Church, 52). Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breashears concur (Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe [Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010], 321). Like Dever, John Hammett sees the Seven as deacons. He writes: “Most see Acts 6 as describing the origin of deacons or, at least, the prototypes of deacons” (John S. Hammett, Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology [Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2005], 192). Ajith Fernando writes that the decision in Acts 6 “laid the foundation for the diaconal order” (Ajith Fernando, Acts. The NIV Application Commentary, ed. Terry Muck [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1998], 226). Because Acts 6 lays the foundation for the selection and appointment of deacons by the church, it is possible that elders also were to be selected and appointed by the congregation.

[51] Dever, Display, 37. See also Dever, The Church, 53.

[52] See Bruce, 122. In his commentary, Mikeal Parsons argues that the context of the passage, especially v. 3, “suggests that the entire congregation selected, prayed for, and laid their hands (6:6) on the Seven and that the apostles confirmed this choice” (Mikeal C. Parsons, Acts. Paideia Commentaries on the New Testament, eds. Mikeal C. Parsons and Charles H. Talbert [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008], 84). See also Garrett, 163.

[53] I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles. The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, ed. R. V. G. Tasker (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1980), 127. See also Fernando, 227.

[54] Hammett, 198.

[55] Bock, 262.

[56] Hammett, 147. Obviously, Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are the exceptions to this.

[57] Dever, Display, 38.

[58] Hammett, 147.

[59] See Dever, The Church, 121.

[60] Dever, The Church, 121.

[61] Hammett, 153.

[62] Benjamin L. Merkle, 40 Questions about Elders and Deacons (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2008), 55; Hammett, 17; Dever, The Church, 51. Driscoll and Breshears list “member” as a third office in the church (Driscoll and Breshears, 318.

[63] The fact that the congregation serves as the final earthly authority does not render leadership meaningless (Dever, The Church, 141; Hammett, 154, 157). In his providence, God has gifted certain men with the ability to serve as pastor-teachers in the church (Eph. 4:11). These men are to be trusted and followed, insofar as they are following Christ (Dever, The Church, 156; Dever, Display, 42-43). Godly leaders are God’s gift to his church.

[64] Hammett, 143.

[65] Hammett, 146.

[66] Dever, The Church,141-142.

[67] Hammett, 143.

[68] Dever, Display, 35.

Author: John Alexander