Saturday, January 19, 2019

in light of HBC dropping a defamation suit ... let's revisit an old James MacDonald claim that "Congregational Government is From Satan"

Of all the things that congregationally led churches could do to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ I would imagine that filing a defamation suit would be nowhere near the top of a "things to do" list.   Nor, for that matter, would elder-led churches ... in "normal" circumstances. 

But the question of what kind of governance a church like HBC has or could have comes up here.

In the comments at the post Warren Throckmorton noted that he doesn't believe that Harvest Bible Chapel is a congregationally managed church.

In light of the lately dropped defamation suit Harvest Bible Chapel had at one time filed, a question of academic interest is how many churches in the history of the United States have filed defamation suits and how many, among those, had congregational governments. 

Here we are at the start of 2019 and ... has James MacDonald written and published a book called ...

Congregational Government is From Satan

NOTE: the tone of this post is intentionally aimed at engaging those who are engulfed in this system of church government that neither honors the Scriptures nor advances the gospel.
That’s right! It’s actually the title to a book I have had percolating in my mind for a long time. After almost 30 years in ministry I have come irreversibly to this conclusion: congregational government is an invention and tool of the enemy of our souls to destroy the church of Jesus Christ. So there, I have said the strongest part of the message first; now some commentary.
1) Congregational Meetings Are Forums for Division:
When church life is going well, the leaders of a church struggle to get a quorum for decision making. When things are going wrong, every carnal member lines up at a microphone to spew their venom and destroy the work of Christ in the church. I saw it growing up, and I have seen it since in churches that are fighting to survive and do something courageous for their future. Good people being held hostage by bad people, minorities hijacking the majority because a set of ‘by-laws’ get higher regard than the Scriptures. Satan does want to rip church unity to shreds like a devouring lion (1 Peter 5:8). He is accomplishing that again and again through a system of church government which elevates the fleshly and the worldly—often even those who no longer attend—to a status of influence equal to the most spiritually and biblically-minded in any congregation.
2) Voting Is Not Biblical
The right to vote may be an American right given by the Constitution, but it is not a kingdom right given in the Word of God. It may be a tradition of some wonderful streams of church history, e.g. Baptist, but it is not biblical. There is not a shred of biblical evidence for a congregation voting on what its direction should be, but many church members believe it is their ‘God-given right’ to stand in judgement over the Pastors and Elders that are seeking to lead them. Even Mark Dever, a personal friend, champion for congregationalism, and credible scholar admits, “But the functioning of a purely congregational system is both unwieldy and lacking biblical support. Instead the establishment of a body of elders to serve in the day-to-day leadership in spiritual matters, serving at the pleasure of the congregation, enables us to maintain both the traditional distinctive of congregational life and the clearly biblical structure of elders.”
3) Eldership Is Sometimes Unpopular
Elders are responsible to “shepherd the flock” (1 Peter 5:2), which is often a very dirty job. Calling out sin, dealing with those who have fallen and seeking their restoration (Galatians 6:1-4), these responsibilities put Elders in positions where doing the right often means doing the unpopular. To then force the Elders to submit to a referendum on their actions is crushing to good men and destroys the work of God in a church. Rather, coming under a group of godly men will always be the best opportunity for a church to live in submission to God’s Word and Spirit. In recent years we have seen many churches taken captive by a few vocal people who, like Alexander the coppersmith exposed by Paul in 2 Timothy 4:14, do “much harm.” The Elders spend the majority of time trying to keep these blasphemous enemies of the gospel in line and often finish their term of leadership crushed by the weight of unrelenting criticism.
4) Congregationalism Crushes Pastors
Statistics tell us that Pastors move every 2-3 years and that a pastor typically leaves a church because of 8 people. If you wonder how just eight people can so resist and refuse and ruin the calling of a gifted and trained messenger of the gospel then you have not spent much time in congregational settings. Just one elder’s wife, or one women’s ministry director, or one chairman of the building committee can consume a pastor and erode the support he needs to serve the church well. A lot of the men writing today in favor of congregational government defend it as a tradition, and are so effective as leaders that they are able to suppress the inevitable uprising of carnality—but that is not so in the vast majority of small congregationally-stifled churches. I could retire now if I had banked a hundred dollars for every time a Pastor wept to me on the phone or in person about the crushing weight of a local ‘church boss’ who would not listen to Scripture or reason or God’s Holy Spirit. Many of the Pastors who have come into Harvest Bible Fellowship these past years have come seeking a new model of church government that frees them from the tyranny of the untrained and untrainable.
5) Priesthood Not Eldership of All Believers
A significant plank in the platform of biblical protestantism has been the priesthood of all believers. This is the idea that all of us as followers of Christ have equal standing before God and do not need a clerical intermediary in our relationship with the Lord. Sadly, though, this has led in many congregations to the Eldership of all believers—where each person, regardless of training, giftedness, fruitfulness, experience, etc., considers their thoughts about the future of a given congregation to be of equivalent value. Satan uses this expectation to create in people a demand to be heard, an insistence that their thoughts on the future of a church—no matter how quickly formed, or singularly held—receive validation equal that of a Pastor/Elder. When the vote takes place people are polarized, and factions sit back and wait for the plans they did not support with their vote to fail. (Sadly similar to the way most people view a president for whom they did not vote). It’s impossible to reconcile that process with:
Hebrews 13:17 “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give an account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.”
Down with congregational government. Not the people who believe in it or appreciate its history, not the good or bad people who try to function well in a bad system—down with the system itself. It’s unbiblical, unhealthy and too often a tool of Satan for the discouragement of good Pastors, godly Elders, and local churches everywhere.
You are welcome to engage in this discussion. Let’s stick to biblical defenses of congregationalism (which should be a short section) and anecdotal evidence of its effectiveness. I expect also to hear from Pastors who have suffered under its tyranny.

so ... has he published that book?

That last capture shows a different post than the one quoted above.

If you were to go to the link NOW you'd find something still different.

You might have trouble finding "Congregational Government is from Satan" lately. The post seems to have vanished into the internet ether ...

and it doesn't quite look like that book got written, after all.

But in the summer heat of 2011 MacDonald also made a point of writing ...

Responding to Satanic Attacks on My Post about Satanic Congregationalism

I got a lot of comments disagreeing with my post last week on congregational government. Most were gracious and kind, attacking my position and not me. Some comments had to be deleted, being so eerily harsh they seemed to come from the back pew of a congregational stronghold or an outtake from the original Thriller video.
For more than 15 years I have joked with our Elders that “I am going to write a book called, ‘Congregational Government is From Satan,’ but no one will read it because the lines are so clearly drawn—people will end up either burning the book or making the cover into a poster to hang in the board room.” My blog on Thursday with that long-contemplated title confirmed my suspicions. Many commented demanding I refute the biblical passages used to defend congregational government, as though I had failed to do so because I was not able. Oh please, it was a rant, not an air-tight argument (as many rightly observed). Ranting is okay on a blog, isn’t it? (Crazy how even some blogs that pride themselves on their hyperbole and sarcasm can’t see it in others.)
Refuting the biblical evidence for congregational government kind of feels like refuting the Scriptures in favor of infant baptism (there’s a great blog idea, “Infant Baptism is from . . . :) ). Let’s admit our traditions rather than trying to prove them biblical. I believe Elder rule is biblical, but boards, and budget approvals, and bands to play music are all things we made up on our own. Communion in rows with silver trays, committees, and Christmas pageantry are also inventions of man. I believe congregational government is worse than a tradition of man. Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10), the devourer of Christians (1 Peter 5:8), and the one seeking a ‘foothold’ through relational conflict (Ephesians 4:26-27). I see only a satanic strategy in a system that promotes democracy above God-ordained authority structure and grants to the church membership (another tradition) the capacity to control the church’s future. Yes, all systems are flawed when sinful people manipulate them, but the absence of a full model of church government in Scripture is not permission to invent our own. Let us begin at the place Scripture does, with a plurality of Elders (not one pastor) making consensus decisions and lovingly shepherding the flock of God with gentleness (1 Peter 5:1-5). Here are the three main Scriptures given in defense of congregational government, and then (rant aside) I want to add some needed qualifiers to what I have asserted.
Does Acts 6:1-7 teach congregation government?
In Acts 6 we have Elders delegating deacon nomination to people within the church. Still, the decision to have deacons, what their qualifications would be and the final appointing (v.3) of those nominated by the congregation all rested with the Elders, NOT the congregation. Further there was no voting, no motions, no individuals standing to voice their objections to the Elders plan. We are told that their decision “pleased the whole gathering” (v.5), but isn’t that confirmation that the Holy Spirit was leading the elders, rather than evidence of ratification by a congregation? We understand that Acts 6 describes the action of apostles who were foundational for the church and not normative (Ephesians 2:20). However, surely the establishment of the office of deacon by the apostles, who were more than mere elders, provides insight on how elders should function in the church today and reveals the congregational role as participating, not ruling.
Does Matthew 18 teach congregational government? 
Matthew 18 details the process of confronting a professing believer who sins against you. It describes an escalating influence upon refusal which adds first one or two participants, then the final stage of ‘telling it to the church.’ Though we are not told, it makes sense that the ‘one or two’ added as a first step would be Elders or every private offense would create discord as it is distributed to innocent third parties (more like gossip) and then to everyone. If the one who offended ‘refuses’ then the offense is told “to the church.” Who is telling? Maybe the offended brother, maybe the Elders brought in, but clearly not the congregation who are in the role of listening. The goal of this is to increase the pressure on the offender to ‘hear you.’ Clearly the congregation has a role in church life. Those who believe in Elder rule should recognize this participation by the congregation and the need to bring them into important church actions. However, a role of participation is a long way from final authority, voting, and Robert’s Rules of Order. Congregational participation under Eldership is not congregational government and the conversation would be advanced if proponents would stop using this passage to defend the most common configurations of congregationalism today.
Does 2 Corinthians 2:6 teach congregational government? 
Paul was wounded by the actions of some in the Corinthian church. He wrote to correct these issues so that he might not be injured again by those who “should have made me rejoice” (1 Corinthians 2:3). The key phrase for those who defend congregational government is in verse 6, “for such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough.” Paul is saying that the pain caused by a member’s criticism was actually worse for ‘all of you’ (congregation) than it was for him, because it resulted in Paul delaying his visit. Paul’s “anyone” of verse 1 was actually injuring the congregation through his action—a frequent result of congregational rule, where a fleshly person ends up negating the blessing that could have come to the whole. The verse is not teaching congregational government, it is describing the “punishment” a congregation might inflict on one who put himself before the whole.
“No!” to Congregational Government “YES!” to Congregational Confirmation
A few other passages which observe congregational participation in the life of the church are used to defend congregational authority—but in what ways should these passages inform our governance? At Harvest we frequently speak of congregational confirmation. We invite the church to submit names of those they believe are biblically-qualified and would serve well as Elders. As Elders we frequently seek, through an insert in the bulletin, the concerns and counsel of the church membership. Every member of the congregation is given opportunity to express their thoughts on any matter of the church’s direction, and receives a prayerful contact from one of the Elders to answer their questions and resolve any issues of disagreement or misunderstanding. We believe that no Elder has a corner on God’s direction for the church and that the Elders together are wise, in significant issues, to seek the confirmation of God’s Spirit through the church membership. However, we would not seek congregational wisdom in a public meeting for obvious reasons, and nothing is ever put to a vote which only polarizes people called to unity.
Solicit wisdom from the congregation? Yes, Elders should do that.
Prayerfully consider the counsel of the congregation? Yes, Elders should do that!
Subject the congregation to a public forum where any member can speak and decisions are made by voting and Elders must follow a mandated percentage of voters? No, Elders should not do that!
I appreciated one of the comments to the previous post which said, “there are only two instances of a purely congregational vote in the entire Bible. The first was when the Israelites decided to go against Joshua and Caleb’s spy report, and the second was when the crowd chose to have Barabbas released instead of Jesus. So the first congregational vote caused the people of God to wander in the wilderness for 40 additional years, and the second one led to the crucifixion of the Son of God—we shouldn’t have a third.”
[WtH: Whoever the commenter was may have skipped the Israelites all wanting a king like all the other nations had. That could be construed as a "congregational" vote, too, by this lazy heuristic.]
While I disagree with the 9Marks post’s rationale for congregational government, even in the moderated form they describe, I do deeply appreciate the exhortations for updated church membership roles, active church discipline by elders, and men who fear God more than man. Further, I think their “congregational government” under elders is not very far from our “congregational confirmation” at Harvest. What I am repudiating is not that, but as stated above, the Robert’s Rules of Order, “every man does that which is right in his own eyes” form of congregationalism that destroys pastors and divides churches.
Internationally we have many wonderful Harvest church plants that are seeking to lead people away from the unbiblical excesses of congregationalism without going to an alternately unbiblical form where Elders lord their authority over the people with no pattern of shepherding or even listening to the burdens and concerns of the church. Elders acting unilaterally and not hearing the hearts of the people they lead is not only unbiblical, it is unloving and not servant leadership as modeled by Jesus Christ. I deeply respect our brothers and sisters, e.g. in Romania, who are taking a fresh look at what the Bible describes as biblical governance and seeking a model which respects biblical Eldership and the voice of God’s Spirit to members of the church.
Congregational government was developed to protect a church from bad Elders, but in reality there is no protection from that. As with Eli (1 Samuel 2-4), if the leaders are bad the church is headed toward Ichabod. Creating an unbiblical system to guard against that danger may comfort the fears of the laity, but it departs from the Word of God.
Scripture provides no antidote for the blessing of God upon prideful selfish shepherds. If the leaders are bad the church is going down, but if the congregation has control, often even good leaders are crushed and quit. I agree that any model of church government is exposed to the carnality of its participants and the attacks of the enemy. But surely we can expect the Lord’s protection and provision most plentifully when we move away from traditions and practices which are rooted in democracy and tradition, not the Word of God.
In conclusion, a testimony from a church that transitioned away from congregational rule:
Dear Pastor James,+
We had an independent, non-denominational church that operated as Elder-Led/Congregational Rule for over 20 years. Our body came away from most congregational meetings very frustrated and many left because of a lack of direction from leadership as they/we were “held hostage” by the 8 or so vocal who would rail against leaders’ decisions and proposals. The church became very stagnant. I am surprised that we still had a church.
Then God revealed to us through an Acts study by Pastor James that Harvest was planting churches and working in church transitions. After contacting Harvest Bible Fellowship and the Lord’s working in all of it, 2 years later we are growing under the leadership of Pastor Kurt Gebhards. Our body now knows the freedom of being in a true Elder-Rule church. We have tripled in size in this time. I believe it did because God has honored biblical obedience in changing from something that did not honor Him before to now submission to those He has placed in authority over His flock.
Thank you Kent Shaw, Bill Molanari and Terri Quaid for your faithfulness in our time of great need, and thank you Pastor James for you steadfastness in teaching God’s Word without apology.
Forever grateful,
Sammy and Kim Starnes
Harvest Bible Chapel Hickor
Here in the post-Mars Hill Church era perhaps it's fitting to say that "if the elders are bad the church is going down."  Well, down Mars Hill Church went, so would that mean the elders were bad?  Hey, wasn't James MacDonald on the Board of Advisors and Accountability for the former Mars Hill Church at one point?  Presbyterian though I be I just don't see how congregational government is from Satan.  
Sometimes I think that if academics wanted to play with a theme they could play with this--if we live in an era that gets called the era of "surveillance capitalism" is it possible that contemporary megachurch cultures and parachurch networks embody the dynamics of surveillance capitalism?  
The thing about congregational confirmation of decisions made by elders is that if the elders as a group lie to the congregation or simply don't present all the information to the congregation, then a lot of evil can be perpetrated.  I recall a time about twelve years ago when a bunch of elders at Mars Hill Church had  a more or less scripted response to congregants with questions about some high-profile firings that said "When dad and mom are having a disagreement the kids don't need to know all the details."  
Literally and figuratively treating dissent as demonic kind of reminds me of someone ... 
So ... in case anyone forgot, James MacDonald made a point of saying congregational government was from Satan and even that folks who dissented from that claim were making satanic attacks on his claim.  

Thursday, January 17, 2019

another phase of semi-incubationi

Been writing some longer form projects in the last month or so and not necessarily for here. 

There's also reading, a good chunk of reading if I can manage it, I'm trying to tackle.  Looking at revising some existing projects.  The essay(s) I've written about ragtime and sonata forms can be better and include more musical quotations.  I want to tackle that in addition to the as-yet-unnamed projects.