Mark Driscoll makes a distinction between ruling elders, which he is not, and the teaching elder or as Driscoll calls himself, “the primary preaching pastor.” He also says that elders “should be voted in by the elders and installed as an elder by the laying on of hands by the other elders.” Driscoll’s lay-elder rule eliminates congregational rule, which is the Biblical church polity.
Wagne Grudem who also believes in congregational rule writes “we do not see a diversity of forms of govenment in the New Testament church, but a unified and consistent pattern in which every church had elders governing it and keeping watch over it” (Systematic Theology, page 913). “The New Testament does not explicitly detail a particular or excluseive ‘form.’ Yet it gives basic data in settling on a particular form” (Dr. Hoyle Bowman’s notes A Baptist Distinctive Relating to Local Church Government and Leadership).
Lay-elder rule means each church is led by a session made up of ruling and teaching elders. The pastor is the teaching elder or the ordained minister. The session has governing authority over the congregation. Some of the members of the session are also members of the presbytery in Presbyterian churches not in churches like Driscoll’s. Some of the members of the presbytery are members of the General assembly. Mark Dever has lay elder rule and congregational rule. He is first among equals.
This form of church polity is wrong because elders in Scripture only have leadership over a single congregation and not multiple congregations as in the presbytery and General assembly. At the Jerusalem Conference, the elders did not exercise authority over other churches. The “whole church” was a vital part of the decision making. The decision of the Antioch church to go to Jerusalem was purely voluntary. Acts 15 does not show the supremacy of one church over another but the cooperation of two churches of like precious faith as in 1 Cor. 16:1-3.
The congregation has the ultimate authority. There are certain issues that are determined by congregational decisions such as church discipline (Matt. 18:15-17; 1 Cor. 5:13; and 2 Thess. 3:6). The buck stops with the congregation. The congregation is the final court of appeal. Denominationalists argue that there are no independent churches in the New Testament because all churches are under the apostles. There are no official apostles today. There is, however, evidence from Acts 15 for congregational rule. The local church at Antioch voluntarily sent Paul to Jerusalem (Acts 15:3). The local church at Jerusalem received Paul (Acts 15:4). James the pastor/moderator presided over the meeting. The “whole church” at Jerusalem made the final decision (Act 15:22).
With lay-elder rule the authority is the hands of the elders who appoint the deacons and the teaching elder. This is contrary to New Testament congregational rule. Each local church elected its own officers (Acts 6; 15:22).
Mark Dever, who believes in congregational rule says “in Acts 6, we see these very apostles handing over responsibility to the congregation” (Nine Marks of a Healthy Church, page 222). The apostles, like Jesus in Matthew 18:15-17 in reference to church discipline, endorsed congregational rule in regard to the appointment of church officers.
At first an apostolic representative (Tit.1:5) appointed pastors. Later churches chose (2 Cor. 8:19 “chosen by the church” [Gk cheirotonesantes] and Acts 14:23) those chosen by the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11). The fact that the Head of the Church is Christ (Eph. 4:15-16) and each believer is a believer/priest (1 Pet. 2:5, 9) argue for congregational rule.
Dever makes the point that all churches practice congregational rule no matter what their official church polity: “Every local church in Christendom, from Greek Orthodox to Pentecostal, from Roman Catholic to Baptist, from Episcopalian to Lutheran, from Presbyterian to Methodist, is congregational in nature. They exist only as the people continue to participate in their activities. When the people vote—whether at a congregational meeting or (where that’s not allowed) with their funds or their feet—the leaders of the congregation must listen” (page 225).
The advocates of lay-elder rule believe that the three terms for pastors in the New Testament are interchangable based on these texts: Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Peter 5:2; 1 Timothy 3:2, 17; Titus 1:5, 7. Wayne Grudem writes, “Elders are also called ‘pastors’ or ‘bishops’ or ‘overseers’ in the New Testament (Systmatic Theology, page 913). This is also Dever’s position (page 229).
I agree that the New Testament makes no distinctions in the office of the pastor which is seen in Paul’s meeting with pastors from the Ephesian area in Miletus. In Acts 20, the pastors are called the elders in Acts 20:17 (Gr. presbuterous), overseers in Acts 20:28 (Gr. episkotous), and pastors in 20:28 (Gr. poimaineisn).
And yet both Grudem and Dever also advocate that the elders be divided between ruling elders (lay elders) and teaching elder (ordained elder) in 1 Timothy 5:17. The Scriptures do not make this distinction. The “bishop” in 1 Timohty 3:2 is to be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2) and rule (3:4) and so are the interchangable elders in 5:17 to rule and labor in the Word. The only distinction found in 5:17 is the difference between pastors who labor diligently in the Word of God and pastors who do not labor diligently. Paul in 5:17, also teaches remuneration to local church elders. In lay-elder rule the ruling elders are not remunerated.
John Hammett writes, “For a time, there was some debate among Baptists as to the validity of having ruling and teaching elders in the church, but the practice was never widespread, because it was seen as having a very slender and debatable biblical basis; it virtually disappeared after 1820″ (Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: A Contemporary Ecclesiology, page 162).
The context of 1Timothy argues that there are only two offices in the local church. The two offices are the offices of pastor and deacons. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul uses the word “office” two times to describe the qualifications of the church’s two officers who are pastors in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and deacons in 3:8-13. There are two offices not three offices of ruling elders, teaching elders, and deacons.
The New Testament allows for a plurality of ordained elders or pastors with one of the pastors being the senior or lead pastor but not a plurality of lay-elders. The plurality of ordained pastors was possibly seen in Acts 14:23 and Acts 20:17. The fact that the church at Jerusalem had a plurality of elders (11:30) may be because the church met in house churches rather than just one central mega-church.
While the book of Acts stresses the plurality of elders, the Pastoral Epistles were written to individual pastors or apostolic helpers who performed pastoral duties. The singularity of a senior pastor is also seen in the qualification of the bishop (singular) in 1Timothy 3:1-7 and the qualifications of the deacons (plural) in 3:8-13. Paul addressed qualifications in Titus to a single bishop (Titus 1:7). There were “elders” in the city because of “whole houses” (1:11) or possibly many house churches.
The seven letters where delivered to individual messengers [Gk angelos]. While messengers can refer to angels the word angelos is profusely used of human messengers (1 Samuel 16:19; 19:11, 14, 20; Job 1:14, 20; Job 1:14; Luke 9:521; James 2:15). If these letters were delivered to angels, who knew their address? The letters were sent “to the angel” of each of the seven churches. Church history attests that Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna. Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch in A. D. 108. The warnings, reproofs, commendations, etc (Rev. 2:4, 5; 3:1, 15) would better befit the pastor of each church rather than to an angel (Dr. Hoyle Bowman’s notes A Baptist Distinctive Relating to Local Church Government and Leadership).