Kristen said something that deals with an issue that I’ve been rumminating on for some time.
I find it strange that christians think the authority of their elders doesn’t extend to all areas of their life. And particularly in situations where an individual is under church discipline.
What if a man is abusive to his wife? Should the elders take action and separate the couple? I think it is within the scope of their authority and duties.
The elders exercise authority in the lives of this couple outside their ‘church life’ (if such a thing even exists). And it was quite appropriate for them to do so.
These men are our elders. They are our examples and teachers. We have submitted to them, at least in theory. If we can’t submit to them in practice, then we shouldn’t say we will, and shouldn’t be members of their congregation.
Of course, this doesn’t mean they’re always right. We don’t believe in an infallible church authority. I disagree with my elders about paedocommunion, and I’m open about it. I post on my blog about it. I obey their decision, but I don’t pretend to think they’re correct.
If they told me to remove a post I made about it on my blog (which I don’t believe they would do, but if…), I would do so, and then bring it up at the next governmental meeting. And the next one. And the next one. Until it was dealt with. And it may be dealt with by my session telling me not to talk about it or teach on it to anyone (this, I should mention, does not include a prohibition over my own household). If I didn’t obey, then they ought to discipline me for disobeying their God-given authority. Of course, I consider this an impossible situation for me. I’m certain that it wouldn’t ever happen, about this issue, at least. But if I don’t submit to the church, then it’s pointless for me to even be there.
Further, it is the session’s duty to ban the teaching of error. That is within their scope of authority. Now, there may be a time where the elders are mistaken about a particular doctrine, and forbid something that is true. In such a situation, I don’t think our response should be to immediately leave the church, like so many evangelicals do. They encounter problems in a church, and then just hop down the road to another church…. problem solved.
There are situations that it would be appropriate for a family or individual to leave a congregation. I’m not denying that. If a baptist family comes to realize the truth of paedobaptism, and recognizes their need to have their children baptized, then they probably should move to a different congregation, where they can do so. And it isn’t a cut and dry. That won’t happen in every case. Just like my situation… I came to realize my baptized children should be admitted to the Lord’s Table. They aren’t, but I think it would be better for them to wait a year or for them to come to the Table than it would to move somewhere else. They are not being starved at Providence. Not by any means.
Anyhow… I’ve just been thinking about these things. I know I don’t have all the answers, and some small offerings I’ve made might not be right. But I see that it’s an effect of the widespread individualism in the church that people think their elders don’t have authority over them, and can’t tell them to alter their behavior in some way or another. And I see that it’s a bad thing, not healthy for our communities. We need to submit to our elders. And we need to have elders we can submit to.