Submit to Your Elders

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.

One thought on “Submit to Your Elders

  1. “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.”

    This did happen to me, just this week. The elders decided to let the preacher go. One of the elders came to me and told me that he thought that he had done wrong by making this particular decision. He went on to give me more information concerning the problems in the eldership (many of which I already knew). I told him at that time that I wanted the men and elders to meet together, so that he could tell the men what he was telling me and to give the men an opportunity to express their concern with the decision. That night, on a secret members page, I posted a well-worded request. In that request there was no attack on the eldership, just a respectful request of the elders to meet with the men on Sunday afternoon. I was told to call the elder who had filled me in on the problems within the eldership. He had not read the post, but told me that I may have given the other elders grounds to “disfellowship” me by posting that request. Of course, I disagreed. He said that if the meeting took place that they would get up in front of the men and say that I was out of line and that I was being a ringleader that was causing division. He told me that I needed to take the post down (which I did). He advised that they intended to meet with the men, but not right now. It will be a few weeks. They want to talk to everyone individually first. Knowing what I know, this is a “divide and conquer” tactic. The meeting was not about saving the preacher, but dealing with the issues that brought them to this point. While I understand the role of the elders, I don’t believe that this group of men are fulfilling the role as the Scripture sets forth. This issue has put me in a very difficult position. I’d like to see the problems fixed, but it looks as though we will need to leave.

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