Wednesday, September 17, 2014
Authority and Accountability
Following from the idea of a universal visible church, whereby each congregation has a necessary connection with other congregations, Presbyterians maintain that the visible church must be governed—not simply "advised"—beyond only the local, particular congregation. Proving this point effectively refutes congregationalism.The system has been much abused in recent years, but for these reasons and others, it remains the best.
Acts 15 is the standard text for Presbyterians on this matter. Acts 15:2 shows us that the elders of the Jerusalem church received Paul and Barnabas from Antioch to discuss matters of doctrine and practice. The elders in Antioch had "appointed" and sent Paul and Barnabas. Those who made the decisions at this Jerusalem council were apostles and elders (Acts 15:4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4). Non-ordained members of the church didn't have an official role at this council. Congregationalists wishing to argue against a Presbyterian interpretation of Acts 15 typically suggest that this meeting should not be taken as normative for the church since the apostles acted in a prophetic manner under supernatural guidance. But there are too many factors that prove the apostles functioned as ordinary ecclesiastical officers.
Why did the apostles even choose to discuss the matter if they received supernatural guidance on it? Why did the apostles debate the matter upon "grounds derived at once from God's providential dealings, and from statements contained in the Old Testament Scriptures," Cunningham argues, if they were under special prophetic illumination? The nature of the council's deliberation proves the "dogmatic and diatactical power of a court of the church," Guy Waters writes in the highly recommended How Jesus Runs the Church. The assembly resolved a doctrinal matter (Acts 15:24, 27), and the assembly exercised a power of order by telling other churches to refrain from certain practices (Acts 15:28-29). Acts 15 proves that doctrinal matters in one church or several churches have necessary implications for all churches in a binding manner because of the decisions of a higher court (Acts 15:22-23).