An Affirmation Of Congregational Polity -- By: James Leo Garrett, Jr.

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 03:1 (Spring 2005)
Article: An Affirmation Of Congregational Polity
Author: James Leo Garrett, Jr.

An Affirmation Of Congregational Polity

James Leo Garrett, Jr.

Distinguished Professor of Theology Emeritus
Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
P. O. Box 22000 Ft. Worth, TX 76122

I propose to define and to defend congregational polity as follows: it is that form of church government in which final human authority rests with the local or particular congregation when it gathers for decision-making. This means that decisions about membership, leadership, doctrine, worship, conduct, missions, finances, property, relationships, and the like are to be made by the gathered congregation except when such decisions have been delegated by the congregation to individual members or to groups of members.

The term “final human authority” suggests that the church is under divine authority, and this is most often described in terms of the lordship of Christ and the leadership of the Holy Spirit. The term “the local or particular congregation” is designed to identify a congregation in distinction from ecclesiastical judicatories or denominational bodies. The term “gathers for decision-making” implies that the whole congregation is responsible for such decision-making and that each member has a voice or vote in such. Consequently,

It is the intention under congregational polity that the congregation govern itself under the lordship of Jesus Christ (Christocracy) and with the leadership of the Holy Spirit (pneumatophoria) with no superior or governing ecclesiastical bodies (autonomy) and with every member having a voice in its affairs and its decisions (democracy).1

Congregational polity can be practiced according to different patterns. This is true both externally and internally. In terms of relations with other congregations, such congregations may practice either “independent congregational polity” or “cooperative or interdependent congregational polity.” According to the former, a congregation chooses “not to associate on sustained basis with other congregations or to affiliate with and support denominational or interdenominational bodies for missionary, educational, benevolent, or other purposes.” According to the latter, that is, the cooperative or the independent congregational polity, a congregation freely chooses “to associate with other congregations ‘of like faith and order,’” to use a historic term, “and to affiliate with and support denominational bodies for missionary, educational, benevolent, or other purposes.”2

In terms of the internal life of the cong...

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