Elder Rule And Southern Baptist Church Polity -- By: Robert A. Wring

Journal: Journal for Baptist Theology & Ministry
Volume: JBTM 03:1 (Spring 2005)
Article: Elder Rule And Southern Baptist Church Polity
Author: Robert A. Wring

Elder Rule And Southern Baptist Church Polity

Robert A. Wring

Adjunct Instructor
Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary
2216 Germantown Road
Germantown, TN 38138

After years of neglect, church polity has become, once again, the topic of discussion in recent days and in many circles of concern. Preachers and other church leaders are discussing this important subject as they review the polity-related issues of the day. This is occurring in numerous churches and in the seminary setting as ministers, church leaders, students and professors are searching for answers to the leadership questions involving Baptist church polity. John L. Dagg, the noted Baptist theologian of another day, considered church polity an issue worth exploring. Noting that church order is not as important as winning people to Christ, he nevertheless stated that Christ gave commands on the subject in the Scriptures; therefore, one has no other recourse than to explore the issue of government in the local church.1

The revival of interest in Baptist church polity has been fueled by the concern of many in conforming, and/or returning, to a more biblical form of church governance. The problem that occurs within the framework of all this discussion is the discovery of the proper form of church governance. More than a few leaders are questioning whether Southern Baptists have been practicing the right method of church governance (pastor, deacons, and congregational authority)

since their beginning in 1845. A major concern surfaces when the discussion centers around the topics of elders, elder rule, and the congregational form of church government.

Since the early 1970s and 1980s, books have been published on elder leadership, most of which have been written by leaders outside the Southern Baptist tradition.2 In the 1990s a plethora of elder leadership material from other faith groups have continued to lead some Southern Baptists to begin reexamining their ideas of church polity.3 In 2001, Mark Dever edited a book on polity in which he presented a collection of 10 historic, out of print, Baptist documents addressing church leadership and the elder issue.4 In 2002 a dissertation was written which addressed elders and Southern Baptist churches because of a concern for the direction in which some Southern Baptist leaders are taking their churches in reforming their style of doing church.5 In 200...

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