Church Polity

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 6:02 AM

Kevin blogs on the problem of congregational church polity. As someone who has always been in a congregationalist polity-based church, I have somewhat of a tendency to disagree that that it is really a bad idea. But, I don't think it is a good idea either, mind you.

On the positive side, a congregational model is ideal for insuring against the larger bureaucracy of a domination destroying the life of an individual church. Consider what is presently going on here in St. Louis with St. Stanislaus Kostka Polish Catholic Church; they are one of the few (only?) parishes that owns its own land and therefore has something like a congregational system; the board members have received interdicts from the Archbishop and the priests have been revoked. Supposedly this is so that the church will agree to act like an normal Catholic church, but the fact that the archdiocese has been selling a lot of propertie,s and St. Stans has $9 million in property, makes me wonder of Archbishop Burke has an ulterior motive for reversing a 120-year old church polity arrangement. This type of problem can occur in any non-democratic form of church polity, unless the church is independent. When considering non-denominational, non-democratic churches, on the other hand, we face a problem wherein those types of churches often move towards “personality cults” focused on the charisma of the founding pastor/benevolent dictator.

Another good example of the benefits of the congregational method is that of my own church. I've talked about this before. Our denomination was headed far away from Biblical principles, so we were able to jump ship. This is a uniquely congregational benefit; with congregational churches, the churches are in something more like a federation than a unified organization, and therefore Biblically based churches are far less likely to be sunk by heretical denominational trends. Had we been in a denomination with a different type of polity, this could not have happened.

On the other hand, I see problems with the congregational system as well. First off, I'm not aware of any one who actually uses a pure form of it. Typically, congregational churches don't have the congregation vote on everything, but have representatives on a church council or similar. This lowers accountability, since there aren't any strong oversight bodies above the church level and the congregation typically does not have a true vote on even the representatives chosen. Moreover, true congregationalism can't last, since the individuals must either create a higher level organization to keep the denomination together or the member churches will diverge too far from each other.

If you can guess, however, I'm not a big fan of episcopal polity, especially. Its not that I have anything against churches that use it, but personally, I think leads to the most corruption. Now, then, what is the ideal form of polity, in my opinion? I don't think I know of an ideal form, but I've come to the conclusion that presbyterian polity is the best mix. Despite John Milton's accusation that the “episcopal arts bud again” when presbyterianism was implemented in England during Cromwell's rule, I think it makes the most sense. Incidentally, it also mirrors our government's system of representation too.

I think the idea of having a body that is a mix of clergy and church representatives on various levels, from the session to the presbytery to the general assembly, is a wise arrangement. As with our own secular government, it makes sense to recognize that pure democracy doesn't work, but a republic works as a balance against the greater corruption of totalitarian systems.

Tags: Faith
Article Path: Home: Faith: Church Polity

Join the Conversation

2 comments posted so far.

Re: Church Polity

I found this really interesting, but I think my English vocabulary falls short when it comes to theological terms (which I’m afraid I hardly know in Swedish). Could you explain what you mean with “non-denominational”, for example? Although I’ve never heard “congregational polity” before, I think I got the meaning of that.

Posted by Flip - Mar 27, 2005 | 8:58 PM- Location: Sweden

Re: Church Polity


Posted by Timothy R. Butler - Apr 01, 2005 | 5:51 AM- Location: MO

Create or Sign In to Your Account

Post as a Visitor

:mrgreen: :neutral: :twisted: :arrow: :shock: :smile: :???: :cool: :evil: :grin: :idea: :oops: :razz: :roll: :wink: :cry: :eek: :lol: :mad: :sad: :!: :?:
Remember my information