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David Hanna

I am totally in disagreement of the elder led church. First, being a vocational evangelist for many years I have seen countless deacons that have not been born-again. Thus, having lost people making church decisions would be of no value.

I really believe the pastor has already been ordained of God. Just my thoughts.

Stuart Houston

God- head
Deacon- served

Don A.


How different is this than what you have said?

God- head
Deacon- served

Is this less biblical, less baptist??

Stuart Houston


Not so long as the "pastors"(staff) come under the final authority of The Pastor (Sr./Preaching Pastor) :-}



@ David. I've seen my share of preachers and pastors who, self confessed, weren't born again either.

Peter, don't let your disdain for Calvinism trash a legitimate, and in my opinion based on 12 years experience, a superior form of church government that IS supported biblically. It may go against the grain of the golden calf (SBC heritage); but there are many things SBC churches could do better. You may belittle me now. I'm really hoping to get another Georgia hoot award.

Stephen Beck

I am admittedly new to this blog, so forgive me if I have missed a post where this has been handled in a more in-depth fashion (the recent articles did not seem so to me, but please direct me as you will), but I have not find much evidence given for lumping in Dever with non-SBCers in putting elder leadership against congregationalism, but rather it seems Dever's focus is in pushing for a plurality of elders/pastors over a single pastor, which Stuart here seems to favor.

I unfortunately do not have a personal copy, but here are some indirect citations of Dever's A Display of God's Glory, from Hammett's Biblical Foundations for Baptist Churches: "more centralized polities seem to have a worse track record than does congregationalism in maintaining a faithful, vital, evangelical witness" (38). On plurality verses single eldership: "The service of the other elders along with me has had immense benefits... It encourages the church to take more responsibility for the spiritual growth of its own members and helps make the church less dependent on its employees" (24, emphasis added - seems to support congr. government to me). Hammett summarizes Dever's view as "adopting a plurality of elders and utilizing lay elders, while retaining a commitment to congregational government" (154, referring to Dever's pp. 16-43 without further comment or citing). I should note that Hammett happens to agree with Dever on most points but he freely quotes from Baptists of all shade and all times, examining many different facets of ecclesiology (for those interested in the Reformed link, Hammett seems to prefer the Calvinistic confessions but the book does not address soteriology).

Further, in the last few minutes on the internet I could not find any direct print sources by Dever, only a couple audio sermons that I do not want to wade through at this time, but for another small piece of evidence I give this positive book review of Elders in Congregational Life by Aaron Menikoff (verily a disciple of Dever - Menikoff attended CHBC for several years under Dever before becoming a student at Southern Seminary and now pastoring his own church, while becoming a regular contributor to 9 Marks), http://www.9marks.org/books/book-review-elders-congregational-life

Could you explain how in practice this view of eldership is different in reality than Rogers' statement that the church should be "run by the committee and congregationally approved." The author of this paper even admits Dever's elders give "attention" to only a "majority" of church business. Is it an improper inference that the rest of church business is decided on by the congregation without veto by the elders? How is this different than a deacon board and a multitude of committees?

peter lumpkins


Hey, brother.  Well, now you can't get a "What a Georgia Hoot!" trophy every time you show up!  Those are reserved only for special occasions ;^)

A couple of things.  First, so far as I know, I have no disdain for Calvinism. "Disdain" is a very strong word understand. Perhaps had you said, "don't let your disagreement..." you would have been razor sharp. Fact: I do not disdain Calvinism. I disdain secular humanism. I disdain atheism. I disdain sexism. I disdain racism. I disdain pantheism. But I only disagree with Calvinism. There is an impassible distinction between the two.

Second, in what way have I "trashed" presbyterianism?  I explicitly conceded to one commenter who implied I was attempting to tell Acts 29 Network how to govern its affiliate churches/church starts Acts 29 is free to hold a view of church govt. they believe matches NT revelation.  I specifically noted "I applaud them." No need to “trash” the elder-rule model to critique it. And why would I “belittle” you? I have Presbyterian friends. My library is stacked a mile high with Presbyterian authors. On the other hand, what you call a “superior” form of church government, is it not you who “belittles” mine by referencing it as a “golden calf.” In fact, the only image of which I am reminded concerning a “golden calf” depicts rebellious, God-dishonoring idolatry.  That’s a little beyond “belittling” were one to ask me.

My contention on plurality of elders in an elder-led model is simple—while plurality of elders is not unbiblical, it surely does not remain the exclusive NT option. In other words, elder plurality or single elder focus seems to fit well into free church congregationalism. The contention with Acts 29 network does not stem from their focus on plurality of elders per se.Rather, Acts 29 network explicitly demands elder plurality as the sole model they accept. If I am correct, they exclude 90% or more of all SBC churches who follow single elder models. It follows in my mind we should not allow any CP monies in any way partner with a network which the overwhelming majority of the churches in the SBC could not individually partner. How is this “trashing”?

On the other hand, elder-rule is definitively another problem altogether. I for one am glad you see the difference between presbyterianism and free church congregationalism, my brother Randy. Sadly, some—including some commenters—appear to argue there’s hardly any difference at all. Sweet Georgia peaches, brother!  They deserve the “What a Georgia Hoot!” award on that one!!  I strongly disagree with your conclusion that presbyterianism is superior to congregationalism albeit your 12 years experience to the contrary. But I do not “belittle” you for it. I just don’t want presbyterianism pushed onto my Baptist heritage. That’s all.

Have a great day, brother.

With that, I am…


Jonathon Woodyard

I believe Dever is committed to congregationalism both in theory and in practice. It is true that major decisions pass through the elders before going to the congregation, but only so that those called to lead are given opportunity to offer their thoughts and leadership concerning issues. They then bring recommendations to the congregation.

In his writings on the issue he clearly argues for congregationalism. His works have set forth classic congregationalism. His form of congregationalism is like that of Danny Akin, who argues for single-pastor/elder led congregationalism in a views book (it is, however, not the type of congregationalism that James Leo Garret argues for). At least in theory (as seen in his writings) Capitol Hill is committed to congregationalism.

But, Mark Dever and Capitol Hill are committed to congregationalism in practice as well. This is displayed when he moved the church to a plurality of elders. He nominated 5 men to serve as elders. The congregation then was asked to either approve or disapprove the recommendations. The result, they voted Dever down. The congregation was the final court of appeal (it is also true that Dever recommended the same five again, and asked the congregation to reconsider, which they did, and the five were approved by the congregation). The addition of elders, the inclusion/exclusion of members, the budget, etc. are handled by the entire congregation (not the elders alone as suggested by the article above. Although the elders do carry out the membership interviews, they are done so that the elders can offer their council on whether or not to accept someone into membership). Anyone who has attended Capitol Hill and been a part of their times of business knows how thoroughly involved the congregation is in handling the business of the church. Reports to the church are informative, time is given for consideration, and each member that is has gone through the membership process is recommended by an elder but must be approved by the congregation. And, I have never been to a church that was so serious about their members being part of these business meetings. They take congregational involvement seriously and make that clear to those who would join their fellowship.

I am intrigued by the debate concerning elder-rule. I am not one who believes such a position to be consistent with the New Testament. However, both from reading Dever and being present at Capitol Hill business meetings AND sitting in on a number of elder meetings, I do not believe his church practices a form anywhere near elder-rule. They are firmly led by their pastors but the final court of appeal is the congregation.

peter lumpkins


Welcome. Thanks for your insights, and may I say you offer some worthy thoughts to consider.

First, I'm only beginning to understand Mark Dever's position as I've never followed his ministry or writings consistently. Hence, I'm at a definite disadvantage to speak confidently on his full position. I do know that many of those associated with 9Marks such as Phil Newton (whose book I have read and continue to digest) mean by "elder-led" much more than what we normally mean. In fact, Newton is so strongly established in that direction, I think he argues for elder-ruled churches. In addition, he seems to embrace plurality of elders as the only NT option (by the way, Dever wrote the glowing foreword to Newton's book). However, whether Dever is fully where Newton is, I'm unprepared to say so right now.

Second, I might add that neither Dever nor Newton see their positions as in any way paradoxical to congregationalism. They appear to reason that since the congregation "votes" on the elders, therefore congregationalism remains unscathed. I find such reasoning unpersuasive myself.

I realize I perhaps didn't answer all your questions. However, continue reading and do not hesitate to engage. I intend to keep this subject going for a spell.

With that, I am...


I think there is a big difference between being elder-led and elder-ruled. Capitol Hill is a church that is led by elders but that, according to their Constitution & Bylaws, "is ultimately governed by it's members".

Their Constitution says clearly that it is the congregation that votes on admission of members. It is the congregation that disciplines wayward members. It is the church recognizes and elects the elders. And in fact the constitution says that that the congregation has the responsibility & duty to attend all members meetings so that they can exercise their congregational vote.

Just because many of the affairs of the church passes through the elders does not mean that the congregation has limited amount of authority and participation. Certainly a congregation can choose to delegate some responsibilities to the elders to handle. This would make sense if the elders are trustworthy men.

An elder-ruled church would have the pastors alone admitting members, the pastors alone disciplining members, the pastors alone choosing to install new elders without congregational vote, and the pastors alone casting votes. That's not CHBC.

Phil Newton

I'm only going to offer a couple of comments because you do not seem to understand the difference between elder rule and elder leadership. You already have your mind made up so it is pointless to argue with you. If you have no intention to lead your church toward elder leadership, that's fine but do respect the autonomy of other SBC churches who happen to disagree.

However, for those who are truly interested in understanding the various positions, I would suggest that if you want to understand the advocates of elder rule then read Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership or Gene Getz, Elders and Leaders. If, on the other hand, you are interested in studying about elder leadership and how it functions within a congregational framework, then my book, Elders in Congregational Life and Mark Dever's Nine Marks of a Healthy Church and also The Glory of the Congregation would be good starting points. There is a strong difference between the two positions as anyone who has visited and participated in both types of elder polity can attest and as anyone who has thoroughly read the literature on both positions can easily see. As one brother that has linked to this post has pointed out, his visit to CHBC demonstrated a strong congregationalism. However, judging both from a position of predisposition against either, does not leader to understanding.

Unlike what you stated of me, I do not try to promote elder rule nor do I state that elder plurality is the only way to do polity. I've taught on the subject in many different venues. While I'm convinced of the modified-congregational polity with elder leadership as having biblical authority, I also recognize that many churches would (1) not be in a good position to do this due to their traditions, (2) not be ready for elder plurality due to the lack of spiritually mature men who can embrace the biblical role of shepherding, or (3) the pastor is not committed to stay long-term in the church to see through any such changes in a patient way through biblical exposition, nurturing the flock, and gently leading the flock. I regularly tell guys that if they are heading for splitting their church over installing elder polity, don't do it. The church is more important than the polity. That doesn't mean that polity is unimportant, as any reader of Baptist history will attest. But the church is bigger than polity.

Well, that's my thoughts. Must review my sermon again: that's priority! Hope your Lord's Day goes well.

Phil Newton

peter lumpkins


Thanks. First, perhaps you are correct—I “do not seem to understand the difference between elder rule and elder leadership.” Fair enough. On the other hand, I have explained the distinction more than once (footnote #1), conceded the distinction elsewhere, and took pains to offer a clear example of some who completely blur the distinction so much, there really is no distinction. Hence, perhaps it’s you, Phil, who’s not been as clear as you think about distinguishing your own position from elder-rule. 

Second, yes I suppose I do “have my mind made up.” But how is that different from you?  Nor am I twisting your arm to force you to offer counter-points here, my brother.  Nor am I disrespecting other churches by suggesting plurality of elders is not necessitated by the Word of God. Goodness gracious, Phil, if you think I am, what the Sam Hill did you write your book for?  On page 56, you assert, “churches must pursue biblical patterns for our churches, including plural eldership.” Additionally, you approvingly quote John MacArthur in suggesting, “In fact, one-man leadership is characteristic of cults not the church” (p 67). Is this your idea of respecting the church autonomy of those who are “different from you”?

Even if I do, in fact, see your idea of elder leadership resembling Presbyterianism, to do so is not necessarily disrespectful. Presbyterianism has a long, rich history—and even respectful history I might add--within Protestantism. It’s just certainly not Baptist congregationalism. On the other hand, how respectful is telling me the polity I embrace is characteristic of cults, Phil?

Third, the very names you offer for those who’d like to know more about elder-rule/elder-led polity are fascinating. First on your list are men who may be the worse possible recommendations—at least from a Baptist perspective: Strauch and Getz. In addition, you give only sources which validate your own position. How’s that supposed to lend itself to understanding thoroughly the issues on both sides at hand?

Fourth, you deny you embrace elder rule nor suggest elder plurality is the only way to do polity. However, reading your book gives a different impression I assure.  In addition, to the quote above where you state, ““churches must pursue biblical patterns for our churches, including plural eldership” (p56), you also:

  • imply those who do not discover elder-rule plurality as you have in Scripture impose a “modern perspective on the ancient text” (p17)
  • explicitly state “no one man possesses all the gifts necessary for leading a congregation” (p38)
  • elderly plurality is the explicit New Testament pattern
  • “at the root of opposition to plural eldership are pastors who fear the loss of their authority in the church” (p59)
  • elder plurality enables churches to maintain both the traditional distinctive of congregational life and the clearly biblical structure of elders (p.97)
  • while all details of the functioning church are not laid out in the NT, yet the “basic structure must be present as the backbone for healthy New Testament churches. Critical to this structure is the establishment of a group of spiritual leaders called elders, overseers or pastors” (p.98)
  • “Only by returning to the biblical model for church structure and life can the church confidently press on in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to biblical Christianity. It is true that developing an elder leadership structure will not solve every problem. But such a reorienting toward the biblical pattern and principles establishes a framework for developing strong and healthy churches” (p.99)
  • “No rule is given regarding the size of plurality, but there must be a plurality” (p.101)

These propositions seem to suggest that while you may allow for other ways of doing church polity, there is only one biblical way, Phil—your way. Elder plurality. Please understand what I am not suggesting. I am not suggesting you are not entitled to what you believe the Bible to teach. We all must honor one another at this juncture, and I certainly honor and respect yours, Phil. On the other hand, when you deny you suggest in your teaching—at least the teaching in your book—that you do not try to promote elder rule nor state that elder plurality is the only way to do polity, you fail to understand the reader is gleaning from your statements like the above a much different idea.

Finally, you find it necessary to emphasize you do not push churches to transition toward your understanding of elder plurality/elder-rule (led). I agree. You make it clear in the last part of your book that whatever the pastor decides to do, he needs to do it responsibly, above board, and with full resolve to stay the course in leading the church through the entire process if the decision is made to switch polities. You are to be commended for deliberately saying, “Not so fast, please”! (p.153).

Thanks for the exchange, Phil. Lord bless.

With that, I am…


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