Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Some thoughts on the church which I initially expressed on FB, but which I feel need some further work...

Free Church ecclesiology is based on the development of three doctrinal presuppositions.

Firstly, the Scripture principle.  In the realm of ecclesiology, the Scripture principle is taken to imply that there is a particular model for the organisation, government, and communal life of the church given in Scripture.  This model, because it is Scriptural, is authoritative (mutatis mutandis, the church today should strive to be like the church then; some would omit the mutatis mutandis), sufficient (there is no need to look elsewhere for manuals of church order), and clear (the model is expressed simply and is easily understood).  The particular model that we see in Scripture is church government by Elders and Deacons based in a local congregation, which is organised so as to express familial care and encourage gospel growth.

Secondly, the active rule of Christ by word and Spirit.  Of course, every Christian accepts this presupposition.  However, in Free Church ecclesiology it is developed in a particular direction.  There is a tendency to reject any position of authority which is not based on the ministry of the word.  Ministers are Christ's servants (again, Christians would universally accept this), but concretely that means that their authority is not their own; it comes through their service of the word.  The authority of church leaders is the authority of the word; no exercise of authority which is not ministry of the word can be legitimate church leadership.  A further implication is what might look like democratisation to the watching world, but is in fact an affirmation of Divine Monarchy.  In other words, decisions are made by the congregation, under the guidance of the Elders, with the awareness that Christ is present and is exercising his rule.  This also counts against complex structures in the church, and Free Church polity can look chaotic from the outside (and the inside!) - but it is based on the presupposition that Christ is actually ruling, and does not surrender his throne to, or share it with, any other human being.

Thirdly, the relationship between the invisible, catholic Church and the particular, local church.  In essence, the former is thought of as manifested in the latter.  Consequently, no room is found for structures over and above the local congregation.  Such structures would either be attempting to manifest an 'interim layer' - not the catholic Church nor the local church - which would therefore be denying the identity between the one and the other; or they would be seeking to express the catholic Church visibly, which would be simple imperialism.

The more I think about it, the more these three principles and their implications boil down to one thing: Christ rules his Church, and therefore nobody else does.  Of course, every Christian accepts, at least in principle, the first clause; the second is the particular genius of the Free Churches.


  1. 2 quick questions
    what do you do with apostles?
    We will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you. 14 We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. 15 Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, 16 so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in someone else’s territory.

    what do you do with Titus?
    The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint/ordain elders in every town, as I directed you.

  2. Two very fair questions.

    On Apostles, I would refer to Paul's farewell to the Ephesian elders, noting that he entrusts the church to them and them to God's word - not to any further apostle-like figure. In my mind, it is not *quite* that apostles=Scripture, but it's close (for us now, anyway).

    On Titus, I totally accept the role of a church planter, and since no elders were yet appointed in the churches in Crete I would say they weren't yet properly planted. The implication is that there will come a point when Titus can go home, because the churches are established.

  3. 2 very fair responses!