In the previous article, I wrote about the scriptural identity of a New Testament church with regard to the mode of baptism, which biblically is immersion. Today, I focus attention to the polity of a Bible-based church. Polity is the way the church is governed.
With so many various denominations today, there come many various ways of governing. For some, there is a universal leader, such as with the Roman Catholics who have a pope, who sets polity and decrees. The pope has a number of cardinals as part of the church’s hierarchy. Their main function is to elect a new pope when a current one dies. Cardinals also supervise several dioceses in the region where they are assigned.
Still other denominations are led by a group of bishops who call a person to be the pastor of a local congregation, or sometimes congregations. Other denominations have a board of elders directing the affairs of the church, with a pastor being the leader under their supervision,
The New Testament church does not follow any of those forms of polity. In truth, churches are autonomous. That means they are self-governing. When choosing a pastor, the church may send out representatives to hear and interview prospective candidates for the position. Then the church body will vote either to call or not to call the individual as pastor. Once in place, the pastor becomes the shepherd of the flock (church).
Baptist churches have, as part of their identity, local church autonomy. That in itself is a good reason to be a Baptist. Baptist churches do not have a pope or a board of elders who rule. It is the church who governs her business and ministries, but it is the pastors who shepherd the flock.
In the Greek, the word for pastor or shepherd is “poimen,” which defines one who leads, trains, feeds, nurtures, chastens and meets the needs of those under his watch. However, pastors are not to lord over the church. They are to care for the spiritual, physical and emotional needs of the members.
Pastors are to be examples to the members in the areas of evangelism, discipleship and ministry to one another and to the community. Of utmost importance, the pastor is to be the chief discipler of the church. He should teach others to teach others. In line with that responsibility, the pastor should be a teacher who feeds the flock of God full meals of doctrine and not the junk food of fad subjects.
Other words in the Greek language to describe the pastor of a church are “presbuteros” and “episkopos.” Along with “poimen,” these describe the ministry of one and the same position — a pastor who oversees the ministry to the church and the ministries of the church.
Of utmost importance is the need for the pastor to see that what is done in the ministry of the church adheres to the truths of the Bible. This, again, is another scriptural identity of a true New Testament church. This is also how Baptist churches conduct themselves in an autonomous fashion under the careful and diligent leadership of a pastor. That is a good reason to be a Baptist.
I address one more identifying mark of a New Testament Church — its fellowship. Now many jokingly say that it’s easy to identify a Baptist church — simply count the number of casseroles served at a fellowship lunch! However, while a church should have wonderful, caring and loving fellowship within the membership, that is not the idea that I am presenting.
Autonomous churches are free to fellowship with other churches who have like faith, doctrine and practice. That is what makes the Baptist Missionary Association of Arkansas (and other state works) and the Baptist Missionary Association of America so special. We are able to serve the Lord in our local towns and cities, as well as around the world, in missions — because we have the same focus, the same doctrine and the same fellowship. That is a good reason to be a Baptist!
The next article in this series will focus on the mission and ministries of a church. It is the reason Christ called us to gather as community congregations over 2,000 years ago!