Despite assurances otherwise, politics is alive and well in American Presbyterianism…
In a recent episode of The Spiritual Fitness Show, Pastor Mic Knox attempted to answer a viewer’s question: “Can you explain church government and how sin corrupts each form of church government?”
He spent an hour addressing the question Biblically, practically, and also based on his own experience serving under multiple different forms of church government. In doing so, he revealed some age-old secret techniques practiced and sharpened by power seekers who put their own desires for control above much, if not all, else.
When the impulse for power exceeds the impulse for service, he assures us that sin has gotten in deep, no matter what form of church government is in question.
However, he also recommended several remedies.
SIGNS OF SIN IN THE AUTHORITY STRUCTURE
He notes several indicators common to different forms of government that signal that sin has infected the church’s authority structure:
- Corrupted church governments usually involve senior pastors who want to get their way, no matter what. (31:30)
- They are characterized by pastors or elders who manipulate deacons and elders to influence them to make his goals their own.
- They may have pastors who conduct a political assessment of their support on a session to identify who will vote for them, who they need to counsel, and other men in the church who are favorable to his influence and can be groomed to be yes men.
- If a pastor cannot determine how a particular officer will vote or whether he will support the status quo, he may take him to lunch to counsel him and ensure he hears the “right” version of the story so that he becomes amenable to the suggestions of the pastor and his yes men.
Knox described the characteristics of the persuasive pastor from his years of experience in multiple denominations:
However, there could be a very persuasive pastor. He can persuade people in the church to vote for his particular elder candidate. Ahh–you ever heard of this? Somebody who’s going around, and maybe they’re lobbying for votes–yea, it happens in congregationalism, too. Betcha didn’t know it. Been there. Done that. Seen it. Yea, sin. It’s everywhere.34:33
He explains that most people think of church government as a control barrier to prevent sin from running rampant, but in reality, no matter how biblical or how many levels of accountability there are, master manipulators can always subvert the system and make it work for them. (41:30)
Knox also states that the influencers at the top do not want the rank-and-file church members to read and become familiar with their form of church government, whatever it may be. If there is a Book of Church Order, the manipulators do not want laymen to read it. Them remaining in ignorance about the process is a safeguard that helps keep them in power. (51:18)
This is why he also says that senior pastors don’t want their congregations to meet very often. In denominations that allow the churches to elect their pastors, the congregations hold the authority to hire and fire their pastors at will, and more. If they, as a body, fully understood this and how to exercise their authority, then it would seriously undermine the ability of a master operator to control the church to his liking. (19:00)
Even Presbyterianism, he says, with its multiple levels of accountability and plurality of elders, can fall into sinful corruption:
All it takes is for a few persuasive men to begin to work their magic. Good, political men. Men who want to get their way. And they’ll put in enough time and effort to work this system. And you’ll say, well, how do they work this system? Well, they work the congregation. They see who might be a good candidate for them to have on their elder board as well as deacons…So they look for guys that would be really good candidates to be deacons. Gotta get the right diaconate. So you get guys who are the deacons and they’re gonna be good. Gotta get these guys elected and they’re going to serve the church and they could possibly be our elders…Who can I make sure is going to vote with me no matter what so that I can get my way?36:51
To rectify any kind of situation in which church government has fallen into the corruption of sin, Knox reminds us of one crucial fact:
All churches, regardless of their forms of government, are under the authority of Jesus Christ (Mat. 28:18-20; Eph. 1:22-23).
Citing Jonah, he reminds us that salvation belongs to the Lord, and His church belongs to Him.
He emphasizes the importance of self-government under the Gospel. Good church government starts at the individual level and depends on individual Christians conforming their thoughts, words, and deeds to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
He encourages the viewer to be very aware of what’s going on at the top. He encourages you to ask questions. If you don’t get answers to your questions, he says, something could be suspect and is worthy of deeper investigation by church members.
The officers are accountable to the church members, so his main theme is that it is the responsibility of the church members to study their Bibles, practice self-government, study their church’s form of government, read their book of church order, and question their leadership on any issue that they don’t understand or which doesn’t seem clear to them.
Watch the full episode below. A brief outline of the topics discussed with approximate timestamps is provided beneath:
- Introduction of the question of the day (5:10)
- Episcopalianism (10:34)
- From the Bible: Titus 1:5
- Presbyterianism (14:00)
- Distinction between Ruling and Teaching Elders (16:07)
- Distinction between assistant and associate pastors (17:50)
- Does not believe assistant is Biblical (16:45)
- Senior Pastors don’t want congregation to meet (19:00)
- From the Bible: Acts 15:6, 12-14 (19:39)
- Congregationalism, Pastor-led (23:55)
- Typical of Southern Baptist churches (25:00)
- More dangerous than elder-led (28:30)
- Congregationalism, Elder-led (26:00)
- Matthew 18:15-17
- Southern Baptist Convention and the prevalence of autonomy at the individual level. (30:00)
- Sin in church government (33:00)
- Sin in presbyterianism (36:00)
- Sin in episcopalianism (40:00)
- Review and summary (48:00)