(This is from a paper I did for the CHBC Internship in DC in 2008 – I have moved to agree with Mark Dever more than I articulate in this post)
The focus of this book is to study the Bible’s teaching on four basic components of church polity: deacons, elders, congregationalism, and membership. Deacons are to care for physical needs to the end of uniting the church under the ministers of the Word (14). Elders should lead the church as a plurality, relating to the church, senior pastor, staff, and deacons in specific ways. Congregationalism means that the local church as a whole is the last and final court of appeal in the life of the church with many implications. Church membership is important and bound up with the nature of the church, inevitably carrying responsibilities and requirements for the members of a local church.
Deacons.I appreciated the three aspects of the deacons’ role. The unifying of the church body (10) by ministry of the deacons put a new significance in my mind to what deacons could and should do. I felt that the office is very honorable after reading that. In my experience the deacons are a second power block of the church functioning as a second house of the legislature (12). The picture of how deacons function at CHBC was helpful in giving me a working picture of the three-fold duty the deacon has.
Elders. It is indeed a privilege to display God’s glory to the world in the church by having godly servant-minded elders who lead with authority (27-28). Our world desperately needs to see these two things in action: trustworthy leaders who are humble and thoughtful congregations who are gladly submissive and not resentful to authority properly exercised. This displays God because his authority is always properly exercised and to see a people who gladly, though not perfectly, submit to his authority as expressed in submission in the local church is a concrete sample that serves as a window into seeing God.
Congregationalism. I currently agree with the autonomy of local churches not having an outside body that can mandate a particular congregation in matters of discipline or doctrine. This is the church polity I grew up in and it makes sense to me. But what about churches that deny the gospel? Can anyone mandate that particular congregation to repent and return to Christ besides God himself? I know we can preach and counsel them, but are they just allowed to defame the name of Christ and confuse the world and other Christians as to what a church really is according to the Bible? I would think that means we have to let the church just confuse people and try to be as best an accurate picture ourselves, but I sometimes wish we could do more. Perhaps I’m wishing something that infringes on the limitations God wants me to embrace.
When Dever argues for the church being the final court and authority under God, I don’t see the evidence as conclusive as he does (which most likely means I’m missing something). I think there is a difference between authority and responsibility that is helpful in reading the texts cited. Let me try to read the texts Dever cites looking for congregational responsibility/participation and not necessarily congregational rule/authority/final court. In Matthew 18:15-17 local church is not the final court/authority anymore than the second and third brother is the second court of appeal/authority. I don’t know much about church discipline, but it seems that after the church hears the situation they are to tell the brother to repent and be restored. If the sinning brother still does not listen, Jesus says, “treat him as a tax collector.” Now who is Jesus commanding this to? Not the church as a whole, but the person who first sought to restore (I think). This passage puts responsibility on the church but not necessarily final authority in the church for disputes. In Acts 6 the apostles may be recognizing some sort of ultimate authority in the congregation, but could they be recognizing that the church can be delegated the responsibility of finding these deacons to solve the problem at hand?
I think Dever equates (or at least defines) responsibility (34) with court of final appeal in regard to doctrine. That may be the case. It may alternatively be the case that the church has a responsibility to reject the false gospel and not necessarily have the responsibility of being the court of final appeal at all. I’m not sure if that in effect, is the same thing. In regard to 2 Tim. 4:3 I agree that the hearers of false teachers are culpable and guilty for tolerating false teaching, but that may mean that they are held responsible for receiving it and not for failing to be the final court that Dever sees them to be.
Church Discipline. In the matters of discipline Dever argues that the congregation as a whole accepted the unrepentant sinner into the congregation (not saying he was unrepentant when accepted) and tolerated his sin so they must either turn him loose or lose their claim as Christ’s disciples (36). From this he states it is evidence that the congregation is the final court. That may be. But it may alternatively be that they are held responsible to carry out the discipline the way Christians are held responsible to be holy as God is holy. They are all to participate in carrying out the discipline. This does not necessarily mean that the church is the final court because they are actually responsible to put the man out. In regard to membership, Paul does exhort the Corinthians, but does it have to be because that is all he can do since the congregation is the final court (36)? That may be the reason, or it could be that the he exhorts them though he could command them. He does command many things with imperatives in his epistles.