Elders in the Life of the Church: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership by Phil A. Newton and Matt Schmucker
This revised edition of Elders in Congregational Life is a great addition to the discussion on elders today. Pastor Phil Newton and executive director of 9Marks and elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church seek to bring the discussion of elders into the foreground for Christian believers, especially those in Baptist circles. The book takes a historical, biblical, theological, and practical approach to understanding elders and pointing others toward a positive view of the office in our churches. Notably, the book helps move churches from a church without elders to one who lives and breathes the life of faith with elders. Being a ruling elder in an Evangelical Presbyterian Church, I have been acquainted with eldership for most of my adult life, but I see the great advantages of this book with churches who are moving in that direction.
The first part of the book deals with background history of elders in the Baptist tradition and seeks to answer the question of why elders are to be to function in our churches. The author’s note that, “The practice of including elders in Baptist life did not begin in America. Plural eldership was common in England during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Yet,”…Most of the English Baptists of this era, unlike Presbyterians, rejected the idea of “ruling elders” as a distinct from “teaching elders.” (32-33) There was a common ground between elders in Baptist church life between pastors and elected elders in the congregation that was somewhat different than the role of ruling and teaching elders in the Reformed tradition. We even get a glimpse of what the Baptist confessions taught as we hear what John Piper has to say when he writes, “…from the historical survey of Baptist Confessions is that it is false to say that the eldership is unbaptistic.” (36) However, there has been a downturn in the witness of elder plurality among Baptists today. The two authors are careful to point out that the church must understand and apply what God’s Word says today about this issue.
Matt points out a very practical and point concerning elders that is chalk full of wisdom. He writes, “This is why nominating new elders is the one matter for which our own elder board does not allow any dissenting votes…But when it comes to nominating new elders, we require unanimity.” (120) The matter of trust runs deep and the church needs men who are able to be trusted in all different ministry contexts. Matt goes onto to provide some healthy ways of dealing with disagreements among elders. He points out that we must distinguish between matters of doctrinal, character, or personal struggles. (120) I believe we can only know these things as we pursue one another thru constant communication and prayer. The beauty of being an elder is that you can lean on each other in agreement and come to each other in disagreement even if the conflict is very serious.
I really enjoyed this book as glimpse into the reasons why a plurality of leadership in the local church is the best model for church government. I appreciate the honesty and wisdom of both author’s and their willingness to see both the personal and practical benefits of having elders.
Thanks to Kregel Ministry for the copy of this book to review in exchange for an honest review.