The past few years have seen an upsurge in Elder Rule and Elder Leadership in Baptist churches. Many Southern Baptist churches have been convinced by new pastors (often, but not always Calvinist or Reformed Baptist) to change from being ruled by the congregation, to being ruled by a small group of elders. Often this pastor then proceeds to select a group of his close friends as elders, thus insulating him from congregational vote and authority.
Southern Baptists have historically believed Scripture teaches the church is to be governed by the congregation. While the pastor is to be the spiritual leader, and the deacons and others have influence, the final decisions are to be made by the congregation, the members of the church.
“Each congregation operates under the Lordship of Christ through democratic processes. In such a congregation each member is responsible and accountable to Christ as Lord. Its scriptural officers are pastors and deacons.” -Baptist Faith & Message, 2000; SBC doctrinal statement.
Following are notable quotes on Elders and Church Governance from Dr. Robert A. Wring of Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. These excerpts are quoted from the Biblical Evangelist, 2012. Footnotes have not been included.
“There are three Greek words, however, that are used interchangeably in several New Testament passages that express the idea of elder leadership which was practiced in the early stages of church development. These are presbuteros, episkopos, and poimen. The English equivalent is elder, bishop, and pastor.” -Dr. Robert A. Wring, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary.
“The congregational model was widely practiced in the first century New Testament church, apparently by theological design. This was the only form of government practiced among primitive Christians until the second century when changes began to be made in church polity.
The elders and deacons could make their voices heard in any matter pertaining to the church’s welfare, but they did not have exclusive governmental prerogative. Under Christ, the whole congregation was the final court of appeal.” -Dr. Robert A. Wring
“In the Book of Acts, many important decisions were made by individual congregations. It was the entire church that chose the first deacons in Acts 6:5. In Acts 13:1-4, the whole church sent out Barnabas and Saul to do mission work, and in Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council included the messengers from at least one local congregation from Antioch (15:23), as well as the believers in the Jerusalem assembly. Paul instructed the Corinthian church to be responsible believers and take charge of their own affairs.” -Robert A. Wring
“One will search in vain in the annals of early American Baptist church history to find ruling elders operating as a board of administrator/rulers with one preaching elder and the rest laymen who do not minister the Word and preach.” -Robert A Wring
“Since their beginning in 1845, every major Southern Baptist writer, minister and other leaders have consistently argued that a Baptist church has only two biblical church officers. These are pastors and deacons.” -Robert A Wring
“The office of ruling elders is really a recent development in Southern Baptist thinking which has begun to take root and grow at an alarming rate since the early 1990s. The idea of having ruling elders in a Baptist church in modern times is confusing, especially when those favoring having elders in their churches refer to them as elder leadership, rather than elder rulers. Whatever name is given to this group of leaders in a Baptist church, the truth of the matter is, elder rule is not necessary. It does not have biblical support, nor does it have strong historical Baptist precedence.” -Robert A. Wring
“The pastor, deacons, and other leaders work together as a team in helping the congregation in seeking the will of Christ as they meet together in doing the business of the church. Elder rule usurps the priesthood of the believer role because it denies the church members their right and privilege as believers to make decisions affecting the welfare of the church.” -Robert A. Wring
See the entire article, Elder Rule and Southern Baptist Church Polity at The Biblical Evangelist, or the Journal for Baptist Theology and Ministry Vol. 3 No. 1 (Spring 2005): 188-212.
-David R. Brumbelow, Gulf Coast Pastor, March 1, AD 2012.
Books on Calvinism, Predestination
Brief History of SBC Conservative Resurgence
Acts 29, Alcohol, and the Southern Baptist Convention
Top Three Seminaries
Adrian Rogers on "Wit & Wisdom of Pastor Joe Brumbelow"
Adrian Rogers on Predestination, Calvinism
Paige Patterson on Calvinism
More article in lower right margin.