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Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering…

Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church… (edition 2005)

by Phil A. Newton

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Title:Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership
Authors:Phil A. Newton
Info:Kregel Academic & Professional (2005), Paperback, 176 pages
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Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership by Phil A. Newton



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There has been quite a resurgence of Biblical polity in many churches that have, seemingly since the advent of the Second Great Awakening and Finney-brand revivalism, often been plagued by an unbiblical model of church government. I remain convinced from Scripture of the necessity of a plurality of qualified and called pastor-elders to serve as under-shepherds, leading God's local flock. I do still have reservations as to the validity of congregationalism, but do see that the idea(generally) is not completely foreign to Scripture. In particular, Newton presents a rather convincing argument for the necessity and legitimacy of a type of congregationalism, particularly one led by a plurality of elders.
Phil Newton's book,Elders in Congregational Life , dives into the challenge of moving a church with an unbiblical government to a church with a plurality of qualified elders. This book seems specifically aimed at Southern Baptists, but is applicable beyond. By being aimed at Baptist, Newton is able to address specific issues, use specific examples and pull from the history of the denomination, while consistently basing his argument in Scripture, to counter illegitimate examples, modern tradition that spurns the tradition of the founders of the SBC and poor exegesis.

Newton divides the book into three sections. The first section is used by Newton to address the problem of poor church polity and the history of biblical church polity in the SBC. Section two looks at 3 specific passages and how they support the idea of a plurality of leadership and what a biblical elder actually resembles. Section 3 is the application section. Rather than begin by giving a list of how-to's and pages of commands and promises, Newton chooses instead to tell the story of some churches that have made the change, and the challenges faced and success enjoyed by these examples. He then proceeds to make some practical suggestions. It is important to note that this section is not binding. It is not commanded in Scripture, or even modeled in Scripture, but it is practical advise gleaned from multiple sources that have led a change in a congregational church from single elder/pastor to plural, biblical elders.

It was when Newton began dealing specifically with the “first amongst equals”, or the “senior pastor”, that he lost my seemingly perpetual “amen”. The term itself, “senior pastor”, when applied to a man is offensive to me. According to Scripture, Christ is the Senior Pastor, the Chief Shepherd, of His Church and, subsequently, every local church. Anyone who serves the church as an elder is an under-shepherd of Christ. This is not just some semantical* nit-picking because it is important, as Newton points out in his book, that every elder realize that he is not autonomous and that he is accountable to the Shepherd for how he handles His flock. Beyond that, when addressing the role of the “senior pastor”, it seemed to place much too high an emphasis on him. Plurality of leadership did not seem to flow into plurality in the pulpit and plurality when leading the way in decisions and announcements and vision. I would have liked Newton to have offered a vision of true plurality, where a plurality of men are filling the pulpit on a regular basis and the vision of the church is solely tied to the church, and not to the “first amongst equals”.

Elders in Congregational Life is great for what it is. It is concise yet robust, dealing with the Biblical mandates, support and examples as well as addressing the rich history of plurality of leadership within Baptist history. The practical sections give a lot of great ideas, if at times the advice seemed a bit one-size-fits-all. If you want a broader defense of plurality of leadership and exposition of the texts dealing with plurality and elder qualifications, I would suggest Strauch's Biblical Eldership. But, if you want a solid, congregationalist based argument for plurality and a sufficiently thorough exposition on the qualifications of an elder, Newton's Elders in Congregational Life is a great read.

*It appears that the word “semantical” may not exist. For the sake of clarity, brevity, and possibly irony, I have left it in. Plus, legitimate semantics or not, I like the word. :-D ( )
  joshrskinner | Jul 30, 2014 |
Some of my favorite quote so far from Elders in Congregational Life: Rediscovering the Biblical Model for Church Leadership by Phil A. Newton
I know of no other book that gives such particular and practical consideration for transitioning to plural elders. Mark Dever, Capitol Hill Baptist Church
when the leadership group of a church is swamped in the mundane and temporal, they may fail to take to heart the deeper spiritual needs of the church.
the duties of elders might better be approached in a fourfold manner: doctrine, discipline, direction, and distinction in modeling the Christian life.
What difference can elders make in church life? If a congregation has a group of godly spiritual leaders who walk with Christ, who do so in such a way that they assist the body in fleshing out the details of the Christian life, who attend to the doctrine of the church, who labor to maintain discipline of the members, and who regularly give direction to the church, that church will be better positioned for spiritual growth and effective ministry.
These young, small churches of Asia Minor needed biblical instruction, regular discipline, spiritual leadership, and models for the faith.
The most remarkable thing about these characteristics is that there is nothing remarkable about them. -D. A. Carson speaking of requirements of elders in the Bible
Elders, deacons, and other church officers that fail to display the character required of spiritual leaders have done great damage to churches.
The congregation as a whole was not part of the discussions or debates, but they were later informed, and affirmed the result of the council
the congregation at large must focus on mobilization for ministry rather than spend its time worrying over governance.
the pastor is first among equals in authority-first by virtue of the church's call and his training and gifts, but equal in that he is not a "Lone Ranger" figure in church leadership. ( )
  dannywahlquist | May 14, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Phil A. Newtonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Dever, MarkForewordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0825433312, Paperback)

(Foreword by Mark Dever) A biblically functioning church requires intentional devotion to the New Testament model of the church. In this practical book, Phil Newton gives a definitive and biblical study of elder-based leadership.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:19 -0400)

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