Minor detail here in the process. We are less than 3 weeks away from the decision of whether I stay as one of the pastors at the church here and we discover something unexpected: I am a congregationalist.
This is a Baptist church, so it took me by surprise that they do not involve the congregation in matters of discipline. Well, I said, fine, but I have to do what the Bible teaches and I’m pretty clear on congregational government (hello, Baptist distinctive!).
They have a sort of crypto-presbyterian set of by-laws, but I did not realize that was their conviction.
Wait, what was I thinking!? I was thinking that it was what some pastor in the past had set up and because of the expense (it’s a legal document: anything to do with the government here is an unbelievable bureaucratic runaround and expense–like Kafka only in real life) they had never bothered to change it to something more Baptistic. I actually never got to see the by-laws before I joined and I was not under the impression they were a matter of conviction for people here for that reason. It never occurred to me that someone would call themselves Baptists and not have a thorough-going congregationalism. I was actually teaching new members something other than what is practiced!
I should make clear that the by-laws did not leave clear what their process was on discipline to me, but made it pretty clear that the idea of government is crypto-presbyterian. When I pointed it out, there was some kind of shrugging. You have to understand the Colombian temperament for all of it to make sense, but what is clear is that we were both being sincere rather than cagey or unscrupulous. The crack things fell into was a sort of peculiarity caused by national temperament and the oddities of a mission field, missionaries, other things. Something like the Transcendental Arrangement opened up all unawares.
Turns out they are semi-congregationalists. Vote for pastors, vote for deacons, but not to excomunicate members nor can members radically alter the budget if they’d like. Matter of conviction, apparently. This was the argument: what if you have a clear case of discipline and the congregation feels sorry for the unrepentant sinner and doesn’t get rid of them? It has happened, which is why they are the way they are.
I think they’re wrong. Not the right model of authority, which depends on persuasion and consensus. I’m pretty sure what my teacher in these matters would say: that example is a failure of leadership. I didn’t tell them that, but I do believe that if the surprise comes, still you don’t take authority away from the congregation; God has given it to them. It simply does not belong to the pastors to take the final step in the case of excommunication. You go on, you teach and seek to persuade and work with the people. But at that point you have a bigger problem than one unrepentant member, you have a congregation badly steered and unnameable to the clear teaching of Scripture.
It also shows the problem that the concept of authority has here, eh?
Anyway, this crypto-presbyterian method in all of its glory is a problem for me. And that is a problem for the pastor who was going to recommend me to the congregation. So now to see how it all works out . . . in a few short weeks.