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9.5 Theses

95 thesis496 years ago today Martin Luther posted 95 theses exposing the ecclesial hypocrisy and compromise of his day.

By posting it on the door of the church in Wittenburg, he was posting for public debate.

In that spirit I post 9.5 theses exposing the ecclesial hypocrisy and compromise of our day.

 

1.

That the Bible teaches its doctrines and practices for every church in both precept and example, and that they are the sufficient rule for all churches. Therefore, every church that holds to doctrines and practices that conflict with those deduced from Scripture alone are disobedient to Jesus Christ.

 

2.

That the desire of all true Christians is to worship Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God and 2nd Person of the glorious Trinity. This desire, to gather together with each other in worship now, is evidence of the universal Church’s glorious destiny of eternal worship of the Triune God, together, forever.

 

3.

That all true Christians who live near to each other yearn to be in Sunday fellowship with each other: not schismed nor separated, but being edified by each other’s gifts, that the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Eph. 4:16). This “whole body” is the local body of Christ, that is, those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and who live near enough to each other that they can worship together every Sunday.

 

4.

That local churches are intended by God to be the visible expression of Jesus Christ to all in the present age, and that the only hope for visible unity among Christians in this world is to believe and submit to the teachings of the NT on the local church.

 

5.

That to claim local church organization and local church polity is ambiguous, or otherwise not clearly defined in Scripture, is ignorance, agnosticism, or unbelief; that the clear form of local church organization and local church polity in the Bible are geographic churches (i.e., church of Philippi) led by a plurality of biblically qualified elders. Furthermore, Holy Scripture gives many instances of such elder boards (i.e., 1 Peter 5:1-4, James 5:14), gives examples and commands to make appoint such elder boards (i.e., Acts 14:23, Titus 1:5, 1 Timothy 5:22), and provides many examples of the same (i.e., Philippians 1:1, 1 Timothy 4:14).

 

6.

That the only persons who may obediently serve in church leadership are men who are approved by all the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9; that the role elders are to have in the church is easily discerned in the NT, and is one of unhindered stewardship and ruling, as clearly defined in Scripture.

 

7.

That no church in the NT ever participated in a regional presbytery, church courts, synod, or general assembly; nor is there any instance of such, command to make such, or example of such in all Holy Scripture; that no church in the NT ever had a single overseeing bishop either in the church or outside the church; nor is there any instance of such, command to make such, or example of such in all Holy Scripture; that no church in the NT ever had an overseeing group outside of it, unless it was the apostles as expressly delineated in the NT, but who all died in the 1st Century; that no vote was ever taken in any church in the NT, nor is there any instance of such, command to make such, or example of such in all Holy Scripture. All these are contrary to the revealed will of God but are acceptable to the fallen mind of man, inasmuch as they create, support, and promulgate schism in the local body of Christ.

 

8.

That all local churches in a geographically close region should merge together under the oversight of biblically qualified elders. Further, apart from this merged unity the actual Christian witness to the world is one of division and schism and represents Jesus Christ to the world as disobedient to His Father (John 17:21-23); that such schism also misrepresents the body of Christ to Christians, leaving them vulnerable to false teaching, ignorant of basic doctrine, and distrusting of each other. Corollary to this is that all Christians and churches who wish to evangelize a region other than their own and where the gospel has already produced a local body of Christ should send in evangelists who submit themselves entirely to the elders of the merged church in that region.

 

9.

That the propagation of the gospel in all the world should be initiated in all the regions of the world that do not possess the gospel or an obedient church, and should be underwritten and sustained only by churches governed by qualified elders (Rom. 15:24, 10:15).

 

.5

That schism, that is the condition of true Christians in the same local region separated into different churches, is a gross sin to be corrected by qualified elders, and that those who resist to do so are either ignorant or unqualified to serve in church leadership since they do not  “judge the body (of Christ) rightly” (1 Cor. 11:29-31).

 

Viva la Reformación

Reformation Day, 2013

For more on Luther and his glorious ministry, read Paul’s Reformation on Crete.

4 Comments

  1. 1
    Andrew Whitman says:

    For public response and continued discussion:

    1) Of course this is true. I challenge you to find a church that believes its doctrine is opposed to the clear teaching and spirit of scripture. I suppose blatant liberals could be excluded by this thesis, if they publically acknowledge that they have put aside the authority of scripture.

    2) Agreed.

    3) I agree at least that the desire should be there. I am not convinced that the ‘NT model’ requires us to build football stadiums for weekly worship. I am inclined to believe that the local church could live in unity and still meet in separate buildings for worship on Sunday, though these should not be separated based on preference of worship style or doctrinal distinction.

    4) Agreed.

    5) The fact that there are differences of opinion between churches who genuinely uphold the authority of scripture up until the present when you’ve come to enlighten us seems to make this thesis questionable. I agree with you that the picture of the Church in the NT is of elders ruling the local church of a geographical region. But I don’t think it is so unambiguous as to condemn our episcopalian and congregationalist brethren as unbelievers in scripture, since they do indeed take their ideas from the NT.

    6) Agreed. Though again, I find it a bit arrogant to say that it is ‘easily discerned’ and ‘clearly defined’, since all we have are qualifications and the only thing that distinguishes elders from deacons is the fact that elders should be able to teach.

    7) I think you are uncharitable or wilfully ignorant to the actual beliefs of those who hold other views from scripture. For example, in the book of Acts, how do you explain the fact that the churches of Jerusalem and Antioch came together and deliberated this question of gentile inclusion in the Church, and when all presented their cases, everyone fell silent and listened for the decision of James, the brother of Jesus? And it would seem from the church fathers that the practice of appointing an elder as the lead elder (bishop) of a local church was around while the apostle John was alive, so it is difficult to imagine him being more accepting of ecclesiastical error than you are if he was aware of it. And on the other hand, though there was no vote, the apostles did tell the ‘membership’ to choose the first deacons in Acts 6. I have no doubt that the elders would have weeded out any unqualified ones, but the congregation does have some input.

    Concerning not having any authority higher than the local church, of course it was the decision of the council of Jerusalem that Paul and Barnabus brought to every local church established. It was not Paul’s personal decision as their founding apostle. I share your passion for uniting the local church and bringing all the splintered factions into accountability with one another, but I don’t understand why you even want to oppose accountability between the various local churches. If the Church of New York, for example, realized that the Church of New Jersey was falling into Trinitarian error because of poor selection of elders, is it not the Church of New York’s responsibility as part of the whole body of Christ to try to fix that, and prevent it from discrediting Christ? While it is true that the apostles died in the first century and that no one today holds the same authority that they did, it is not at all clear that the apostolic function of holding all the local churches accountable has died with them.

    8) I agree with this in principle. Of course it is completely irrelevant to any church planter since no such merged church exists anywhere. I have participated in a church plant in a city where the evangelical church is firmly established. We set up in a part of town that was ‘under-reached’ in that it was poor and no evangelical churches in walking distance, although other churches were aware and were attempting to minister there. And we did it in cooperation with other churches in the city of our denomination, and I joined the local evangelical ministerial (which would not represent all orthodox Trinitarian churches in the city) which viewed us very much as part of the local Church’s overall mission to the city. If you feel that unity requires all the believers in the city to meet in the same room on Sunday morning, than I guess I am a schismatic. But if we all can meet in our own rooms in our neighbourhoods in a spirit of unity with our brothers in other rooms, well I guess we were as unified as can be, given the circumstances.

    9) I agree in principle. however, define ‘obedient church’ in terms other than ‘those that agree with my interpretation of the Bible’.
    .5) Pray you find such elders.

    1. 1.1
      Ted says:

      Greetings, Andrew,

      I am grateful you agree to thesis #1, “That the Bible teaches its doctrines and practices for every church in both precept and example, and that they are the sufficient rule for all churches.” From that all the other theses should flow.

      So with that, here’s some push back, and some suggestions for your further thinking:

      You write,

      “I am inclined to believe that the local church could live in unity and still meet in separate buildings for worship on Sunday”

      This is unknown in the NT, but by both precept and example in the NT (# 1 thesis) the Christians met together for worship in one place – after all, they were one body. Just as your body never meets in two separate places at the same time, so neither should Christ’s. Read 1 Cor. 11:18-20, NKJV since it retains the greek phrase, “in one place.” At present, what you are inclined to believe goes against Paul on this one. For more, please read this.

      You write,

      ” I find it a bit arrogant to say that it is ‘easily discerned’ and ‘clearly defined’, since all we have are qualifications and the only thing that distinguishes elders from deacons is the fact that elders should be able to teach”

      Actually, the qualifications are merely a small bit of the evidence for eldership, but in themselves are enough since they are given in not one but 2 NT books! Now in addition to the qualifications we have both precepts and examples (#1 again!) of eldership throughout the NT that even a casual reader can’t miss, such as the many references to elders in Acts describing their authority and ministry. You could search on those references.

      It is impossible not to find eldership in the New Testament. There is more instruction on it than there is on communion, baptism, marriage, child-raising, and work, combined. The larger passages on eldership, if you want to check this out for yourself, are Acts 15:1–29; Acts 20:17–38; the qualifications: 1 Timothy 3:1–7; 1 Timothy 5:17–22; the mandate for it: Titus 1:5–9; and 1 Peter 5:1–4. The smaller passages are sprinkled throughout Acts and the letters to the churches.

      For example, the first book written in the New Testament is the epistle of James, a letter sent to every church in the Roman Empire around 45 A.D. That means it was written within fifteen years of the Lord’s resurrection. James instructs Christians to “call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him” (James 5:14). That means every church he wrote to had a group of elders, and it’s easy to see why this is so. If even one of those churches didn’t have elders, his command would have been meaningless: “What does James mean, ‘call for the elders?’ We don’t have elders!” James’ words could only puzzle his readers unless he knew every Christian had elders in their church they could call on.

      We see this again in one of the last books written in the New Testament, 1 Peter. Peter also wrote to hundreds of churches over a vast region of the Roman Empire these words: “I exhort the elders among you…” (1 Peter 5:1). Peter would have been exhorting thin air if even one church didn’t have eldership. Confused, those Christians would have read his words, “I exhort the elders among you” and said, “Huh?… what elders?”

      So when you read the NT, be on the lookout for what it says in this area. And if you don’t mind a little directed study, examine the following in their contexts, paying attention to the authority and locale of the elders: Acts 20:17ff, Phil. 1:1, 1 Tim. 4:14, 1 Thess. 5:12-13, Heb. 13:17. For further study, please go to this article and scroll down to the table under the heading, Apostolic Foundationalism, here. Also, see this.

      You write,

      “in the book of Acts, how do you explain the fact that the churches of Jerusalem and Antioch came together and deliberated this question of gentile inclusion in the Church, and when all presented their cases, everyone fell silent and listened for the decision of James, the brother of Jesus?”

      Well, I disagree that its a fact that the “the churches” came together, either in person, representation, or in institution. Luke never says any churches came together, nor does he report that any elders from Antioch (or any other church) were present, or of having said anything. Your facts are, in this case, non-existent.

      Your assertion that “churches… came together” is also explicitly contradicted by the following:

      1) The only church listed as present at the conference is the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:4, 22). Had Luke intended us to understand that multiple churches were represented at the Jerusalem Conference, he simply could have used the plural “churches” as he did in Acts 15:41.

      2) The Jerusalem Conference bears witness to the presence and importance of apostles. Every recorded speaker was an apostle including Barnabas, Paul, Peter, and James (Acts 14:14, Galatians 1:19). Because an apostle’s authority extended over multiple churches the Conference’s decrees present themselves to “the brethren in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia” as fully inspired by the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:22–23, 28; 16:4) and authoritative over all churches. The decrees are of the Holy Spirit and to be obeyed by all Christians, not just those in one denomination. This is why Acts 16:4 is important in correcting a mistaken polity. It says the decisions of the Jerusalem Conference were made only by “the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem,” not multiple representatives of member churches, or something akin to that.

      Or, let’s look at it another way. Let’s assume my prior two points weren’t an accurate description of the situation at the Jerusalem Council. Instead, let’s assume everything you have said about Acts 15 is spot on. Let’s assume you are right: two or more churches came together in order to form a decision on a critical matter affecting multiple churches.

      Even if we assume that is the rightful reconstruction of Acts 15, it still fails the test of thesis #1, that “the Bible teaches its doctrines and practices for every church in both precept and example.” All you have done in advocating Acts 15 as representing connectional polity of some form is to provide a single example of connectionalism, but no precept for it. Nor is there any in Scripture (see thesis #7). Does it not concern you that the polity you believe should be obeyed by all of Christ’s churches for all time has no Christ and no apostle giving them precept to do such?

      And do you remember what you wrote under thesis #1 in your comment above, “I suppose blatant liberals could be excluded by this thesis, if they publically acknowledge that they have put aside the authority of scripture”? Is it not becoming clear, in at least a glimmer, that when it comes to church polity, you might have more in common with their liberal approach to Scripture than you do with those believing in the authority of Scripture? And since the polity you believe comes not from Christ and His apostles, where does your belief in it come from?

      On another matter, you also wrote,

      “I don’t understand why you even want to oppose accountability between the various local churches

      Don’t know where you got that from, Andrew. I want to increase it, greatly.

      You also wrote,

      define ‘obedient church’ in terms other than ‘those that agree with my interpretation of the Bible’.

      In order to get beyond these kinds of misunderstadings – what I call interpretation wars – please read Precept and Example (yet again, thesis #1). Also, this article might help you and those you serve Christ with focus on your church’s obedience to the glorious Lord Jesus Christ.

      1. 1.1.1
        Andrew Whitman says:

        Ted,

        I agree with what you are saying about elders in the various local churches. However, it does not necessarily preclude an Episcopalian system assuming there is a plurality of elders with one identified as the lead elder in the city, as it appears James was of Jerusalem. You can get around that by saying that James was an apostle, but in what sense were he and Barnabus apostles, biblically? I agree that that there is no ‘precept’ to establish a hierarchical system. However, a ‘normative’ view of NT is not ‘liberal’ as compared to a ‘regulative’ view. I would agree that if a certain organizational structure forces us to break a precept of scripture, we must abandon it, but it is not clear that we are forbidden from organizing ourselves in a way that is not specifically ‘prescribed’ in scripture as long as we respect the plurality of elders and deacons in a local church.

        OK, I believe that you want to increase it. But everything you say seems to attack the idea of any sort of structure beyond the local church, am I right? How do you propose ensuring that mutual accountability, in the absence of apostles? (Honest question, not to be argumentative. For example, I am in a denomination that exults the autonomy of the local congregation. Now, I know that you don’t like denominations, but it is an analogy for what you are talking about, except that the local congregation is now a real, NT, local church. So, instead of exulting the autonomy of a congregation, we amalgamate all the local congregations into one local church and make them accountable to each other (so far so good), but then say that the local church is autonomous from all other local churches. But now, there has to be something that can call a local church to accountability. It doesn’t have to be a standing body, like a denominational HQ or a Bishop/Synod etc. But at least it has to be a group of elders from other local churches meeting for the purpose of disciplining a fellow church. Or what do you have in mind?)

        Finally, I am confused by your statement that, at the Jerusalem Council the churches never “came together, either in person, representation, or in institution.” Luke never says that. Then what does he mean by, “And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through…” (Act 15:2-3)? How is this not a representation of the Church of Antioch?

        Finally, how do you propose bringing unity to the body of Christ by narrowly labelling everyone who differs from your NT church polity as a schismatic and a liberal? Will unity only be possible when everyone humbles themselves and conforms to your mold, or is there a practical way to get unity with the reality of centuries of cemented unscriptural structures?

        1. Ted says:

          Greetings Andrew,

          You wrote,

          ”…it does not necessarily preclude an Episcopalian system assuming there is a plurality of elders with one identified as the lead elder in the city, as it appears James was of Jerusalem. You can get around that by saying that James was an apostle, but in what sense were he and Barnabus apostles, biblically?”

          Historically, an episcopal system of church governance is different than an eldership form of goverance. “Churches having episcopal polity are governed by bishops,” and future overseers are placed into office after being given a a charism, that is, a spiritual gift that grants power to govern and shepherd, which is believed to be transmitted by a laying on of hands from another bishop. As well, the bishop of a local church is always under another bishop. Some episcopalians use the word “rector,” “diocese” and “parish” so as to preserve the distinction of the bishop and the NT word “church” for their own meanings. Of course, in doing so they leave behind the church Jesus defines.

          But in eldership all authority is granted only to the men who meet the 25 elder qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, and is only extended to the church they are an immediate part of. Peter says, “shepherd the flock of God among you” (1 Peter 5:2). As well, in eldership the terminology of the church stays rooted in the Bible, not because of a rigid and imposed narrowness but due to the sufficiency of the Bible to teach how each church ought to function. This is because, again, the bible can tell us when a church is a church.

          Nor is the laying on of hands deemed helpful in eldership. True, Timothy has hands laid on him, and by them receives spiritual gifting (1 Tim. 4:14, 2 Tim. 1:6) but this practice is not supported in both precept and example in the NT. It is a key underpinning of apostolic successionism.

          But if by an episcopal system of church governance you mean a local church in which one man, by virtue of gifting/skills and or some other valid reason (i.e., education) takes a more prominent role than other elders before the congregation, then yes, that system is indeed witnessed in the NT, as is seen in James. But there is no precept for it.

          So long as that one man’s governing authority is not greater than the other elders, who must be likewise qualified by Scripture and therefore worthy of the office as much as the more gifted man, then the system you are speaking of is eldership, not episcopalianism. It is usually better to stick with the historic categories.

          You can get around that by saying that James was an apostle, but in what sense were he and Barnabus apostles, biblically?”

          Please acquaint yourself with Barnabas’ apostleship by looking at the following Scriptures: Acts 14:4, 14, 15:12, 16:4, 1 Cor. 9:4-5). For James look at Gal. 1:19.

          it is not clear that we are forbidden from organizing ourselves in a way that is not specifically ‘prescribed’ in scripture as long as we respect the plurality of elders and deacons in a local church

          I’m afraid what you might consider “respect” would be viewed as disrespect by the apostle Paul. For a moment, put yourself in Titus’ place on Crete as Paul leaves the island.
          Paul demanded of Titus to re-organize every church in every city based on one and only one form of polity for all (Titus 1:5). If Titus built above it or beyond it any further structure he would have been disobedient, not only to Paul, but to Jesus Christ, who is the original author of Titus 1:5. He didn’t have the right.

          You say such limiting or organization is unclear. But is the problem with the clarity of Scripture, or with an unclear reading of it?

          Maybe an analogy will open a window here – that of another institution besides the church –marriage. Using your words, do we honor God by “organizing marriage in such a way that is not specifically ‘prescribed’ in scripture as long as long we respect” husbands and wives?

          Today, many believe they honor the institution of marriage by making it a same sex arrangement, while others believe husbands are not to lead, but submit. If you disagree with both of those approaches, then I’m glad for you and hope your marriage, if you are married, is blessed as a result. But if you go the “respect” route without honoring the actual form of authority and submission given by God to that institution, then may He have mercy on you.

          In essence you are arguing for freedom in form but imitation in honor. That is, that the honor elders and deacons are due in passages like 1 Thes. 5:12-13, Heb. 13:17 and 1 Tim. 3:13 should be available to anyone as long as they are in leadership in a church. Eventually through it will become individually interpreted. You will find someone in leadership who ought not be honored, and you will not honor. But you will do so with an inconsistent approach to Scripture – elevating some passages above others.

          For example: Why should you not honor women elders? Elders are specifically prescribed in Scripture as men only (1 Tim. 3:2). But if you only want to honor the office but not the apostolic limitations upon the office, then you have become a man not under the Word of God or under the apostles, but under your own ideas, in which case, you are unworthy on that demerit alone from being a shepherd of Christ’s own people. You will suffer judgment (Luke 12:47-48).

          In thesis #7 I wrote,

          That no church in the NT ever participated in a regional presbytery, church courts, synod, or general assembly; nor is there any instance of such, command to make such, or example of such in all Holy Scripture; that no church in the NT ever had a single overseeing bishop either in the church or outside the church; nor is there any instance of such, command to make such, or example of such in all Holy Scripture; that no church in the NT ever had an overseeing group outside of it, unless it was the apostles as expressly delineated in the NT, but who all died in the 1st Century; that no vote was ever taken in any church in the NT, nor is there any instance of such, command to make such, or example of such in all Holy Scripture.

          If we assume that to be the case, that eldership is the polity in each and every instance of Holy Writ on the topic, i.e., that it is taught by both precept and example and none other is, what might be the source of your lack of clarity concerning eldership vs. all other forms of governance? You cannot rightly claim you learned those in Scripture. Why then esteem them?

          OK, I believe that you want to increase it. But everything you say seems to attack the idea of any sort of structure beyond the local church, am I right? How do you propose ensuring that mutual accountability, in the absence of apostles? (Honest question, not to be argumentative. For example, I am in a denomination that exults the autonomy of the local congregation. Now, I know that you don’t like denominations, but it is an analogy for what you are talking about, except that the local congregation is now a real, NT, local church. So, instead of exulting the autonomy of a congregation, we amalgamate all the local congregations into one local church and make them accountable to each other (so far so good), but then say that the local church is autonomous from all other local churches. But now, there has to be something that can call a local church to accountability. It doesn’t have to be a standing body, like a denominational HQ or a Bishop/Synod etc. But at least it has to be a group of elders from other local churches meeting for the purpose of disciplining a fellow church. Or what do you have in mind?)

          Right. It all comes down to faith in the revealed word of God. After Titus left Crete (Tit. 3:12), what was the accountability structure that he, the man chosen by none less than an apostle, left behind but the elders themselves in every church?

          As my book, The Titus Mandate points out, his specified mission ruled out a single bishop and even the single pastor system. Titus wasn’t told to group churches into an island-wide synod, or to form a board of presbyters to oversee a region of churches. No, when Titus was done implementing Paul’s apostolic mandate every single church on Crete was governed by its own plurality of scripturally qualified elders.

          These other forms of church government distrust the local body of Christ and due to schism wish to hold leaders accountable to other people outside the church. They are all formed on distrust and checks and balances. But eldership is so different. It relies on your trust — that you believe God knows best how care for you and your church. Since God qualifies these men by Scripture He entrusts them with leadership over you. So you too are responsible to trust them. They are worthy of your trust to handle full shepherding responsibilities in your church.

          Which means that when you see people demanding some human form of accountability for biblically qualified elders you are watching the sin of unbelief in the Author of Scripture. You see, when we will not trust that the men who are qualified by 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are qualified to rule in a plurality without further human oversight, then we are looking at the issue through unbelief. From here we will justify a system of accountability from the world, not from Scripture.

          No one claims the Bible’s own system of church governance can’t be abused, since all of us are sinful, but the checks and balances in the parity of eldership prevent politics and power grabbing.

          Andrew, when you say “I know you don’t like denominations” you misunderstand me. I admire denominations. They are a common sense mechanism by which to provide assistance to local churches, provide deeper levels of accountability, provide advanced education and publish needed materials. If it weren’t for Scripture I would be in one.

          But Jesus Christ, the Lord of the Church, doesn’t speak to denoms. He only speaks to local churches.

          I believe the apostles had the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16) and show that mind in all areas of faith and duty for both individuals and churches. Part of His mind is eldership, but did not include the external structures you mention. If then the mind of Christ as revealed through His apostles is not sufficient to teach us how to both define and govern churches, who is? And why would any church want to claim it is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets except to claim the gravitas of something they actually distrust?

          One last point. You obviously know that a lot of leaders in independent churches are closed to advice from anyone outside their church. That is the fault of the independent church movement of the last 400 or so years that naturally places unqualified men in office – those who are “self-willed” (Titus 1:7). Please don’t read that “glory in autonomy” perspective into what Titus created on Crete, or what happens today when actual elder-qualified men are in office.

          Finally, I am confused by your statement that, at the Jerusalem Council the churches never “came together, either in person, representation, or in institution.” Luke never says that. Then what does he mean by, “And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through…” (Act 15:2-3)? How is this not a representation of the Church of Antioch?

          Paul and Barnabas, and those who travel with them, are not representatives of the church in Antioch in any way that Luke specifies. First, they were apostles and therefore had a ministry beyond just one individual church. Apostles spoke to all churches, authoritatively. Had Luke intended to claim that the church of Antioch sent voting or speaking representatives, he could have said so in many different ways.

          But Luke does not record that the men who travelled with Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem were elders, although they very well could have been. Yet, even if they were elders, they had been unable to quash the false doctrine of the Judaizers. This is why by the time Paul and Barnabas get back from MJ1, the false doctrine has taken root. So the elders have proven ineffective, and any participation at the JC would have been dismissed by their previous failure.

          But you don’t need to take my word for it, take Luke’s. Compare the phrase “apostles and elders in Jerusalem” in both Acts 15:2 and Acts 16:4 to discover who was both the organizing party of the JC, and who made the final decision of the JC for all the churches (not just those churches sending alleged representatives).

          Finally, how do you propose bringing unity to the body of Christ by narrowly labelling everyone who differs from your NT church polity as a schismatic and a liberal? Will unity only be possible when everyone humbles themselves and conforms to your mold, or is there a practical way to get unity with the reality of centuries of cemented unscriptural structures?

          The best way toward unity is agreeing upon what Scripture does and does not say. For this reason God gives to everyone the right to read His revealed will in Scripture without having anyone act as lord over them. All can, by using the hermeneutic of precept and example, discover God’s good and gracious will for themselves and their churches.

          As for a practical way to bring unity, it is the way of The Titus Mandate, given in Scripture.

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