I was in a Sunday School class not long ago, and the "facilitator" (his word) was working through a lesson he apparently extracted from a book he got from the pastor. Read through this portion of his handout (the links are to my comments below) and guess which denomination is being promoted:
6. Four Forms of Church Governmenta. Papali. Not supported in God's wordb. Episcopalian
ii. Has very dangerous potential for corruptioni. Authority resides in bishops and clergyc. Presbyterian
ii. No scriptural foundationi. Representative form of government that places authority in sessions, presbyteries, synods and assemblies, rather than in the local churchd. Congregational
ii. Not accurately defendable from God's wordi. Authority remains with the local church
ii. Individuals or committees may perform certain responsibilities but always answer to the Lord and the local congregation
iii. No other center of power or authority is recognized
iv. The New Testament pattern of the-church (Acts 15 - meeting)
Each Baptist church is autonomous (self governing) No hierarchical body can dictate to any local church as to how its business is to be conducted...
Now I have nothing against the Baptists. They have some good insights (see remarks below). But this is a crock of, if not blatant lies, then at least self-deception. It's not that I have a problem with this particular division into categories. Categories help us understand ideas by sorting out differences and similarities, but all such categorizations are human and fallible -- except those few given us by God, which this is not.
Among these four, the "Papal" model is in reality indistinguishable from "Episcopalian" except for the additional authority granted to the top bishop, which came about after King Henry VIII pulled the Church of England out of the Roman church. The difference is historically political, not theological.
Similarly, there is not much difference between the "Episcopalian" and "Presbyterian" models (whose names are derived from the two different Greek words which are consistently used in the NewTestament to refer to the same persons), except that the lay people choose the first level of the Presbyterian hierarchy, whereas the bishops make that choice in the more Biblical Episcopalian model.
Consequently, there is also not much difference between the "Presbyterian" and "Congregational" models, except for the number of levels of hierarchy. It's like each of the four models differ from the next in line by one point only. As we shall see, the Baptists do not occupy the theological high ground here.
Every one of the negatives attributed to the competition is at least
as true of the preferred category, and the one Scriptural positive given
for it is no less true of the others. Furthermore, its other presumed positives
are actually negatives. Let me consider the points in turn:
It's not like the papacy is completely devoid of Scriptural support.
Jesus did give Peter some legitimacy in being a "rock" on which he would
build his church. Yes, the words are different, but in degree, not kind.
Peter needed to grow into the job. Paul singles out Peter several times
in his epistles as a church authority. That's all inferential, but (slightly)
more justified than inferring congregational voting from the fact that
the people gave consent to the Apostles' prior decision in Acts 15:22.
The American Kool-Aid is "that all men are created equal," and all American
school children drink it. It may originally be a Christian notion, but
it's not Biblical, certainly false and probably toxic, for it denies to
Americans a visible human metaphor for sovereignty. Part of that toxin
is that everybody has an equal right to vote on their governance. Most
people are unwilling even to become informed about the candidates and issues,
so their vote is worthless, if not damaging to the body -- just look at
who is President today! In the Biblical model, God chooses and appoints
people to do His work. Sometimes that work includes appointing successors.
There are no volunteers in God's economy, not even to get (vote) people
into particular jobs. The episcopal model here is clearly more defendable
from Scripture than the congregational model.
Priests. Most Baptist preachers do not actively teach it, and the notion actually began with Martin Luther (not a Baptist), but Baptist doctrine usually claims the "priesthood of all believers." Everybody stands or falls before God with no priest or pastor intermediary. But pastors and popes alike are corruptable, they crave power, and an independent laity works against that. So nevermind what the official dogma claims, the pastors do not actively promote a flat church structure. The Plymouth Brethren and Church of Christ are probably the only denominations that make the dogma into fact. The truth is, most people do not want to spend that much effort in managing their own spiritual affairs, they'd much rather pay the pastor to do it. And Baptist pastors are just as eager to do it as any other. For what it's worth, congregational voting at least does lip service to the dogma.
Sacraments. Baptists tend to be anti-sacramental, but I don't see that as an advantage -- nor even particularly Scriptural. Mostly it's just semantic legerdemain. The two institutions that they deny to the laity (baptism and communion) are done in a church context, which essentially makes sacrements of them, regardless what they claim. And by excluding other passages of life from the set, they implicitly push the lives of their people away from the church and make it easier for the rest of the country to accept abortion and homosexual "marriage" and suicide -- christening and marriage and unction are sacraments in Roman Catholic theology, which asserts the Church's (and thus God's) authority over those events. Baptists don't have that, and they have consequently projected their secularism into the rest of the nation, to the loss of all of us.
There may be other Baptist distinctives, but I can't think of any at this time. The Sunday School facilitator seems to think there are eight (obviously forced into a Procrustean acronym on the denominational name), but most of those are not denominational distinctives at all, but mere prejudice against the other denominations, or else repetitions of the basic themes or just something thrown in to fill out the acronym.
2014 June 7