~ Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, and Solus Spiritus in Church Polity ~
I. The Issue of Headship - Solus Christus
Christ Alone as the Unmediated and Sufficient Head Transcendent over the Entire Church
1. The Issue Of Headship And The Inconsistency Of Mediated Headship
human headship - vs. confession to a Romanist priest
No other Mediator - no other Head
Are you a church? Yes, or no? I will ask it again. Are you a church? This is a simple question. Answer it!
Are organizations like the SBC, the GARBC, or SGM churches? Yes, or no? Are they churches? This is a simple question. Answer it!
Either you are or you are not. Either they are or they are not. In either case once you have identified what is and is not the church, then that body only looks to its Head and His Word for authority. For it to look elsewhere is to circumvent His Headship in the exact same way that a Roman Catholic priest circumvents His Mediation.
Is the Headship of Jesus Christ enough? Is it sufficient? Does it mean anything? Why would additional authority structures be considered as accretions to the local church, if it is a church, and if the Headship of Christ were professed to be sufficient? The "Vicar/Vicars of Christ" by any other name are still Popes!
Solus Christus (Christ alone) necessarily involves the consequence that He is solum Caput (the only Head). The Church is not a multiple headed monstrosity like the mythological Hydra, Chimera, Scylla or Cerberus. The Body of Christ, the Church, has one Head, and one alone. "And he is the head of the body, the church: who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead; that in all things he might have the preeminence." (Col. 1:18) Nothing intervenes between the Church and her Head which she is united to by the Holy Spirit sent by the Head. Nothing that pretends to intervene should be tolerated for an instant.
That being said, evangelicalism is loaded with priest craft and clericalism that has spawned a horde of “mini-popes” and “wannabe heads". The beam and the mote need to be considered these days. Many Diotrophes roam the land robbing the preeminence of Christ the Lord and taking it to themselves (3 Jn. 9-10). Let the Romanists play their antichristian cultic games, zeal for the household of God should be consuming us as judgment first begins at home (1 Pet. 4:17).
The following statement is an example of an explicit denial of the sufficiency and relevance of the Headship of Jesus Christ over local churches:
"In the case of independency, no one outside a particular local church has spiritual authority to enforce confessional fidelity within that local church."
Cases in point in the inspired record:
Neither the problems at Corinth, nor those in the seven churches of Asia Minor were addressed by an extra-church ecclesiastical body, but directly by Jesus Christ whose inspired Word to each of the individual local churches was only mediated by Apostles. There is no evidence whatsoever of any inter-church or supra-church entity being assembled even temporarily to deal with these issues confronted by Christ, the Head, Himself via His Apostles.
In Rev. 1-3 where is any mediating or intervening human authority depicted between Christ as the Head of the local churches and the individual churches? John writes the letters, but they are not letters from John to the churches. They are explicitly stated to be from Jesus Christ to the churches. John enters into the picture in this case as more of an amanuensis or "secretary" taking down Christ's words as they are dictated to him. In the conclusion of each letter it is made clear that the Spirit is speaking directly to the churches plural in each letter to a given local church, and that the Spirit is doing so without any other human mediation than the Apostle John who writes down what the Head of the Church tells him to.
2. The Three Institutions That God Ordained And Their Respective Headships
Who does the king answer to? Who does the man answer to in the home? Who does the church answer to? Christ is the Head in each and every case, and it is just as unbiblical and nonsensical to interpose another mediating authority between Him and the State and the Home as it is to do so for the Church.
Christ as the Head of the man - e.g., 1 Cor. 11:3.
Christ as the King of kings - Dan. 2:47; Mt. 28:18; 1 Tim. 6:15; Rev. 17:14; 19:16.
Shall we justify a council of kings with authority over individual nations as though the King of kings was an irrelevant title?
Shall we justify a council of husbands with authority over individual male headship in the home is if Christ as the Head of the man was insufficient and needed to be supplemented by some intervening mediation?
Isn't this exactly what is being done when the autonomy of the local church is violated with extra-church authority accretions?
Excursus on one of the Biblical passages commonly cited in the defense of extra-local ecclesiastical polity - The Jerusalem "Council" in Acts 15:
Many attempts at Biblical defenses for such ecclesiastical superstructures have been brought forward over the centuries which may be seen as flawed on their face, or not pertinent at best. What about the Jerusalem "council", as it commonly referred to? This is often cited as a historical precedent for extra-church superstructures intervening between local churches and the Headship of Christ. This issue in Acts 15 of the Jerusalem Council should be considered worthy of closer scrutiny since it has at least the appearance of a reasonable treatment of the text. In fact, if this "proof" is demonstrated to be flawed, it may serve as the best example of the kind of selective reading, eisegesis, and assuming what needs to be proved, etc. that is evident in all of the others. One current example of the employment of Acts 15 in such a fashion may be cited.
"First, regardless of how one applies all the details, the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 provides evidence for the governmental interdependency of local churches. A dispute regarding the orthodoxy of Paul and Barnabas arises in Antioch, but the case is referred to the elders and apostles in Jerusalem for adjudication. Several lines of evidence point to the extra-local governmental authority of the council. (a) The very fact that a local church (Antioch) would deem it appropriate to look outside of their own church to other men in other churches shows that the church did not regard itself as completely self-governing. (b) If it is the case that the elders of the Jerusalem council came from many different Jerusalem house-churches, then this also indicates the governmental unity of the churches. (c) The council viewed itself as having authority in many local churches. The council communicated its decision not only to the church in Antioch, but to churches in all of Syria and Cilica as well (15:22ff.; 16:4). (d) The decree sent to the churches carried authority: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements…” (Acts 15:28). The decision came, not as a suggestion from a neighboring church, but as an authoritative decree (carrying the “burden” of “requirements”) sent by ecclesiastical officers. It was given in that spirit (vv. 24-30), and it was received in that spirit (v. 31)."
Is there anything to this argument? Should this historical episode in the first century be credited as presenting Scriptural warrant for the denominations, assemblies, synods, presbyteries, etc. that have been erected in subsequent centuries?
The following factors must be taken into consideration, and given appropriate weight, in answering such questions:
1. The presence of Apostolic authority (Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23; 16:4).
Any ecclesiastical entity in the post-apostolic period that thinks it has the right to ordain "decrees" to local churches is presumptuous to say the least.
2. The lack of New Testament guidance.
The fact that this was done prior to the close of the New Testament should not be dismissed lightly or ignored. Whereas the Bereans searched the Scriptures to ascertain whether what Paul was teaching was in accordance with their Bible, i.e., the Old Testament (Acts 17:11), that would not have sufficed to resolve this trans-covenantal and trans-ethnic issue. At the conclusion of the "council" debate James did cite the Old Testament prophets (Jer. 12:15; Amos 9:11f.; and Is. 45:21) as supporting one related issue, i.e., God saving some of the Gentiles. This, however, did not resolve the presented question concerning requiring circumcision for their salvation. The continuing flow of the inspired writings that would come to constitute the New Testament canon of Scripture was ongoing, and if fact, just beginning. When dating the Jerusalem "council" is considered it should be obvious that the bulk of the New Testament was written later than this. Once the New Testament was completed there was no need to address such questions to the Apostles as was done here.
3. The nature of the transitional period.
Both of the issues mentioned under the first two points are directly related to the transitional nature of the period from Pentecost to the completion of the New Testament canon and the death of the last Apostle. A historical precedent may be found in the inspired record of this period, but extreme care must be taken in extracting doctrine from historical literature given the character of the period involved. We may have no doubt about what they did and why. We may have no such certainty that we are to "go and do likewise" without explicit didactic literature indicating that this is the case.
4. The singularity of the church convening the council.
The issues in the question communicated were directed to one church by another. The contingent from the local church in Antioch presented their concerns to the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:2, 4). There is a specific reason stated in the context why these questions were addressed to the Jerusalem church, and this is made explicit in the decision communicated by the council (Acts 15:24). That is:
1) did these men from Judea who came to our church in Antioch teaching that the Gentiles could not be saved unless they were circumcised come from the Jerusalem church, and,
2) is their teaching endorsed by the Jerusalem church? The response of the Jerusalem church was affirmative to the former and negative to the latter.
5. The lack of any expression of ecclesiastical authority over other local churches in the resultant document. (Acts 15:28; 16:4)
Apostolic authority, with the agreement of the Jerusalem church, would appear to be implicit in the language of these two verses.
Acts 15:28 - "For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;"
Emphasis might be placed upon the laying on of a burden, but the reality is that these were "necessary things".
Acts 16:4 - "And as they went through the cities, they delivered them the decrees for to keep, that were ordained of the apostles and elders which were at Jerusalem."
Here the language is even stronger than that of 15:28 involving "decrees" being "ordained". However, it must be remembered that this was in response to a question from the church at Antioch about teachers who had gone out from the Jerusalem church. In other words, the decrees ordained directly counteracted the false teaching of those requiring circumcision, and directed that in the future the only things that the Gentile believers could be expected to do to keep the peace in the churches between the two ethnic groups would be the four prohibitions mentioned in the letter in 15:29. The involvement of these four things with the idolatrous backgrounds of these Gentiles, and the offensive nature to the Jewish brethren during shared meals of the first three items, appear to be the context for their selection and inclusion in the letter.
6. The local church authority expressed in the "council's" decision
(Acts 15:22-23, 25, 28).
The "council" itself may have been composed of "apostles and elders", but the message went back to Antioch from this group plus the rest of the brethren expressed as "the whole church". This was a decision by one local church in answer to a question raised by another local church. It may not be reduced to some type of "conciliar" authority over one or more local churches.
7. The trans-covenantal and trans-ethnic nature of the issues involved.
What is at stake are relationships between:
1) different ethnic groups of believers, and,
2) the Old Covenant and the New Covenant (Acts 15:1-3, 5-21).
The seriousness of the issue between these Jewish teachers, and Gentile believers and churches concerning Mosaic circumcision for salvation could not therefore be lightly dismissed, nor could it be ignored. The issues involve the very nature of the Gospel, and the character of the New Covenant ministry. As such disagreement could not be tolerated between local churches, especially when teachers are going from one church to another with this heresy which undermines the very nature of the Gospel of the New Covenant.
8. Finally, and most importantly, the exceptional, unique and temporary nature of this council (Acts 15:2, 6).
The Jerusalem "council", was only brought into the "question" (Acts 15:2) or "matter" (Acts 15:6) on the initiation of the local church in Antioch (Acts 14:26-27). This was specifically due to the fact that the problem was created by "certain men" from Judea. The exceptional nature of the "council" is entirely based on this extraordinary circumstance between two churches. It is unique since this is the only time in the New Testament's inspired history of the first century churches where we ever read of such a thing. The temporary nature of this "council" is evident since there is no indication whatsoever that the council continued to meet to deal with questions or matters such as this or to function in any other way.
On this issue of the relevance of the Jerusalem Council to the defenses of subsequent ecclesiastical extra-local polities see also:
Hezekiah Harvey, The Church: Its Polity and Ordinances (Rochester, NY: Backus Book Publishers, n.d.; 1982 reprint of 1879 original by American Baptist Publication Society, Philadelphia), pp. 49-50. The 1903 reprint by the American Baptist Publication Society of the 1879 original is available either as a full "preview" online or as a free eBook including downloadable EPUB and PDF file formats on Google Books at http://books.google.com/books?id=Q9RLAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=Hezekiah+Harvey&hl=en&sa=X&ei=TwGdULL6J7O10AGSo4DIAQ&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAQ [accessed 9 NOV 2012].
Edward T. Hiscox, The New Directory for Baptist Churches (Philadelphia: The Judson Press, 1894), pp. 142-159, 313-317. The 1902 reprint by the American Baptist Publication Society of the 1894 original is available either as a full "preview" online or as a free eBook including downloadable EPUB and PDF file formats on Google Books at http://books.google.com/books?id=rQZFAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false [accessed 9 NOV 2012].
Paul R. Jackson, The Doctrine and Administration of the Church, rev. ed. (Schaumburg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 1980, 1968), pg. 35.
Benjamin L. Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2008), pp. 31-37.
Solus Christus will either be maintained or denied in our view of church government. It is usually denied in practice while being professed in creedal statements.
II. The Issue of Authority - Sola Scriptura
The Scriptures Alone as the Final and Sufficient Authority of the Head Communicated to Each Church
1. The Issue Of Elder Rule And The Creation Of Sub-Lords
1) The Lordship of Jesus Christ alone is maintained over individual believers without the mediation of any pretended "sub-lords" in Rom. 14:4-12. The issues at stake in this passage are not about replacing windows or deciding what paint to use or carpet to replace! This issue of "sub-lords" is directly related to the priestly sub-mediators in the Roman cult. The application Scriptural principles are here in Romans 14 and elsewhere presented as matters of the individual believer's conscience in direct relationship to his or her Lord and no other. Individual soul liberty may not be swept under the ecclesiastical carpet in the interests of elder "rule" without violating this passage and the Lordship of Christ.
2) Who was 1 Corinthians written to and why? See Appendix 2: "To the Corinthians Rescriptus: Evidence for Pure Congregationalism".
3) Who were the letters to the seven churches of Asia written to and why? As asked previously under I.1. above, in Rev. 1-3 where is any mediating or intervening human authority depicted between Christ as the Head of the local churches and the individual churches? These letters are not written to the elders, but to the churches as a whole. Where is there anything communicated in these letters about the responsibilities for righting the wrongs indicated lying with the elders rather than with every member of each individual congregation? The letters are explicitly stated to be from Jesus Christ to the churches, not to the elders of those churches. Who had the right, the power, the responsibility and the authority to deal with issues that Christ directs to them if not the churches themselves perceived in their entirety? In the conclusion of each letter it is made clear that the Spirit is speaking directly to the churches plural in each letter to a given local church, and that the Spirit is doing so without any other human mediation than the Apostle John who writes down what the Head of the Church tells him to. Anyone, elder or otherwise, who has ears to hear is commanded to hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
2. The Issue Of Authority And The Assumption Of Vested Authority
The word for "rule" is often assumed by those holding to "elder rule" as if there is some inherent authority in the office. This does not bear up under close scrutiny when passages such as 1 Pet. 5:1-5 are taken into consideration. The "oversight" here (5:2) is directly contrasted to any notion of being "lords" over the church, and explained as involving the feeding of (5:2), and being examples to the flock (5:3). Submission is mentioned in the context, but this submission is explicitly age related, i.e., that of the "younger" to the "elder" (5:5).
There is no authority inherent in the office of either pastor/elder or deacon. The office of elder has no inherent authority. The authority in the church is that of the Head in His Word. Both the feeding by the elders and the examples of the elders is of and in submission to the Word of God. It is clear in the Pastoral epistles that the officers of the churches and their ministries may be scrutinized by the congregation bringing the Scriptures to bear upon them.
Churches that profess to believe in the Scriptures as having sole and final authority for all matters of faith and practice may not pretend to be consistent when adding human authorities to this as if the Scriptures were an insufficient expression of the will of the Head of the church.
Solus Christus and Sola Scriptura will either be maintained or denied in our view of church government. They are usually denied in practice while being professed in creedal statements.
III. The Issue of Power - Solus Spiritus
The Spirit Alone as the Supernatural and Sufficient Power of the Head Immanent Throughout Every Church
Who does the Spirit indwell? Every individual believer, and the Church corporately! No other conclusion may be drawn from such passages as 1 Cor. 3; 2 Cor. 3 and 6; and Rom. 8. The teachings found in such passages is the basis for the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. However, the priesthood of every believer may be professed, and then denied in practice, when one "class" of believer is elevated above others as somehow mediating the rule of Christ as Head of the church.
Where is Christ's power manifest in the Church? In every individual believer and the Church corporately!
Who is able in the Church? The ability to hear and understand and serve Christ is within every believer!
How does Christ see the Church? How do most church leaders see the Church?
Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura and Solus Spiritus will either be maintained or denied in our view of church government. They are usually denied in practice while being professed in creedal statements.
The Body only has one Head, and all of the other members of the Body have equal significance and value for the ministry to one another (1 Cor. 12). Christ exercises His rule over His Body by His Spirit and His Word, not by any officers perceived as “vice-regents”. The leveling effects of sin and grace do not allow it to be any other way.
As a friend of mine once wrote:
"Heaven forbid that the "laity" be empowered. Heaven forbid that every member be involved in ministry. Heaven forbid that the congregation has any say in church government. Too bad they put Eph 4:12 and 1 Peter 5:2-3 in their Bibles. It's so inconvenient."
Appendix 1: Sources for Further Study
The Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order (1658); on Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics at http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/documents/Savoy_Declaration/index.html [accessed 23 JUN 2011].
Paul Enns, The Moody Handbook of Theology (Chicago: Moody Press, 1989), pp. 357-359.
Kenneth H. Good, God’s Blueprint for a Church: A Study of Baptist Distinctives (Rochester, NY: Backus Book Publishers, 1974), pp. 101-136.
Hezekiah Harvey, The Church: Its Polity and Ordinances (Rochester, NY: Backus Book Publishers, n.d.; 1982 reprint of 1879 original by American Baptist Publication Society, Philadelphia), pp. 21-104. The 1903 reprint by the American Baptist Publication Society of the 1879 original is available either as a full "preview" online or as a free eBook including downloadable EPUB and PDF file formats on Google Books at http://books.google.com/books?id=Q9RLAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=Hezekiah+Harvey&hl=en&sa=X&ei=TwGdULL6J7O10AGSo4DIAQ&ved=0CDMQ6AEwAQ [accessed 9 NOV 2012].
Edward T. Hiscox, The New Directory for Baptist Churches (Philadelphia: The Judson Press, 1894), pp. 142-159, 311-343. The 1902 reprint by the American Baptist Publication Society of the 1894 original is available either as a full "preview" online or as a free eBook including downloadable EPUB and PDF file formats on Google Books at http://books.google.com/books?id=rQZFAAAAIAAJ&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false [accessed 9 NOV 2012].
Paul R. Jackson, The Doctrine and Administration of the Church, rev. ed. (Schaumburg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 1980, 1968), pp. 33-39.
Benjamin L. Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2008).
Jonathan Leeman, "Clarifying "Congregationalism"" (14 JUN 2011), on 9 Marks at http://www.9marks.org/blog/clarifying-congregationalism#.TgKHwBVaiAY;email [accessed 23 JUN 2011].
Paul Alexander, "Is Congregationalism a Democracy?" (26 FEB 2010), on 9 Marks at http://www.9marks.org/ejournal/congregationalism-democracy#print-preview [accessed 23 JUN 2011].
"Book Reviews: Who Runs the Church? Four Views on Church Government, edited by Steven B. Cowan; Perspectives on Church Government, edited by Chad Owen Brand and R. Stanton Norman, by Sam E. Waldron, Paige Patterson, L. Roy Taylor, Peter Toon, Stanley N. Gundry, Steven B. Cowan", Reviewed by Bobby Jamieson (SEP/OCT 2009), on 9 Marks at http://www.9marks.org/books/book-reviews-who-runs-church-four-views-church-government-edited-steven-b-cowan-perspectives-c#print-preview [accessed 23 JUN 2011].
To the Corinthians Rescriptus: Evidence for Pure Congregationalism
Introduction: The bottom line is that 1 Corinthians must be rewritten for the sake of consistency on the part of clericalists. From the perspective of a Congregational polity no such rewriting is necessary.
The necessity for the “rescriptus” to accommodate the clerical or Presbyterian polity is established by the fact that the original recipients of 1 Corinthians are not elders, ministers, presbyters, etc., but the entire local body of believers.
Apologists for clericalism have failed to face up to the facts which lie on the face of Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. On two issues alone, church discipline and the administration of the ordinances, these apologists would have to admit that they would not have written the epistle as the great Apostle did. They would have addressed it directly to the clergy, the officers of the church, rather than as Paul did, to the entire local church. They would have been held directly responsible. It is inconceivable that no elders existed in the church at the time Paul wrote his epistles to the Corinthian believers after he spent years there teaching, preaching and building the church.
Creedal clericalism and the grave clothes of Romanism amongst the Reformed and others may be seen explicitly in their creeds. Consider the following (emphasis mine):
Westminster Confession of Faith, XXVII: IV (emphasis mine)
“There be only two sacraments ordained by Christ our Lord in the Gospel; that is to say, baptism, and the Supper of the Lord: neither of which may be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained.
 Matt. 28:19; I Cor. 4:1; 11:20, 23; Eph. 4:11-12”
Where, in any of the cited proof texts, or elsewhere in the Scriptures, do we find the documentation which would support the clericalist contention that the ordinances may not “be dispensed by any, but by a minister of the Word lawfully ordained”?
Westminster Confession of Faith, XXIX:III (emphasis mine)
“The Lord Jesus hath, in this ordinance, appointed his ministers to declare his word of institution to the people; to pray, and bless the elements of bread and wine, and thereby to set them apart from a common to an holy use; and to take and break the bread, to take the cup, and (they communicating also themselves) to give both to the communicants;  but to none who are not then present in the congregation.
 Matt. 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 22:19-20; I Cor. 10:16-17; 11:23-27
 Acts 20:7; I Cor. 11:20”
Where, in any of these texts cited by the Confession (purportedly in its support), or elsewhere in Scripture, do we find “the Lord Jesus” appointing “his ministers” as the only authorized administrators of the ordinance?
Note: See also the London Baptist Confession (1689).
Is there a class or chaste system within the Church of Jesus Christ, i.e., the clergy and the laity, taught anywhere in the New Testament?
Should we not be seeing the people of God through God’s eyes in the light of His Word, and not judging with merely human judgment. All of the reasons given by clericalists, i.e., Presbyterians and Episcopalians, for restricting the decision making on matters of church discipline, and for limiting the administration of the ordinances to ordained ministers, elders, etc., disappears when every member of the church is viewed as God views them according to the assessment of God in His Word. Priest craft is alive and well in Presbyterian and Episcopalian polity!
Consider the following:
1. The Authority for Church Discipline – Who is charged with the administration of the discipline of the Church in Matthew 18, and in 1 Corinthians 5? This is the greatest example of the exercise of the authority of the Church in Scripture, and yet nowhere in the New Testament is the exercise of this authority restricted to ordained ministers or clergy.
2. The Administrators of the Ordinances – Who is responsible for the administration of the two ordinances in Scripture? Who is confronted with the abuse of the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 5? Where were the elders, the ordained ministers, or the pastors of the church? If they are responsible for the proper administration of the ordinance, why are they not explicitly addressed and held to account?
Who were the Corinthian Epistles written to: the elders or the entire church? These epistles constitute the exposure of the greatest number, and most serious errors of any found in the Pauline corpus, and they were addressed directly to the entire local church!
1 Cor. 1:1-2 –  Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,  Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, both theirs and ours:
2 Cor. 1:1-2 –  Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Timothy our brother, unto the church of God which is at Corinth, with all the saints which are in all Achaia:  Grace be to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
In closing consider the words of C. S. Lewis as a warning against clericalism in any form:
“A great deal of democratic enthusiasm descends from the ideas of people like Rousseau, who believed in democracy because they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government. The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. . . I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost, much less a nation. . . . The real reason for democracy is . . . Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.” 
Excursus on the significance of the usage of "angels" in Revelation 1:20,
and in the introductions to each of the letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2-3)
I received the following in an email from a friend on November 13, 2012:
“I'm working my way through the authority issue in the church. I've been thinking about a statement you made:
 Any who suppose that the "angels" of the churches in these chapters are something other than angelic beings as explained by Christ in Rev. 1:20 assume an insurmountable burden of proof. For example: 1) Where else in Revelation is this word used for anything other than angelic beings? 2) Why is it in the singular unless it is to be argued that each of these churches had one and only one "elder" who is referenced by this term?
I completely understand your points and I'm inclined, at this point, to agree with you. I'm curious what you would say to the note MacArthur has on Revelation 1:20 in the study Bible:
"the angels. The word lit. means "messenger". Although it can mean angel-and does throughout the book-it cannot refer to angels here because angels are never leaders in the church. Most likely, these messengers are the 7 key elders representing each of those churches."
Is it possible that these references to angels point to a role of protection or some unspecified role angels play in a church? In your estimation, why is the word angel used here?”
My response to this email follows.
MacArthur's full statement reads:
"The word lit. means "messenger." Although it can mean angel - and does throughout the book - it cannot refer to angels here because angels are never leaders in the church. Most likely, these messengers are the 7 key elders representing each of those churches (see note on v. 16)."
There are at least four serious flaws in the assertions found in MacArthur's note above that preclude agreement with them.
1. Literal Meaning.
MacArthur's insistence on the "literal" meaning of the word proves nothing one way or the other. This recourse is something that he rejects out of hand when it comes to the lordship salvation controversy when the opponents point out the "literal" meaning of one of the words for "repentance" in the New Testament. Given this background, I found it quite inconsistent for him to be resorting to such an etymological ploy here. Would this reductionism be resorted to with any of the other usages of the word in the Revelation? If not, why not, and why here? The burden of proof lies with MacArthur and those who would agree with him. George Eldon Ladd has his own issues with insisting on this reductionist meaning:
"Another meaning of aggelos is "messenger," and the "angels" are taken to be the seven messengers who carried the letters to the seven churches of Asia. If this is so, it is difficult to see why the letters were addressed to the messengers rather than to the churches themselves. The proper meaning of the word is angel, and the natural idea is that churches on earth have angels in heaven who represent them."
Abraham Kuyper, expresses agreement with MacArthur's understanding of the word here:
"In Rev. 1, 20 the pastors of the seven churches are spoken of as angels, as it reads, "The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches," but this is explained by the double meaning of the Greek word: Angelos. Angelos means messenger as well as angel."
However, it is worthy of note that Kuyper wrote this in the process of registering his objection to a marginal note in the Dutch Bible on Rev. 14:6,
"...where the reference is said to be not to real angels, but to believers of high eminence in the earth, who thus are spoken of as angels."
It is equally noteworthy how Kuyper continued his objection to this understanding in Rev. 14:6 -
"Hence this interpretation can not satisfy. The scene enacted here is not in the earth, but in heaven, and these six spirits here appear in their nature as angels of God."
Kuyper's objection appears to be inconsistent on its face, since it involves objecting to human messengers being intended in Rev. 14:6 due to the scene being in heaven rather than on earth, while allowing for it in Rev. 1:20 where the scene is no less heavenly in its focus on the ascended Christ. Such inconsistencies on the part of both MacArthur and Kuyper are both inexplicable, and unpersuasive.
2. Normal Usage.
MacArthur's admission that this word does mean heavenly angelic beings throughout the rest of the book is fatal to everything else he asserts, and places the burden of proof squarely in his lap, which he fails to address. Despite the fact that John F. Walvoord agrees with MacArthur, he also recognizes that this is not "its principal use as noted by Arndt and Gingrich". Dennis E. Johnson agrees, explaining as an objection to seeing the "angels" here as the pastors of the churches: "Angels elsewhere in Revelation are always God's superhuman messengers, consistent with the word's usual meaning in the rest of the New Testament." At this point I would merely quote W. E. Vine. Concerning a similar issue in another place in the New Testament he simply dismissed the contentions of multitudes of scholars by reminding all and sundry that, "... there does not seem to be sufficient justification for departing from the usual meaning of the words..."
George Eldon Ladd also sees this interpretation as requiring an unwarranted departure from the normal usage of the word:
"The expression, the angels of the seven churches, represented by the seven stars in the hand of Christ, is difficult, especially since each of the seven letters was addressed to the angel of each respective church. This fact has led many commentators to conclude that the angel stood for the bishop of the church. This would be a good solution for the problem except for the fact that it violates New Testament usage. Aggelos was not used of Christian leaders..."
Alan F. Johnson extends this objection to the specific genre, and also to extant examples from uninspired literature in the early centuries of the Church:
"The Greek word for angels (angeloi) occurs sixty-seven times in Revelation and in every other instance refers to heavenly messengers, though occasionally in the NT it can mean a human messenger (Luke 7:24; 9:52; James 2:25 [Gr.])."
"A strong objection to the human messenger sense here is the fact that the word is not used that way anywhere else in apocalyptic literature. Furthermore, in early noncanonical Christian literature no historical person connected with the church is ever called an angelos."
He adds an interesting point not considered by many others, and certainly not by those who see these as human church leaders or messengers:
"...the stars are clearly linked in 3:1 with the seven spirits of God."
3. Ecclesiastical Leaders.
MacArthur's denial in insisting that "it cannot refer to angels here because angels are never leaders in the church" is a straw man. Nowhere is leadership explicitly associated with these angels in the context, nor is there any indication of such an implication here. MacArthur is the one who wanted to characterize them as "messengers"! Where did this "messenger/leader" come in? How did we make the etymological leap from "messenger" to "leader"? The conclusions to the letters to each of the churches makes it quite clear that they are written not to some human "chief" (or, "key") elders, but, in fact, to the churches themselves viewed corporately. Dennis Johnson points out that the usage of the second person plural pronoun at various points in the contents of the letters is another indicator that either "subgroups within a congregation", or "the congregation as a whole" is being addressed. MacArthur is therefore focusing on an issue that nothing in the context warrants, and by doing lays himself open to the objection of having erected an eisegetical straw man to shore up his argument that has nothing else to support it. This straw man would appear to be constructed from his own ecclesiastical presuppositions which he has then imported into the passage. Therefore, it must be concluded that MacArthur's denial proves nothing, nor is it based on any convincing proof, and may therefore be dismissed out of hand as without merit.
4. Loud Silence.
If, in fact, MacArthur is correct, and some "key" elder from each church is being addressed a lot of explaining is in order. Are these human members of the seven Asian churches then to be viewed as the only ones held in Christ's hand (1:16, 20; 2:1; 3:1)? And why would that be? Where are they, or the rest of the "non-key" elders mentioned in the bodies of any of the letters in chapters 2-3? If they, rather than the entire congregation are being held accountable as "leaders" rather than mere "messengers", why do we not read indictments or commendations of them in the letters? Why is there no mention whatsoever in any of the seven letters concerning how they have either failed or succeeded in the discharge of their leadership positions in these churches? Is this silence? Yes, it is. It is a very loud silence that should lead us straight away from what MacArthur sees in these "angels"! Ladd "hears" this silence as well: "...in the seven letters, neither angels nor bishops were rebuked."
In conclusion, that the burden of proof still lies undismissed in MacArthur's lap may be demonstrated from two recent works on the subject. The first is by James M. Hamilton, Jr.:
"These are angelic beings that represent each church. I do not think the reference to "the angels of the seven churches" is a reference to the senior pastor of each individual church, with "angel" meaning something more like messenger, for several reasons. First, pastors are not called "angels" elsewhere in Revelation or the New Testament; second, the book of Revelation is full of heavenly beings called "angels," which makes it likely that these angels are also heavenly beings; and third, John distinguishes between heavenly beings and human beings elsewhere in Revelation, so if these were human beings it would probably be more clearly stated that human pastors are in view."
Finally, G. K. Beale has an interesting and extensive treatment on this subject that includes the following:
"The aggeloi ("angels") in 1:20 include both heavenly beings and the earthly churches, according to the idea of corporate representation, which is suggested further by recognizing that angelic beings are corporately identified with Christians as their heavenly counterparts elsewhere in the book..."
Beale cites the following passages at this place:
Rev. 19:10 - And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said unto me, See thou do it not: I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren that have the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.
Rev. 22:9 - Then saith he unto me, See thou do it not: for I am thy fellowservant, and of thy brethren the prophets, and of them which keep the sayings of this book: worship God.
Rev. 8:3-4 - 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.
He then remarks:
"Consequently, the "angels" in 1:20b refer to heavenly beings who also represent the church..."
Later he adds:
"The conclusion that aggeloi in 1:20b refer to heavenly angels who represent the church is supported further by the following two broad considerations.
(1) Stars as metaphorical for both saints and angels in the OT and Judaism."
The Old Testament passages cited here by Beale follow:
Dan. 12:1-3 - 1 And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. 2 And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3 And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.
Dan. 7:27 - And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him.
Dan. 8:10-11 - 10 And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them. 11 Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down.
Dan. 8:24 - And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people.
The second of the "two broad considerations" mentioned above by Beale is:
"(2) Angels as corporate representatives of saints in the OT, NT, and Jewish writings."
The Old and New Testament passages Beale lists for this point are:
Dan. 10:20-21 - 20 Then said he, Knowest thou wherefore I come unto thee? and now will I return to fight with the prince of Persia: and when I am gone forth, lo, the prince of Grecia shall come. 21 But I will shew thee that which is noted in the scripture of truth: and there is none that holdeth with me in these things, but Michael your prince.
Dan. 12:1 - And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.
Dan. 7:27; 8:10; and 8:24 (see above).
Mt. 18:10 - Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.
Acts 12:15 - And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel.
It may be profitable to consider here the New Testament passages referenced by Alan F. Johnson and John F. Walvoord where aggelos is understood in context for human messengers:
Mt. 11:10 - For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
Mk. 1:2 - As it is written in the prophets, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
Lk. 7:24 - And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak unto the people concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
Lk. 7:27 - This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
Lk. 9:52 - And sent messengers before his face: and they went, and entered into a village of the Samaritans, to make ready for him.
Js. 2:25 - Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?
As clear as these usages are in their respective contexts, no such clarity for this exceptional usage exists in Revelation 1-3.
Therefore, I conclude by standing by my original proposition on this subject:
"Any who suppose that the "angels" of the churches in these chapters are something other than angelic beings as explained by Christ in Rev. 1:20 assume an insurmountable burden of proof."
G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999)
James M. Hamilton, Jr., Revelation The Spirit Speaks to the Churches, in Preaching the Word, series ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012).
Alan F. Johnson, "Revelation", in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12 (Hebrews - Revelation), gen. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, assoc. ed. J. D. Douglas, consulting eds., New Testament: James Montgomery Boice and Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), pp. 397-603.
Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on the Revelation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001).
Abraham Kuyper, The Revelation of St. John, trans. John Hendrik de Vries (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1935, 1963).
George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972).
John MacArthur, gen. ed., The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997).
John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ: A Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966).
Soli Deo Gloria,
John T. "Jack" Jeffery
Pastor, Wayside Gospel Chapel
1, 5, 14 NOV 2012
19 DEC 2012
13 MAR 2013
12, 16 APR 2014
by John T. Jeffery
Copyright 2012 by John T. Jeffery.
All rights reserved.
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without written permission from the author.
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 I am employing this Latin expression here not in quite the same sense as it was originally employed by the Reformers to present Christ as the only Savior and the only Way of salvation. My intent in using it with reference to the government of the Church is to present Christ as the only Head of the Church and His Theocracy as the only form of church government. This slogan is sometimes also expressed in the ablative case as "Solo Christo".
 The Southern Baptist Convention, the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches, and Sovereign Grace Ministries.
 Sovereign Grace Book of Church Order, PROPOSAL (SGM Polity Committee, October 28, 2012), pg. 6.
 See on this Benjamin L. Merkle, 40 Questions About Elders and Deacons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Academic & Professional, 2008), pg. 31.
 Sovereign Grace Book of Church Order, PROPOSAL (SGM Polity Committee, October 28, 2012), pp. 4-5. See Appendix 4: Extract (cover to end of page six only).
 This may be a moot point for Sovereign Grace Ministries and others who maintain that apostles are extant throughout the history of the Church including the 21st century! Sovereign Grace Book of Church Order, op. cit., pg. 5.
 On this issue see especially Merkle, op. cit., pp. 34-36.
 In this case I am not utilizing this Reformation watchword or slogan as marking a distinction from the traditions of Romanism, but rather from the authority issue inevitably involved with the clericalism inherent in elder rule (especially the common misunderstandings associated with this). This usage of the slogan would be directly related to the Reformed opposition expressed in it to the pretended authority of ecclesiastical councils and papal pronouncements.
 Any who suppose that the "angels" of the churches in these chapters are something other than angelic beings as explained by Christ in Rev. 1:20 assume an insurmountable burden of proof. See Appendix 3: Excursus on the significance of the usage of "angels" in Revelation 1:20,and in the introductions to each of the letters to the seven churches (Rev. 2-3).
 "Solus Spiritus is a Reformation watchword we ought not to forget." Gary Brady, "JOC Calvin 06" (15 SEP 2009), on Heavenly Worldliness at http://darbygray.blogspot.com/2009/09/joc-calvin-06.html [accessed 2 NOV 2012]; reposted as "Sinclair Ferguson on John Calvin and the Holy Spirit" (10 SEP 2009), on Banner of Truth Trust at http://www.banneroftruth.org/pages/articles/article_detail.php?1646 [accessed 2 NOV 2012].
 Ed Trefzger, email to Semper Reformanda list (17 MAR 2010), Subject: "Book Review: The Democratization of American Christianity, Reformed Baptist Fellowship"; in response to Jeffrey T. Riddle, " Book Review
Nathan O. Hatch, (Yale University Press, 1989): 312 pp.", posted on Reformed Baptist Fellowship at http://reformedbaptistfellowship.org/2010/03/17/book-review-the-democratization-of-american-christianity/ [accessed 1 NOV 2012]; from Stylos at http://www.jeffriddle.net/2010/03/book-review-nathan-hatch.html [accessed 1 NOV 2012]. I would add that the very notion of a clergy/laity distinction implicit in clericalism is entirely inconsistent with the doctrine of the priesthood of every believer, and can only be explained where it is found as "the graveclothes" of the Romish cult. I would contend that each of the three points of the "Discussion Outline" above, not just the last, would argue against such a distinction.
 The term “rescriptus” (literally, “written over”), is usually associated with an early 5th century Greek manuscript of the Bible. “Codex Ephraemi Rescriptus (Paris, National Library of France, Greek 9; Gregory-Aland no. C or 04, von Soden δ 3) is an early 5th century Greek manuscript of the Bible, the last in the group of the four great uncial manuscripts of the Greek Bible (see Codex Sinaiticus, Alexandrinus and Vaticanus). The manuscript is lacunose.
It receives its name, as a codex in which the treatises of Ephraem the Syrian, in Greek translations, were written over ("rescriptus") a former text that had been washed off its vellum pages, thus forming a palimpsest. The later text was produced in the 12th century. The effacement of the original text was incomplete, for beneath the text of Ephraem are the remains of what was once a complete Bible, containing both the Old Testament and the New. It forms one of the codices for textual criticism on which the Higher criticism is based.”
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Codex_Ephraemi_Rescriptus [accessed 23 JUN 2011].
 C. S. Lewis, “Equality,” in Present Concerns: Essays by C. S. Lewis, quoted in Wayne Martindale and Jerry Root, eds., The Quotable C. S. Lewis (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989), pp. 152-153, and cited by John Piper, Sermon, “The Child to Be Born Will Be Called Holy—the Son of God” (Luke 1:26-38), December 25, 2005, on Desiring God at http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/sermons/the-child-to-be-born-will-be-called-holy-the-son-of-god [accessed 23 JUN 2011].
 John MacArthur, gen. ed., The MacArthur Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997), pg. 1,993, s.v. "1:20 the angels".
 See, for example, his notes at Mt. 3:2 and Mt. 3:8, op. cit., pp. 1,396 and 1,397. Especially note his explanation in his book, The Gospel According To Jesus: What Does Jesus Mean When He Says, "Follow Me"? (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1988), pg. 32, "The Greek word for repentance, metanoia, literally means "to think after." It implies a change of mind, and some who oppose lordship salvation have tried to limit its meaning to that. But a definition of repentance cannot be drawn solely from the etymology of the Greek word." On this see also Chapter 15 in this work where he addresses the subject of "The Call to Repentance", op. cit., pp. 159-168, and especially pp. 161-165.
 George Eldon Ladd, A Commentary on the Revelation of John (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1972), pg. 35.
 Abraham Kuyper, The Revelation of St. John, trans. John Hendrik de Vries (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1935, 1963), pg. 123.
 "It is properly understood here as referring to human messengers to these seven churches. These messengers were probably the pastors of these churches or prophets through whom the message was to be delivered to the congregation." John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ: A Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1966), pg. 53.
 Ibid. Walvoord cites the following in note 4 on this page: "William F. Arndt and Wilbur F. Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, s.v. aggelos, pp. 7-8."
 Dennis E. Johnson, Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on the Revelation (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2001), pg. 62.
 W. E. Vine with C. F. Hogg, "Thessalonians", in Collected writings of W.E. Vine (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1996), s.v. 1 Th. 5:10 - "Or sleep".
 George Eldon Ladd, ibid. The emphasis is Ladd's.
 See also Walvoord, op. cit., who cites Mt. 11:10; Mk. 1:2; Lk. 7:24, 27; and 9:52.
 Alan F. Johnson, "Revelation", in The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Vol. 12 (Hebrews - Revelation), gen. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, assoc. ed. J. D. Douglas, consulting eds., New Testament: James Montgomery Boice and Merrill C. Tenney (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1981), pg. 430.
 Alan F. Johnson, ibid.
 Dennis Johnson, ibid.
 Ladd, ibid.
 James M. Hamilton, Jr., Revelation The Spirit Speaks to the Churches, in Preaching the Word, series ed. R. Kent Hughes (Wheaton: Crossway, 2012), pg. 51.
 G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1999), pg. 217.
 Beale, op. cit., pg. 218.
 The marginal reading in the Authorized Version is "Heb. people of the holy ones". Beale notes parenthetically that both here and in Dan. 7:27 this expression, "people of the saints", "...may be intentionally ambiguous so as to allude both to angels and to Israelite saints". Ibid.
 Beale, op.cit., pg. 219.
 I find it surprising that Beale would cite this verse as an example coordinate with Mt. 18:10, since the "mistaken identity" in this latter case obviously refers to Peter's ghostly apparition or "spirit" following an execution that did not take place.