The only way to agree with plural elders from different backgrounds

One of the realities of serving on a plural eldership is that we don’t always agree. One of the realities of serving on our particular eldership is that we don’t all come from the same church background so we sometimes don’t agree about stuff one or other of us have simply assumed because it is what our tradition has said. This was particularly interesting when we came to write our membership booklet because, at the time, the three elders who wrote it were from an Anglican, Methodist and Brethren-cum-Grace Baptist background. Which, when it boils down to it, doesn’t leave you with much room for presuming upon your tradition.

This, in reality, is a real strength. We are all committed to certain key principles. Chief amongst them, the core truths of the gospel and a desire to glorify the Lord Jesus. Running a close second, the sufficiency and ultimate authority of the scriptures. There are, of course, other things on which we are agreed in principle too, but these two matter the most when it comes to our disagreements. They matter most because, whenever we disagree for whatever reason, we all recognise we are all genuinely seeking to honour the Lord Jesus in what we are saying and, where we disagree, are all committed to looking into the Bible to figure out what it says rather than standing on our own ‘I reckon’ or presumption from tradition.

But this means we really can’t make too many presumptions. I may assume a certain view of something, but someone coming from a different tradition may not make that assumption at all. In fact, it might not be at all obvious to them in any way. Which means we are forced back to the scriptures. Has one of our traditions got it wrong? Have both got it wrong? What exactly does the Bible say? That last question is the only credible way to break the deadlock.

Of course, we are all committed – because of our reading of scripture – to the wisdom of plural elderships. If we have recognised the men as qualified to lead the church in the first place, we must also recognise they are men to whom we must submit some of the time ourselves. Which means, whilst one of us may the read the Bible a particular way, if the other two read it somewhat differently, we may well have to simply submit to the collective wisdom of the other brothers. If God has equipped them to be elders, and the church has recognised them as elders, it is only reasonable to expect that they may see things more clearly than you some of the time. Even if you maintain they are not right, and remain unconvinced by them, scripture has given the model of plural eldership for a reason. As we look to the Lord for his wisdom, we surely have to accept that we will legitimately be outvoted by godly brothers sometimes.

Naturally, we all strive to be of one mind. We all want to attain to the unity of the faith. We don’t attain to unity through pragmatism nor tradition. We want the unity that comes through maturity. We want the unity that comes through knowing God’s Word and understanding his will for the church. Whilst it may be much more inefficient to reach decisions this way – especially if our various traditions disagree – if it pushes us back to the scriptures so that we are clearer on what God actually says to the matter, that can only be a good thing.

This all means that there are things we have brought from our traditions that have remained. There are also things we have each brought from our traditions that have been shed. But it means that none of us are relying on tradition, but all of us are driven back to the Word. As new elders have come in, and other elders have stepped back, we may find new things to disagree about because of our respective backgrounds. We may have to cover old ground, thinking an issue had been put to bed, only to find a new elder objects. But this only serves to send us back to the Word again – and I struggle to see how that can be a bad thing.