Read this if…
- You are interested in what the Bible says about how churches should be run.
- You are looking for an overview of the many church polity models
- You have concerns about your own churches polity and would like to be an instrument of change.
Just as the government structure of Russia differs from that of the United States, and both differ from that of Great Britain, so it is with church government. Yet, as the institution governed by God’s written word, the church must find and defend its governing structures using that word-the Bible. In this book, Dr. Simon Goncharenko argues that it is, in fact, possible to identify a specific preferred model of church polity within the Bible and to model our current church structure after Scriptural precedent.
The arguments surrounding church polity (the governance and structure of power within a church) are still being waged some 2,000 years after the inauguration of the first church in Jerusalem. The reformers, while being clear about the problematic concentration of power in the papacy, were unable to develop a consensus concerning the correct way to divide the power with the church. Simon Goncharenko has done a wonderful job of both explaining the different church polity models and detailing their history and biblical legitimacy. Each model (episcopal, presbyterian, and congregational) has its own scholars and pastors arguing for the acceptance as their model as the preferred form. However, Goncharenko proposes that only one model can be the biblical model and he argues persuasively for multiple-elder led congregationalism.
The book reads like a research paper – which, according to the preface, it was. Goncharenko begins with an explanations of the terms, polity models, and the history of church government. He then addresses each model in turn explaining how none except congregationalism will not hold up under biblical scrutiny.
It is hard to find many flaws in the argumentation of this book. Goncharenko is thorough to say the least. While I commend Goncharenko for being comprehensive in his citation, there were very few ideas that were truly his own. The pages were filled with quotes – many of them so lengthy that they demanded block quote format. This paper would surely garner an A in the classroom, but it does not make for enjoyable reading. As proved by the extensive citations, very little of what Goncharenko proposes is new territory. Rather this is a regurgitation and synthesis of previously published thoughts. Therefore, if the reader is looking for a resource to orient them to the history of polity and the arguments for and against the different polity models, this is a fine text. I recommend it, but only for those who are unfamiliar with the conversation. For those who have engaged deeply in the church polity conversation, this text will not add much to the debate. This would be an excellent primer on church polity for new church members or for Bible college/seminary students.
After publishing this review, I was able to interact with the author, Dr. Simon Goncharenko, concerning my review. His assertion is that my review left out a very important part of the book, namely, the uniqueness of its arguments. Much of my reading (both for review on the blog and otherwise) has been focused in the area of church polity. Therefore, it is possible that my comments above are due to my heightened familiarity with the arguments surrounding church polity. It also may be that I’m just not smart…who knows. All of that said, I wanted to give Dr. Goncharenko an opportunity to explain his reasoning for writing the book and bring clarity to what sets it apart from other books on the same subject. Below are his thoughts. Regardless of where Dr. Goncharenko and I disagree on the originality of his arguments, I still commend his book to you as valuable and helpful.
In reading through a whole host of books on the doctrine of the church and its various components, I realized that most of the writers (and readers) in the Protestant camp hold to the same basic ecclesiological principles, i.e. the origin of the New Testament church, its leadership, and etc. However, when we get to church government, though we profess the same starting points, we end up practicing some very different forms of it. This finding produced a desire to pen a book which would help the reader to understand how holding a certain set of starting points logically demands arriving at a particular form of church government. This approach to multiple elder congregationalism which is driven by the common ecclesiological principles has never been attempted before. Therein lies the originality of Church Government According to the Bible, which this reviewer seems to have missed.