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Oversight or Overreach?

November 28, 2012

The increasingly accepted idea among Reformed Baptist churches of a “mother church” controlling a church plant rests on several unsound notions; but particularly the extension of church authority beyond one local assembly to another in formation and not a part of itself.

The clear biblical principle that Baptists have historically understood is that each assembly has authority over its own affairs only, rejecting the idea of a third office of “bishop” having authority over more than one assembly.

And a strange scenario therefore it is in light of these principles for some Reformed Baptist pastors to claim to have “oversight” over another forming assembly, supervising the establishment of new churches much like Paul himself -never mind of course, the trifling distinction that he was an apostle and they are not!

But wait, they interject, a church plant is not a fully established church so may they not legitimately exercise authority there? And besides they say, look what a helpful service this is to an immature work without perhaps its own leadership. Pragmatic arguments aside, it must be asked what the basis for this proposed authority is.

If a church does not have authority outside the number of those that make up its own assembly then whatever it is and whatever its “overseers” are they are most definitely not in authority over those meeting elsewhere and not a part of their own assembly. This is simple and irrefutable and no amount of pragmatism can change it.

But let’s take for a moment the idea of a “mother church” exercising oversight over a church plant as a given for the sake of argument. May we ask its defenders is this “oversight” biblical in nature? Yes, of course they answer.

Very well then, if it is biblical “oversight” over a church plant then what would prevent the “overseers” from initiating church discipline on someone in the church plant if necessary (for that is an integral part of biblical oversight.) Nothing, except for the little fact that the people are not members of a church from which they can be excommunicated, and the men who are their “overseers” are not their elders/pastors, and the discipline cannot, for these reasons, be church discipline! By a gentle breath of wind the whole house of cards collapses for what it is - incoherent, poorly reasoned and arbitrary. Their “oversight” is plainly not the one spoken of in the New Testament.

And the outworking of this error is not hypothetical, in that, although having no real biblical authority these “overseers” do, nevertheless, exert authority to rule even in matters as serious as either defining or disbanding a church plant. It is ultimately nothing less than the power to nullify a fledgling assembly of Christ’s people that they exercise.

Is it nothing that such “overseers” make themselves authorities where Christ has not? Surely not! And He will try the nature of each man’s work as to what kind it is. He is a real overseer even if they are not.


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From → Church Planting

  1. Jeff permalink

    I agree I was part of a church plant that was overseen by another church about 1800 miles away. It was a disaster. It was only by God’s intervening grace that we were actual became a church.

  2. Yes, when Paul said to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28 “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” he was surely not indicating this should be extended 1800 miles. The passage uses what’s called a local use of the Greek preposition ‘en’ and indicates the Holy Spirit has given them oversight of a particular local assembly. Those who disregard this local aspect disregard the Holy Spirit’s will and not surprisingly the results are inevitably negative.

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