There are two options within the Reformed streams in Indonesia, it seems. The first upholds Reformed theology in the confessional sense – the Westminster Confessions are respected, the theology of Scripture loudly proclaimed, and the normed tradition of Reformed orthodoxy is endorsed. However, here the mindset is that this theology has to be implemented in a manner suitable to the current cultural climate, such that a certain church polity is seen to be not inherent within Reformed theology, but as fluid, and thus can be changed in accordance with the needs of the day. There is so much need for reformation, it may be argued, that an implementation of this theology requires a systematic imposition on everyone. Since this requires quick decision making, the reversion of competing theologies and ideologies, and rapid proliferation, the church polity implemented consists in the form of a single-head leadership. Here a certain kind of Reformed doctrine of God, salvation, and humanity is combined with a non-Reformed doctrine of the church. Nevermind the exhortations in Scripture to appoint elders in every local body (Titus 1:5-6), Indonesia (Jakarta in particular), requires an immediate Reformation. Since elders require testing, it is argued, it is fine for now that one particular leader leads the church.

Of course, it is biblically non-justifiable to argue that it is up to the sense and capability of one man to test who may be qualified to be elders. Elders are discerned by the whole body of the local churches, and are not to be selected by merely one man. For if the elders (or the shepherds) of the local church are to be ordained by the wishes of an individual or by the “clergy” alone, then we would be recapitulating the error of Roman Catholicism, where the ministry is decided by the sacred priesthood, and not by the collated Spiritual wisdom of the existing elders or the congregation. But this is a different topic, and I digress.

The second option is an existing Presbyterian polity without a confessional, theological norm in place. Here, there are boards, presbyteries, and general assemblies, and motions have to be passed, elders nominated, and order is upheld. The egos of pastors are kept in check, and tyranny firmly resisted. However, given the lack of a common historic confession in place, there is an irreconcilable theological diversity within the presbyteries and thus of the general assembly. Here serious theological errors cannot be countered so quickly, and old traditions could become static, and often those who are theologically Reformed cannot make serious necessary changes. Each elder or pastor have a competing vision of how the church ought to operate, and of how the ministry ought to function, and of what kind of theology is to be propelled. Chaos, alas, ensues, as problems take a long time to be addressed, and an unhealthy ecumenicism is nourished – doctrine is further seen to be unnecessary for the church, and the theology of each particular local church is determined by the set of elders that happen to be in charge there. There is unity only in the form of an external denominational alliance, and not a unity of serious theological substance.

What is needed here is the realization that Reformed theology and a Reformed doctrine of the church go together as one organic whole. One cannot separate one from the other, as one cannot sever a flower from its roots. In Reformed theology, Christ alone rules his church, and he does this through his Word. The Bible is to be the norming norm, and Christ the head. Christ sends the Holy Spirit to apply that word, and, after the cessation of revelation, with the prophets and apostles as the once-for-all foundational authors of Christ’s word for his church today, the Spirit calls up ministers, elders, to interpret, render clear, and apply that word to his church. No one head is to be the head over the elders than Christ alone.

The Reformed doctrine of total depravity tells us of the innate tendency in man to desire to rule unilaterally, and to have one’s ego tickled. The company of pastors and elders is to keep this in check. But so that a theological unity is enforced, one must come together and guard a “form of sound words” (2 Tim. 1:13-14) as the ground for ministry, and a common level of maturity. Unity in the church is not a bare unity, or a unity of hobbies and personalities, but a unity grounded in who God is. Reformed theology and Presbyterian polity go together as a river forms a lake. Both are rooted in a long historic tradition normed by the Word of God. To choose one and to flippantly repudiate the other would be to fail to teach “the whole counsel of God.”

There are a few Presbyterian and Reformed churches here, but they are few and far between. One needs this not only in name, but also in function. A Presbyterian Church with elders elected by a single elder or a patron behind the elders is not functioning meaningfully. It does not guarantee a sinless or perfect ministry – but one must not mistake errors of sinfulness with the error of a polity or a system. Presbyterian Reformed churches will continue to be led by sinful men – but this is why the system is enforced in the first place.

It’s hard work – but one never follows the Lord because it’s easy. One can either trust the horses of an army (or the wealth of a controlling patron), or the regulations of Scripture. One must either trust the words of God or go with the whims of man or the culture of the day. Either way, choose consistently.


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