God has appointed for the protection of the pulpit is biblically regulated and sincerely administered polity. Note that polity is an instrument. Polity is not an end in itself. The proper end toward which biblical polity is aimed is the worship of God. Worship comprises the reading and preaching of God’s Word, along with various other indispensable elements. Thus, polity protects preaching.
After the 50th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), I had the unique privilege to spend 8.5 hours in my car with a founding father of the denomination. Dr. Joseph A. Pipa, Jr. and I made the long drive from Memphis to Greenville with much to talk about. We discussed our various interactions with friends, former classmates and (his) students, and the business of the Assembly.
At some point before I introduced my travel companion to Buc-ee’s for the first time, Dr. Pipa reflected on a felicitous feature of denominational health evidenced at this year’s Assembly. He remarked upon the impressive competencies and capabilities of many of the young pastors who took to the microphone to make floor speeches. He celebrated the rising generation’s knowledgeable, confident, and effective engagement with church polity and deliberation.
However, he did not stop there in his reflection. What he said next stuck in my mind as we made the trek home. The best I can do at this point is a paraphrase because I was driving, and not taking notes, at the time. Dr. Pipa said something along the lines of, “As happy as I am about how competent these men are in their polity, I certainly hope that they are at least as competent and adequately prepared to preach effectively as we all get back to the real work of ministry.” There is profound wisdom here for those of us who are increasingly interested and engaged in matters of polity.
I believe that Dr. Pipa’s point was that church government is subordinate to the worship of God. Rightly regulated church government exists for the sake of rightly regulated corporate worship. Because the ministry of the Word is a necessary part of corporate worship (a matter discussed at one point during the deliberations of the Assembly), our polity exists for the sake of preaching. In other words, polity serves preaching and is subordinate to it. How so? Specifically, polity protects the pulpit, and it does so in at least two ways.
In the first place, polity protects the pulpit from those who would otherwise abuse the God-ordained means of grace for their own advantage. The Apostle Paul pointedly charged the elders in Ephesus, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).