I never heard the word “polity” before going to seminary. Whenever you talk about elders, deacons and/or church membership, you are talking about church polity– how a church is organized and governed. We are voting on polity changes at Kailua Baptist in August, and I am certain some at our church wonder, “why in the world do we have to keep talking about these issues?” My answer: because the local church matters to God.
In 1 Tim 3.14-15, Paul tells Timothy “I hope to come to you soon, but I write these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the Living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.” The picture there is a temple-type structure—like the Temple of Artemis in ancient Ephesus, where the whole building is surrounded by pillars holding up the whole temple structure. Without the pillars, the roof and the building falls.
And according to 1 Timothy the household of God, which is the church of the Living God, is a pillar of the truth. The truth is the gospel of Jesus Christ (roof), and the church is holding it up (a pillar). The church is not the gospel, but the church protects the gospel. And in fact, as my friend Matt Dirks pointed out to me, there is more than just one pillar, there are many pillars that hold up the truth, so Paul seems to be referring to local churches (or else that’s a bad illustration). The local church matters. And in 1 Timothy 3, right before these verses are the qualifications of overseers/elders and deacons. Elders and deacons are a part of God’s design for the local church, and the local church matters.
So these are issues that should always be a part of a church’s conversations about how to be a faithful gospel presence.