Friday, September 25, 2020

Church Government

"Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you." (Hebrews 13:17)

The Pastoral Epistles (1 and 2 Timothy and Titus) lead us into a consideration of church government that will occupy our attention until the end of this month. Most of us don’t like to think of the church as an organization because that seems cold, bureaucratic, and legalistic. We’d rather think of her as an organism, warm and alive.

No organism can exist without organization, and the Bible is deeply concerned about the church’s structure. If church government is this important to God, then it needs to be important to us as well. Church government is the context and framework in which the church grows and thrives. Apart from it, she languishes.

The Bible as a whole and the New Testament in particular make the fundamental rule of church government plain: The church is to be overseen by elders. Throughout church history, however, elders have been ordered in a variety of ways. The first form of government is called episcopacy, from the Greek word for overseer or bishop. There are “higher elders” who are the actual rulers of the church, overseeing several congregations in a geographical area (diocese). In monarchical episcopacy, the bishop has a free hand in his diocese, while in conciliar episcopacy, the bishop must work closely with the pastors under him and with other bishops.

The second system is called presbyterianism, from the Greek word for elder (presbyter). In this system, there is no one bishop over a diocese, but the corporate body of elders oversees a geographical area called a presbytery. Sometimes a superintendent functions as a kind of bishop-advisor to the churches, always under the oversight of the presbytery as a corporate whole.

Finally, there is congregationalism. In this system, the local church is supreme, and associations among churches are seen not as a larger form of the church (diocese or presbyter) but merely as voluntary fellowships. Rule is by elders, but elders have no power or authority outside their own local churches.

Church government is another area over which the body is all too often divided. Sadly, we often affiliate with the denomination of our forefathers without any investigation into proper church government. Make a study of your denomination’s understanding of church government and compare it with Scripture.