Weekly Bible Study
Tuesday 10th November 2020
Topic: CHURCH GOVERNMENT.
Text: 1 Thess 5:12-13.
Today as we continue with our study on the Church, our focus shall commence on how a church should be governed and how church officers should be chosen. It must be noted that Churches today have many different forms of government.
The Roman Catholic Church has a worldwide government under the authority of the Pope. Episcopalian churches have bishops with regional authority and archbishops over them. Presbyterian churches grant regional authority to presbyteries and national authority to general assemblies.
On the other hand, Baptist churches and many other congregational churches have no formal governing authority beyond the local congregation, and affiliation with denominations is on a voluntary basis. Within local churches, Baptists often have a lead pastor with a body of deacons and Church council/ council of elders as well. The decision of all registered members at a Church meeting is binding over all. Presbyterians have a board of elders and Episcopalians have a vestry. Other churches simply have a church board.
Is there a New Testament pattern for church government? Is anyone form of church
government to be preferred over another? These are the questions that many people have asked over the years. At the outset, it must be said that the form of church government is not a major doctrine in the New Testament like the Trinity, the deity of Christ, substitutionary atonement or the authority of Scripture. Although I believe, after examining the New Testament evidence, that one
particular form of church government is preferable to the others, nevertheless, each form
has some weaknesses as well as strengths. And church history attests that several different forms of government have worked fairly well for several centuries.
Moreover, while some aspects of church government seem to be reasonably clear from the New Testament, other matters (such as the way in which church officers should be chosen) are less clear, mainly because the New Testament evidence on them is not extensive, and thus our inferences from this evidence are less certain. It seems to me then, that there ought to be room for evangelical Christians to differ amicably over this question, in the hope that further understanding may be gained. And it also seems that individual Christians while they may have a preference for one system or another, and while they may wish at appropriate times to argue forcefully for one system over another, we should nevertheless be willing to live and minister within any of several different Protestant systems of church government in which we may find themselves from time to time.
But I do not mean to say that this is an entirely unimportant matter.
In this area as well as others, a church may be more or less pure. If there are clear New Testament patterns regarding some aspects of church government, then there will be negative consequences
in our churches if we disregard them, even if we cannot foresee all of those consequences at the present time. Therefore, Christians are certainly free to speak and write on this subject in order to work for increased purity in the church.
In our study, we shall first survey the New Testament data concerning church officers,
especially apostle, elder, and deacon. Then we shall examine how church officers should be
chosen. After that we shall look at two controversial questions: Which form of church
government if any is closest to the New Testament pattern and examine if women should serve
as officers in the church.
A church officer is someone who has been publicly recognized as having the right and responsibility to perform certain functions for the benefit of the whole church. According to this definition, elders and deacons would be considered officers in a church, as would the pastor (if that is a distinct office). The church treasurer and church moderator would also be officers (these titles may vary from church to church).
All of these people have had public recognition, usually at a service in which they are “installed” or “ordained” into an office. In fact, they need public recognition in order to fulfill their responsibilities: for example, it would not be appropriate for people to wonder from week to week who was to receive the offering and deposit it in the bank, or for various people to argue that they had been gifted to take that responsibility in any particular week! The orderly functioning of the church requires that one person be recognized as having that responsibility.
The Church Pastor who is responsible for the general oversight must be recognized as having the right and responsibility to do that for him to perform effectively.
Similarly, in order for people to follow the elders of the church and look to them for guidance, they must know who the elders are. Nevertheless, many other people exercise gifts in the church, but we do not say they have an “office” because they do not need formal public recognition for their gifts to function.
Those who have a gift of “helps” (1 Cor. 12:28), or who have a gift of faith, or a gift of “distinguishing between spirits” (1 Cor. 12:10), or a gift of exhorting or giving (Rom. 12:8) do not need public recognition in order to function effectively in the church. There is a clear difference between having a gift and also having an office. Sometimes, someone with a gift might be given the office while the Church might not function well if people are placed into office without possessing the corresponding gift. The Church will fare well if her system supports electing or nominating people with related gifts into offices.