Copyright Rev. Stanley L. Derickson Ph.D. 1992




There have been several types of church government developed over the years. These forms of government have some verses in the Bible that seem to back them up, but these systems normally overlook the plain teaching of the Bible and fail to deal with all the texts.

We will just introduce the reader to these systems of government and allow them to evaluate these on their own in light of the coming study on church government.

It is assumed that if the Bible does teach one form of government then that would be the system that the Lord would bless the most. Do not mistake this for a mass call for change of church government, but it is a challenge to consider this study and see just what the Bible does teach on the subject. If you find yourself in a church that has a government that contradicts what you see, don't leave because you now have "the revelation." Consider what might be done to bring about change in your particular church. If you are in church leadership, don't call for total, immediate change. We will consider some further cautions later in the study.

1. THE EPISCOPAL FORM OF GOVERNMENT: This form of government is seen in the Church of England and the Episcopal Church. Some sources list the Roman Catholic Church however I would class it as separate.

This system can be diagramed as seen below.



Apostolic succession is the teaching which says that the apostles passed on their power and authority to others who passed on that power and authority to others, etc. until the successors of today. The Roman Church holds to this thought and this fact may be why some list them in this category. Episcopalian high Church people also tend toward this belief system. The Landmark Baptists in the Independent Baptist movement hold to a succession back past the apostles to John the Baptist.

The Episcopalian system started in the second century. They have a college of Bishops who are the superior clergy. They have pastors that are inferior clergy and the people only obey what comes down from the top. The denomination owns all property and can control the congregation via their investment in that property. This opposes the thought that what we give to the Lord is the Lord's. If a congregation feel led to build a building, then that building cannot belong to the organization of Churches, but it is God's.

The low Church people view the bishop as nice but not necessary. This is not uncommon in Church history. The people of the land and the working class often reject the authorities that attempt to place themselves over others.

2. THE FEDERAL FORM OF GOVERNMENT: This system is found primarily in the Presbyterian movement. Calvin developed this form from his study of the scripture.

The session is composed of the pastor and elders of a local Church. The presbytery, made up of representatives of the Churches, rule a given district of Churches. The Synod owns and rules a larger district of Churches. The General Assembly is over all Churches. The denomination owns the property.

The people can have control over their Church through their representatives to the presbytery. They also wield some control over the denomination via their representatives.

The Bible teaches there was leadership. The federalist assumes that the apostles have a counterpart in our own day and age, which translates into their hierarchy. This is true in all of the systems that have a superstructure of organization.

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3. THE CONGREGATIONAL FORM OF GOVERNMENT: This system is usually used by Baptists, Evangelical Free, Disciples of Christ, and some Bible and independent Churches. (The Conservative Baptist Association is going toward the eldership rule form which we will see later.)

The Congregationalists make no distinction between elders and deacons. Indeed most have only deacons. If they see the position of elder it is usually the pastor and he being a single elder unless there is need of extra outside staff members which would also become elders. They hold to Christ Being the head of the Church, as well as the priesthood of every believer.

They hold that no group of men should have authority over the local assembly which translates into a rejection of denominations and the previous forms of government.

The independent assembly owns and controls their own property.

The pastor is ordained and administers the ordinances within the local Church. The deacons are to see to the welfare of the Church.

The congregation elects the officers and votes on major items of business. As the Church grows in size this voting usually is curtailed to more major expenditures/changes to save on the time involved in large lengthy discussions.

We will give some of the items of proof which they submit in support of for their system The scripture views the Church as responsible for things I Co. 1:10; Phil. 1:27; The fact that the whole Church is pictured as helping select officers Acts 6:3,5; 15:2,30; II Co. 8:19;

The fact that the whole Church is involved in discipline Mt 18:17; I Co. 5; II Th. 3:14ff; The pastor is the single elder Rev 2-3. ("angel" There is much discussion as to the meaning of the term angel in the letters to the Churches and there is little proof that it is the SINGULAR PASTOR of the Church.); elder is singular and deacons is plural I Tim. 3:8-13 (However, we must point out that Phil 1:1 mentions both in the plural! We might suggest a look at the number of plural appearances of elder as opposed to the singular references to the same term in appendix two.)

4. THE PAPAL FORM OF GOVERNMENT: This is the Roman Catholic system.

They have Cardinals, bishops, and Priests which have differing authorities as you descend down to the priest, local leaders and finally to the congregation. The Roman Church owns and controls all properties.

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5. THE NATIONAL CHURCH FORM OF GOVERNMENT: The Church of England is the official Church of the land. This is true of the Lutherans in Scandinavia as well. The state has a Church and the head of the state is also the head of the Church. Leaders are appointed by an agency of the state. It has been the norm in much of history that these Churches are dead, ritualistic Churches that minister to a very few. The masses enter the Church only for infant baptism, their wedding and then their funeral.

6. THE NO GOVERNMENT FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Some believe they run with only the Lord as their government, yet if they have any planning or program at all they have government of some sort. Some go as far as to reject the idea of membership, constitutions, and doctrinal statements. Instead of these "forms" they allow anyone in regular attendance to vote on all issues and claim that the Bible is their doctrinal statement and constitution.

It has been my observation over the years that these Churches often produce a lot of believers that are very alive for their Lord, yet the Churches usually do not continue in existence for long. As they get bigger and grow, organization usually comes to some extent. Those Churches that do not grow often disband, scattering their people into traditional Churches where they often inspire some of the dead Christians to get involved.

7. THE ELDER RULE FORM OF GOVERNMENT: This is a newer system that is closer to the Biblical form, but it has a few difficulties that are becoming evident. The system teaches that the elders are the paid staff of the Church and they run the Church. Their term of office is for life if they decide to stay.

This allows for much control of the people by one or a few men who have their Bible training.

The fallacy of this system is that in the Bible the lay people were the Church and the elders were lay people, not seminarians. The idea of a congregation forming a Church and setting up a building and then calling someone that institutes this type of government is not pleasant for the congregation. Indeed, there have been many Churches split over the issue in recent days.








This form of government is similar to what you will be seeing in this study. The difference being that the elders are lay men with the option of having a paid teaching elder that is called from outside the Church. This is not to say that the teaching elder cannot come form the ranks of the lay people however.

8. THE ELDER FORM OF GOVERNMENT: This type of government is something that is growing in popularity though there are few congregations operating under such a system. This form of government has some advantages which will become evident as we go though our study.

The system will be shown in brief at this point and then it will be developed as we continue.

The key to the system is that the elders are over the deacons and both boards are over the congregation. The congregation does have control over the boards. They can communicate with them, they are involved in the choosing of the leaders, they are involved in the financial end of the system, in that they are the final say on large expenditures.

There is an emphasis on the qualifications of the leadership. They are to fulfill the Biblical qualifications before they are appointed to a position. They are also chosen from men who "desire" the office.

This dictates that the Church is being led by "spiritual" leaders as opposed to leaders that may or may not want to be in the position and may or may not be spiritual.

The elders are basically the spiritual leaders of the Church and maintain general oversight of the assembly. The deacons are in charge of the physical aspects of the congregation and its properties. The system must be based on qualified, spiritual leaders to operate properly.







Within this structure the "pastor" or teaching elder is one of the elder board. He may or may not be the chairman of that board. You will notice that under Christ you have the entire congregation and this is the crux of the system. All believers in touch with their God and in tune with one another to function as a body.

Before we continue, let us look at some things that seem to be required in the Bible for the Church, and the different groups involved.

Here is a series of things that the scripture shows concerning Church government. It may not be an exhaustive list, but it will give several items which must be incorporated into a Church constitution to make it as close to Scriptural as possible.


1. The congregation is involved in the choosing of Church leaders:

Acts 6:3-6. The leadership asked them to select out qualified men to be set aside to serve. This is specifically the first deacons. The apostles then took those set forth - prayed and laid on their hands.

We have no indication of how the elders were selected in the New Testament times. Paul appointed elders in the Churches that he planted. Since we have no process in Scripture for elders, it would seem logical that we should use a method consistent with the selection of deacons. The qualifications are set forth very clearly in the New Testament for these leaders with the key being, the elders desire, which we will see later.

2. The congregation was involved in Church discipline: I Cor. 5:1-8 They were also involved in the man's restoration in II Cor. 2:6ff.

3. The congregation was told to obey the elders. Heb. 13:7, 17

"Remember them who have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God, whose faith follow, considering the end of their manner of life:" 13:7

"Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves; for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, they may do it with joy, and not with grief; for that is unprofitable for you." 13:17

Some today are adding the idea of the Old Testament "Lord's anointed" to these two texts and teach that the layperson is not to interfere with what God is doing through His appointed men - pastors.

Let us observe some things that are presented here.

a. Obey and submit. This is the context of the word they have been giving forth. There is a responsibility for the congregation to listen to the word and to follow it. The last part of verse 17 shows that the elders are responsible for the spiritual welfare of the congregation. This is illustrated for us in Ezekiel where the priests are rebuked for misleading instead of feeding the people.

b. The "remember" of verse 7 probably is tied to the sharing of verse 15 which probably is monetary gifts to the ones that minister the word.

You might observe that "do good" is equal to sharing so you might remember money isn't all that counts.

c. The congregation is to consider the elders' manner of life as an example.

d. The term "them" in both verses shows plural, not singular elders. There are to be plural elders in a Church.

4. The congregation is to discipline elders if there is sin. I Tim. 5:19,20