III. THE GOVERNMENT OF THE CHURCH
BASIC TYPES OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT THAT ARE USED TODAY
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.
BISHOP ELDERS DEACONS PEOPLE
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
2. THE FEDERAL FORM OF GOVERNMENT: This system is found primarily in
the Presbyterian movement. Calvin developed this form from his study of
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
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
GENERAL ASSEMBLY o o o o o o o o o o o o SYNOD SYNOD SYNOD SYNOD o o o o o o o o PRESBYTERY PRESBYTERY o o o o o o SESSION SESSION3. 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
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.
POPE COLLEGE OF CARDINALS o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o BISHOP BISHOP BISHOP BISHOP o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o LOCAL LOCAL LOCAL PARISH PARISH PARISH
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
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.
ELDER ELDER ELDER ELDER ELDER
DEACON DEACON DEACON DEACON DEACON
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
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.