Memory Verse: 1Timothy 3:15
Prayer: That we might know more about the Church that Jesus established.
Key Verses: Acts 1:15-26, 6:l-7, 13:1-3; 2Cor. 8:19,23; Cor. 1:10; Matt. 18:15-20;
Eph. 5:21-27; 1Cor. 14:40; Heb. 13:7,17.
The government of the church was one of the first corruptions that took place in the early church, as recorded by John (3Jn. 9-10). Here we have the first pulpit despot, the first tendency toward an Episcopal hierarchy, the first church to lose its autonomy. It is certain that there was a definite form of government in the first churches. This is denied by Mosheim in his Ecclesiastical History, although in another place he reverses his position as stated: “In those early times, the people were, undoubtedly, the first in authority; for the apostles showed, by their own example, that nothing of moment was to be carried on or determined without the consent of the assembly.” Perhaps the reason why present day writers claim that there was no definite government policy in the early churches, is because they wish to obscure the fact that the policy which is clearly found in the New Testament churches is not that which is presently practiced in their own denomination.
A definite form of government in the church is implied in the command, “Let all things be done decently and in order,” (1Cor. 14:40). Government in the church is necessary to prevent anarchy and confusion (Jud. 21:25). The church is to be sovereign and independent; it is to brook no outside interference; it is autonomous, self-ruling; but this does not mean that it is free to do as it pleases; it is only free to do as it’s head pleases. We need to recognize that the church is to be an absolute monarchy; Christ is both the King, Law-giver, and Judge. In the words of Henry Westons “The external constitution of a church is the fruit and exponent of its inner principle of belief, while the outward form and constitution of a church, its worship, discipline, its offices, and its ritual, react with great force on its inner life and on the doctrine which it teaches. In this respect the church is like the New Testament, which is not a book of rules, nor a code of laws, but a book of principles. What are the ideas which lie at the center of the church?
1. The vital relation of Christ to each member and of each member to Christ.
2. The living and continuous relation of Christ to the church.
3. The organic relation of members to one another and to the body.
We have a living Saviour, a living church, an organic church, a complete church in every local body.”
From the human standpoint, there are four principle forms of church government practiced in the world today. The four are:
The first one that we will consider is totally false so we will not spend too much time on it.
The Papal form of government moves upon the assumption that:
1. Authority was originally given to Peter as the head of the church, and that he is the vicar of Christ upon the earth (Matt. 16:18).
2. This authority was passed on to his successors after him.
3. Peter was bishop over the church at Rome.
4. The church at Rome had supremacy over other churches.
5. There was an unbroken succession of authority since that time.
A. H. Strong states in his Systematic Theology: “Romanism holds to a transmitted infallibility. The pope (Latin “papa” or father) is infallible:
1. When he speaks as pope for the whole church.
2. When he defines doctrine, or passes final judgment.
3. When the doctrine thus defined is within the sphere of faith or morality.”
You can easily prove each of these points totally false. Though Rome claims the motto semper idem, always the same, her whole history has been one of change, reversal of former statements of faith and practice, and formulation of new doctrinal concepts.
The Episcopal form of government takes its name from the Greek word episcopas, bishop or overseer, and as such, it designates that form of church government wherein all major decisions are made by the bishop or archbishop over a given area. Preacher rule, as we have before mentioned, was one of the earliest corruptions of church government.
Episcopacy recognizes the right of bishops to preside over districts of a country, and one of its fundamental doctrines is, that a bishop is officially superior to other ministers. Those who adopt the Episcopal form of government believe that there are three orders in the ministry - namely deacons, elders, and bishops. In apostolic times, bishop, pastor, and elder were terms of equivalent import (Acts 20:28; Phil. 1:1; 1Tim. 3:1,8; 1Pet. 5:1-3). Though the pastors or overseers of the churches of the New Testament played a prominent part in church life, there is nothing to indicate that the Lord ever intended, or that they were ever, anything more than the leaders and servants of the churches. Paul was not, in the strict sense, an overseer over any given church, but as a missionary pastor having authority from God as none else, almost always spoke in an advisory capacity (1Cor. 5:3-Tit. 1:5). Paul’s words to the Hebrews are sometimes cited as proof of Episcopal rule (Heb. 13:7,17). But the word “rule” can also mean guide, or to lead the way, which is the God-given duty of every overseer. “Submit” can also mean, to give way, yield to authority and admonition.
Presbyterianism recognizes two classes of elders - preaching elders and ruling elders. The pastor and ruling elders of a congregation constitute what is called the “session of the church.” The “session” transacts the business of the church, receives, dismisses, excludes members, etc. From the decisions of a session there is an appeal to the Synod; and from the action of the Synod, an appeal to the General Assembly, whose adjudication’s are final and irresistible. There were presbyteries in the New Testament, but not presbyteries which exercised rule or authority over any church. The word presbytery is found only 3 times in the Greek New Testament (1Tim. 4:14; Lu. 22:06; Acts 22:5). Churches who practice a Presbyterian form of government are all subject to the laws and decrees of the national church. Such a form of government requires the surrender of the autonomy and independence of the local church. So we can find in the New Testament not the least evidence of an encroachment by any church upon the sovereignty of another (even Acts 15:1-31, 16:4).
The teaching of the New Testament is preponderantly in favor of a congregational form of government for the Lord’s churches. It is evident that all the New Testament churches were independent, local, self-governing bodies, from the action of which there was no appeal. These churches were small democracies complete in themselves. They were vested with executive powers but not with legislative powers.
It is easy enough to understand how some denominations would reject the congregational form of government, when we consider that they accept infants as church members, and as these achieve adulthood without ever being born-again, many, if not all of them, are therefore unqualified to render a spiritual decision in a church matter, and hence must be governed by those who supposedly have reached a higher level spiritually, but in a church which receives members only upon a credible confession of their repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, every member is supposedly able to render good decisions in accordance with the mind of the Spirit who indwells them.
Congregationalism is in disagreement with Episcopacy and Presbyterianism, and distinctly recognizes these truths:
1. That the governmental power is in the hands of the people.
2. The right of a majority of the members of a church to rule, in accordance with the law of Christ.
3. That the power of a church cannot be transferred or alienated, and that church action is final.
Dr. J. A. Seiss, a Lutheran, says “The original order of the church, as the apostles founded it, and as they addressed and left it, is congregational.” From the teaching of Paul, even an apostle could not lord it over another believer (2Cor. 1:24). Each church was responsible to elect its own officers (Acts 1:15,21-26). When a new situation arose the apostles called for the disciples to settle the matter (Acts 6:l-7). Each church was called to discipline its unruly members (1Cor. 5;4-5). many other examples could be given..