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Scriptural Church Government (part 1)
The two main topics affecting what should be and what is not, when dealing with the "Scriptural Church Government," are leadership attitude and a denial and distorted usage of scripture. Both of these factors greatly affect and limit the church and gospel from reaching the entire world. This is a major truth with huge impact consequences.
The church of our Lord Jesus Christ is the single most important matter and entity in the entire universe. Heaven and earth will pass away but the genuine church made up of those who have entered the Kingdom of God by being partakers of the Holy Spirit, will dwell eternally. The church is the refined jewels of the Lord, similar to the resulting things of value, while the tons of mining tailings are rejected. And they shall be mine, saith the LORD of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spares his own son that serves him. (Malachi 3:17)
Although it may seem somewhat negative, look at the church "State of the Union" current norms. In the USA, the annual "State of the Union" speech by the President, provides a picture of the current affairs of the nation, politically and economically. As we review this "State of the Church," we see this is a far cry from what should be. May we not shrink from an honest assessment. We have a very none unified church with a huge loss of gospel souls. Vast numbers are not reached and of those who are and accept Christ, many are lost due to a wrong and none church involvement in the follow up and nurturing of these who said a sinners prayer. They become the seed which sprang up with no roots, which withered and died. (Mark 4:5)
Before we look at what needs to be done to correct matters to attain a "Scriptural Church Government," let's face the reality of what commonly exists. It does not take rocket science to see that the churches of our day are quite different from what we read about in the Book of Acts and throughout the New Testament. There are several factors affecting this.
1. Many ignore or do not understand or teach that all believers must be "born of the Spirit."
2. Many deny the experiential "baptism of the Holy Spirit" with the resulting gifts, such as healing and miracles, or prophecy and a "word of knowledge" with "revelation" gifts.
3. Most ignore and deny Christ's giving of the appointed five ministry callings of apostle, prophet, teacher, pastor and evangelist for today. (Ephesians 4:8, 11)
4. Very few have a Christ mandated and intended multiple eldership church ministry, where all elders participate in the governing and feeding of the flock. (Titus 1:5, Acts 20:28). The negative results are, few members have an intimate heart level relationship with their leadership or an elder. Few have an elder in the Lord over them, (Hebrews 1 Thessalonians 5:12) an elder who knows and guides them in their personal Christ pursuit and ministry. Most get a Sunday Word pep talk with a limited personal involvement, sharing their hearts, burdens and personal God walk.
Having the Biblical church government instead of a man altered government is an extremely important subject. How the Bible portrays this government is key to what we should be implementing. The wrong understanding which has brought about the current scenario, are several. We have denied scriptures and reasoned away that what we see as a miraculous church with supernatural Holy Ghost evidences, as the "new normal" with NO textual evidence for doing so. Is this a fair and objective statement? If so, please demonstrate the scriptures which would oppose these statements. Man's wrongful reasoning's have deleted what should be. We have a different church than what the New Testament portrays. Why?
Example of wrong government:
The largest church, representing half of Christendom, has a hierarchy system leading to one man position and throne, who claims to be an apostle. I believe in an apostle headed church but not this non apostle example. This is much like the corporate world with the CEO at the top. This is a system void of what our Lord said we must do and be. I personally have seen the CEO of that system going down a broad street in a major city dressed in Papal regal costume, waiving with pomp at the crowds, while thousands kneeled and bowed. Worshipping a man instead of Christ is a key root to the wrong governmental picture, which is currently applicable in differing forms in most churches. This is so far from Christ worship, but a demy god claiming wrong worship.
This acceptance of worship is terribly wrong and permeates the leadership of that church family from the top down. Peter, the genuine apostle of Christ was commissioned to visit a praying Cornelius the Centurion. Upon meeting him, Cornelius bowed in obeisance to Peter. He was immediately corrected by the Peter, whom this church claims to be their original source ministry, And as Peter was coming in, Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him. 26 But Peter took him up, saying, Stand up; I myself also am a man. (Acts 10:25) They deny the fact that Peter was married, And when Jesus was come into Peter's house, he saw his wife's mother laid, and sick of a fever. (Mathew 8:14) They disregard that Peter was given a ministry to the Jews and Paul to the gentile nations, But on the contrary, seeing that I have been entrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision, as Peter to the circumcision; (Galatians 2:7) Just because of that truth the Pope has no scriptural right to his claim as God's highest apostle to the world, but only a ministry to the Jews.
Angels also refused a man to bow to them. When the apostle John attempted to bow to the angelic being who gave the insight and vision of the Book of Revelation, he was instantly corrected, And I fell at his feet to worship him. And he said to me, See, do not do it! I am your fellow servant, and of your brothers who have the testimony of Jesus. Worship God, for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy. 9 Then he said to me, Behold! See, do not do it! For I am your fellow-servants, and of your brothers the prophets, and of those who keep the Words of this Book. Do worship to God. (Revelations 19:10) (etc. etc.)
This attitude is expressed by many in leadership, with the pomp of their clothing in clerical garments, depicting their station in their hierarchy, must be what our Lord Jesus complained about regarding the Pharisee’s behavior. But they do all their works in order to be seen of men. They make their phylacteries broad and enlarge the borders of their garments. (Mathew 23:5)
In other traditional, evangelical, Pentecostal or independent churches, some of the above may not apply. However, many clergy certainly hold their flags of person and attainment by their certification and what hangs on their office walls, then demonstrated by their demeanor. Of course this does not apply to all clergy as many do have a servant's heart. Let us examine this matter further in what should be, compared to what is not.
Another gross error is the unbelief demonstrated by the lack of believing in and application of God's Word. Today's average church is a long way off from what the New Testament sets out. To understand such a strongly stated position of belief, we must apply the truth of, All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: 17 That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works. (2 Timothy 3:16) Without a determined faith in "all scriptures," and where we allow the ignoring of "some scriptures," we will wind up justifying wrong. The correct doctrine is what should scripturally be when we consider ministry attitude and the governmental structure of the church. This needs to be examined as follows.
Denied and disregarded scripture: (a sin of unbelief)
Due to the doctrines of men who have used the horrible scissors of the human mind, where "rational" and by "their reasoning" thinking have negated God's Word, death will result. We and most have followed the traditions of the elders. The best and simplest example of this truth and writing is demonstrated by at least half of the named church. Many teach that by virtue of baptizing a baby, that they receive the Holy Spirit and are part of the believing church with their names written in the Book of Life. What a travesty of wrong doing, resulting in the spiritual death of millions. Children of parents where only one is a genuine believer are holy in the sight of God, and if they perished would doubtless be in heaven. (1 Corinthians 7:14) However, all children need to hear the gospel and repent from personally acknowledged sin, commensurate with placing their faith in Jesus as their personal Savior when capable of doing so. Personally I have seen much personal family and thousands of these very people elsewhere experience a personal salvation at differing ages beyond childhood.
A children's song we sang went like this: If you’re saved and you know it, say amen! If you’re saved and you know it say amen! If you’re saved and you know it, then your face will surely show it, if you’re saved and you know it say amen! Why? So that if any one is in Christ, that one is a new creature; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17)
Many of these precious souls struggle with no assurance of personal salvation. Undiscerning ministry will pacify them with assurances that is normal and alright. I will not. When one gets born of the Spirit or "born again" there is a dynamic change. Receiving Christ with a knowledge of sins being dealt with by the cross and His shed blood bring joy and floods of that. May we not brush away the questions of one seeking assurance, but help them receive with assurance of a sure salvation being the result! Millions of religious (named Christian and all), are in this dilemma. (Romans 8:9) But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. --- 11 But if the Spirit of the One who raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, the One who raised up Christ from the dead shall also make your mortal bodies alive by His Spirit who dwells in you. --- 14 For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. --- 15 For you have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption by which we cry, Abba, Father! --- 16 The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.
When one does not have the Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God, experientially I doubt that they personally have salvation, but only have "Christian religion." When some express a "hope so" or maybe heaven acceptability, help them by taking these people back to the beginning factors needing answers to be "born of the Spirit." Ask them if they have acknowledges their lost position and personal sin before the Savior? Ask them if they have placed their personal trust in Him, His work on the cross and shed blood, believing in His death in our stead as sufficiency? Pray with them.
Needed truth considerations, church government:
There are a number of considerations which should be reviewed under the truths of eldership, since all churches were under a multiple eldership ministry. They followed a Christ called and appointed ministry. Then consider the issue of government and ministry attitude.
Elders: Throughout the Bible from the elders of Israel to Paul's New Testament writings, we find the churches always had a government structure involving multiple elders.
The first Bible fact to be established is what is a Bible described elder. Elders had responsibility along with authority and accountability in their church dealings. Take anyone of these three truths away and one has destroyed the Biblical picture of what church elders should be and what they should understand about their position. The following scriptures demonstrate this truth. These scriptures apply to the entire church as there is only one church, although we have many congregations.
Elders in Moses' time: And Moses and Aaron went and gathered together all the elders of the sons of Israel. (Exodus 4:29)
In Christ's time: And they led Jesus away to the high priest. And with him were assembled all the chief priests and the elders and the scribes. (Mark 14:53)
In the churches as biblically portrayed in the first century, we read: And when they had ordained them elders in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, on whom they believed. (Acts 14:23)
The New Testament has the usage of the interchangeable words of elder, bishop and overseer. These terms denote the same people with differing functions. Overseers "oversee,” while bishops "oversee and hold a presbytery office." Elders are part of the ruling counsel in churches. We see this usage when reading the elders Paul called in Acts 20:17, that were referred to as overseers in verse 28. The elders Titus was to ordain in Titus 1:5, were referred to as bishops in verse 7, when it speaks to their qualifications, just the same as Paul said in 1 Timothy 3:1.
Elders always have an oversight, teaching and care responsibility, while they are accountable for the flock AND to the flock. We see the following scriptural truths demonstrating this:
1. (Acts 20:17) And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church. These elders were the governing entities of the church of Ephesus. (rest of chapter to them)
2. (Acts 20:28) Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. (these Ephesus elders)
Here we have the key to the knowledge to what New Testament elders are to do. These elders, as all church elders were to oversee and govern the church, this being one facet of their responsibility. The other responsibility they were exhorted to carry out, was to feed the flock. This feeding is ministering God's Holy Word truths, in knowledge, wisdom and discernment. Note that all of these unspecified elders as to ministry calling were responsible for the feeding of the flock. This feeding was not pancakes at a Saturday social. All elders are to be involved in ministry to the people, including pulpit, home and any form of ministry.
The wise apostle Paul under Holy Ghost direction and anointing did not call for a pastor, or arch-bishop and their board. He called for the New Testament church appropriate leadership, a holy norm of plural leadership to meet with him. Elders who were accountable to him as the apostle responsible for this church.
By whom and why was this changed. We will not find any scriptures or Bible basis for the changes made and justification for what we commonly see in most churches of today!
3. (Acts 15:2) Therefore dissension and not a little disputation occurring by Paul and Barnabas, they appointed Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question. The Jerusalem apostles were looked to and acknowledged as a mature leadership and fellow apostles to Paul and Barnabas. They had the humility to apply the wisdom of Proverbs 11:14, Where there is no wisdom, the people fall; but in the multitude of wise men there is safety.
However this does not say they went to just see the apostles. They went to see the apostles and the elders. They acknowledged the gift ministries of the other four callings as well as "any man" elders. (1 Timothy 3:1) They in humility understood that the Holy Spirit may speak through any of these ordained leadership. All elders should be mature and baptized in the Holy Spirit. Therefore all of the elders should be acknowledged as to responsibility and authority under God. When this is denied we have pride and self sufficiency at the least.
4. (1Peter 5:1) The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: 2 Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Again we see the scriptural admonishment that elders are to "feed the flock," and not simply be an advisory business decision people. Elders are to be hospitable, with a demonstrated heart for the people of the flock. They are to be "apt to teach" (1 Tim. 3:2).
1. (1Timothy 3:1) This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work.
Why desire this office? A man who desires an elder position, with the right heart motive, will be a person who sees the need for government which addresses needs, and, meeting the needs of ministry to the people. This "need seeing" is the key motivational heart issue which must be there to be an ordained elder. This need seeing, when genuine, is the result of the inner workings of the Holy Spirit. (Philippians 2:13) For it is God which works in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. As well, we see the author of any genuine Holy Ghost made elders in Acts 20:28, Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers. A tender "weeping heart," seeing people needs is the greatest qualification requirement for ordained elders.
2. (1Timothy 3:2) A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
I have ministered with gifted and called fivefold ministry people who did not demonstrate a heart for being hospitable. Neither did they see the need to teach weak people but only functioned in pulpit and gift ministry, with a financial focus and ego ministry friends.
3. (1Timothy 3:3) Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
A person who fills the elder office must demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit, as stated in (Galatians 5:22) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith. 23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. Because one is called to a fivefold office or eldership, this does not mean they are mature as to Holy Spirit demeanor or character. This is what the word "sanctification" is all about. Sanctification involves a work of the Holy Spirit within. This takes holy time.
4. (1Timothy 3:4) One that rules his own house well, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
This list of strengths is self explanatory. An elder must meet this list to a good degree. Do not expect any elder to meet this list perfectly, since no one is perfect. We are all a work in progress, with the Lord working within those who seek Him, (Psalm 138:8) The LORD will perfect that which concerns me: thy mercy, O LORD, endures for ever: How often have good Christians with a desire to be used of God not been rejected due to past sins long ago forgiven. May we remember the cross and that the blood draws a line which the saved have crossed from our past, (Paul a murderous church persecutor) and restoration of the failing.
5. (Titus 2:2) That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.
Sober men still have a sense of humor, but are serious and not frivolous addressing reality.
6. (Hebrews 5:12) For indeed because of the time, you ought to be teachers, you have need that one teach you again what are the first principles of the oracles of God. And you have become in need of milk, and not of solid food. 13 For everyone partaking of milk is unskillful in the Word of Righteousness, for he is an infant. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, even those who because of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
We must discern babes from mature. An elder must have a basic maturity in God's Word, and not just character or people smarts. One must be capable of a good understanding to the level of giving a reasonable explanation and teaching regarding basic doctrine.
7. (Hebrews 6:1) Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2 Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.
No person should be an ordained elder, unless they are doctrinally knowledgeable in these six doctrines, as well as understanding the reason for this presented order of priority. We are not to ordain novices. Those who do not understand these doctrines are "babes."
Elders in plurality:
We will not find a single church which was considered to be "in order" unless they had a multiple eldership. Note:
1. (Titus 1:5) For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou should set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders (plural) in every city, as I had appointed thee:
"Timothy, go to all of these churches and fix what is needed and lacking, ordain elders." Each of these churches needs a multiple eldership government.
2. (Acts 20:17) And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.
The apostle Paul did not call for the pastor and their board as most would today.
3. (Acts 15:2) Therefore dissension and not a little disputation occurring by Paul and Barnabas, they appointed Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about this question.
The question was placed before the apostles and elders. There was not a call for pastors to meet. Why is that? and who changed this? What is the basis justifying such a change? Apostles and elders: Who are these plural multiple elders?
Any man eldership:
Eldership is available to "any man," and the availability to this office is encouraged for all men to consider. This is a wonderful and good pursuit, when considered as a ministry of service and worship with the right heart and motive: (1Timothy 3:1) This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work.
This desire to be an elder, bishop or overseer (same people named differently due to function), is clearly available to any man. This is not speaking to the Christ appointed five gift callings, but eldership. Christ appoints the "some" of the five callings. Albeit all of the Ephesians 4:11 gift ministries are to become elders when mature.