Government in the Church

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The Lord Jesus has established a government in His church. A few in history have attempted to abandon all government in favor of the “leading of the Spirit” but such attempts always end in anarchy or in a submerged or disguised government. Such attempts spring from a lack of understanding the Word. The Lord has established government in His church. “So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23).

The Lord has established ministerial government. Because of sin, we do not like to be ruled. But sometimes we are right in this desire. For example, in any instance where we find ourselves ruled by those who do not like to be ruled themselves, we are in grave danger. This is why we have an important exhortation in 1 Peter 5. “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Pet. 5:2-4).

Lording it over the flock is a grotesque sin. But equally grotesque is the sin of abdicating all leadership responsibilities. Those leadership responsibilities are apportioned to different men. Because of desire, gifts, and calling, etc. not every elder discharges every function of church government. For just one example, some elders labor in the word and doctrine, and some do not (1 Tim. 5:17). But all the elders, in session together, oversee all the ministry of the church. Some of the responsibilities they undertake together, and some of them are delegated. But the basic leadership responsibility rests with the board of elders.

Some of these basic responsibilities are:

1. Ruling the church (1 Pet. 5:1-2). All subsequent specific responsibilities come under the general heading of leading (Rom. 12:8), or administrations (1 Cor. 12:28);

2. Prayer for the congregation (Acts 6:4);

3. Pastoral teaching and preaching (Eph. 4:11-12; 1 Tim. 5:17);

4. Baptism and the Lord’s Table (Matt. 28:19-20; 1 Cor. 11:23-26);

5. Church discipline and restoration (1 Cor. 5:1-5);

6. Prayer for the sick (James 5:14-15).

The congregation has corresponding duties. Just as a congregation has a defined eldership, so the elders have a defined flock. Those who are within this flock have specific responsibilities assigned to them with regard to their elders. As any church member considers these duties, he should pray for the grace to understand and perform them. “And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thess. 5:12-13).

1. Recognize those who labor;

2. Recognize those who labor;

3. Recognize those who are over you, and admonish you;

4. Esteem them highly;

5. Don’t squabble with one another.

A related requirement is found in Hebrews. “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct . . . Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you (Heb. 13:7-17).

Remember at all times that these are men who must one day give account. They must give an accounting for you. What can you do that will make this a pleasure and joy?

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