Pages from the Past
Church Government - All Alike
The church as God's divine institution should be studied from every angle that is revealed to us in the New Testament. We need to know all that is revealed concerning it, or God would not have revealed it to us. The fact that we find this institution, with its government, mission, and worship, in the New Testament, is sufficient evidence that we should study it. How does God govern his people today?
So far as we know, there was no divine government, except the family, until Moses gave the law to the children of Israel. The law of Moses was a provisional government. It was intended to he in force until another was given. How does God govern Christians today?
When the church was established on the first Pentecost after the ascension of Christ, the government of God's people was vested in the apostles. Inspired and miraculous helps were furnished the apostles. This was before the New Testament was given, and the government of the church at that time was primary and temporary. The apostles would not live always and the inspired men soon ceased. The permanent organization of the church grew up in the midst of the apostles, and it was to take the place of the apostle's rule. It is important that we give due attention to the government of the church during, the days of the apostles; but we should not confuse the government of the church as directed by the New Testament with that which was directed by the personal supervision of the apostles and spiritually guided men. We are to study the perfected and permanent system of church government which began when the personally directed government by the apostles ceased. The church at Jerusalem is an example in its early stages of the government directed personally by the apostles.
First, it is used to include all the people of God and is synonymous with the kingdom of Grod on earth. Eph. 1:22; 3:10; 5:24 are instances of the church in the general sense. The church at Jerusalem, before others were established, was coextensive with the kingdom of God on earth. The second use of the word "church" is to include all the local congregations in a certain territory. "So the church throughout all Judeae and Galilee and Samaria had peace, being edified." (Acts 9:31.) In this instance "church" is used to include all of God's people in the territory named here. The third use of "church" is to denote the local congregation. I Cor. 1:2 is in example of "church" in the local sense. When we speak of church government, we mean the government of the local congregation. There is no organization of the church in the general sense on earth. Jesus is the Head, and there are no other officials. Neither is there any government or organization for a group of churches in a certain province or countrv. The only church government that we have revealed in the New Testament is the government of the local congregation. God governs his people today through the local congregation. "Church" in the local sense means a group of baptized believers maintaining together the work and worship of God according to his revealed will. It means a group of Christians banded together to carry out the will of God on earth.
They are all on equality before God. The size of the group or the number composing the group has nothing to do with determining the blessings that the church shall receive; neither will the number, great or small, prevent it from fulfilling its mission. The local congregations stand before God on equality. There is no first church in the sense of superiority or in the sense of receiving special blessings from God. No church is central in the sense of superiority or in the sense that other churches must depend upon the other church. There is no authority above the local church to which this church must bow in submission or pay homage, save that of the Lord Jesus Christ. All the local churches are organically separate from each other. There are no churches after the New Testament pattern whose organization makes it dependent on some other church. One church is independent of all others; that is, the local congregation can function and fill its mission without being dependent on any other congregation. It is independent in its organization, which means that its organic functioning can be done without the authority or assistance of any other congregation. All the local congregations are alike in organization. It matters not whether the church be in Japan or America, if it is patterned after the New Testament order, then it is like all other churches in organization that are patterned after the New Testament order. That is to say that whatever it takes to constitute the full and complete organization of one church, it takes that same organization to complete the organization of every other church. The churches are one in organization, as well as one in faith, in hope, in mission. Whatever may be the officers of one congregation that is patterned after the New Testament order, these officers will be found in every other congregation that follows the New Testament pattern. All the congregations have the same mission; all have the same order of worship; all are guided by the same law.
The only organization that is taught in the New Testament is the organization in the local congregation. There are no officers of any kind that may make laws or govern any group of churches. If the church follows the New Testament order, there will be no organization within the church that in any way hinders the free functioning of the church as ordained in the Ne wTestament. The simple, independent functioning of the congergation must be left free to act as directed by the word of God. The only organization that the New Testament teaches is the organization of the local congregation with its elders and deacons. It was physically impossible for all Christians scattered over the earth to meet in the same place for worship; so it became necessary to localize the church for the convenience and development of its members. It was necessary for the church in the general sense to take the form of local congregations in order that God might govern the members of his body. We are impressed with the extreme simplicity which God has given to the local congregation. Whatever authority Christ left with the church was vested in the elders. There is no higher earthly authority in the churches than that found in the eldership, if authority it may be called.
The members of the bodv did not and cannot enact the laws by which the church of our Lord is to be governed. The elders, as servants of the church, must simply execute the law of Christ. They rule by the word of the Lord. They dare not assume any authority not delegated to them by the Lord. They must not manufacture any expedient nor substitute anything for the government of the church, save that which is found in the New Testament.
H. Leo Boles, Gospel Advocate, May 19, 1932.
Truth Magazine III:3, pp. 23-24