By Earl Robertson
Church government known in the New Testament is purely local. The Scriptures say nothing about universal government of churches of Christ. Each local church is independent of all other congregations. They all work independently of each other and yet they all do the same work; they work concurrently accomplishing the will of Christ. The Lord authorized elders in each church (Acts 14:23). Inasmuch as this is the rule for each congregation it manifests the fact that each church has the same need for the same government.
It was not long, however, until this scriptural independency was ignored and destroyed in unscriptural actions of men. Paul wrote “the mystery of iniquity doth already work” (2 Thess. 2:7). Apostasy in organization was the first major departure from the apostolic pattern in churches of Christ. The “falling away” would come (2 Thess. 2:3). Perilous times would characterize the age (2 Tim. 3:1f). History tells us from Ignatius of Antioch (early in the 2nd century) onward the terms “bishops” and “presbyters” used to designate two different offices. Yet, the New Testament uses these two terms with reference to the same office (Acts 20:17, 28). Lightfoot says, “The episcopate was formed, not out of the apostolic order by localization, but out of the presbyteral by elevation; and the title, which originally was common to all, came at length to be appropriated to the chief among them.”
This departure from apostolic doctrine – bishops overseeing one local church – brought experiences through elevation that they would have never known on a local basis! This reminds me of a letter received the other day from a liberal in North Carolina. He wrote of the church in Cherokee, saying: “The elders of the Concord Road Church of Christ, Brentwood, TN, have the oversight of this mission congregation, and they have requested that I look after the work since I am located only 13 miles from the Reservation.” Shades of Romanism! Why do people, claiming to speak as the Bible speaks and act as it directs, do like this? They cannot take the word of God to guide them in this action because it teaches the oversight of bishops is limited to the church “among” them (1 Pet. 5:1, 2). The liberals should cease being identified as churches of Christ, being unwilling to act within New Testament authority. Let us practice congregationalism!
Truth Magazine XXIII: 41, p. 667
October 18, 1979